Providing adequate and accurate metadata greatly enhances reusability because it helps the resource be found and used. The types of metadata most important for reusability are:

  • “Basic” Descriptive Information (also known as bibliographic metadata): Basic descriptive information enables the resource to be found and used. It should include a resource’s title, author, description, identifier and key words.
  • Contextual information: Contextual information is used to find resources for a specific context. For educational applications, this includes information about the grade level and intended audience of a resource.
  • Rights Information: Rights information describes permissions and terms of use.
  • Technical information: Technical information includes the format of a resource and what software or systems are required to use or modify the resource.
  • User information: User information includes software documentation (online, printed or in the form of help screens), instructor guides, and other information that helps a resource be properly and effectively used.

Many collections offer search or “advanced search” capabilities that allow resources to be selected on the basis of bibliographic, contextual, rights and technical information. Standards developed by organizations such as the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (Dublin Core, 2004) and the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC, 2004) allow metadata records to be created that can be easily incorporated into collections and used by learning delivery platforms.

Metadata and Granularity

As with all other aspects of reusability, the granularity of a resource affects which kind of metadata is needed. This is shown in the following table:

Metadata as a Function of Granularity
Granularity Design Considerations
Content Asset Basic descriptive and rights information will allow assets to be cataloged and reused. Technical information may also be important. In practice, content assets are often labeled only with a title and identifier.
Information Object Basic descriptive information is important for information objects, but it may also be important to say something about the educational level and style of an information object. It may also be important to facilitate proper attribution by including the identification of the author(s) within metadata.
Learning Object Contextual information becomes very important for learning objects. A title and description may not be enough to determine what they are about and who they are for. Guides for instructors and learners may be needed, and for adaptation, technical information and documentation become important. It is always a good idea to be explicit about terms of use.
Learning Component Many learning resource catalogs list courses and modules and only provide basic descriptive information. More detailed contextual information is helpful, as is information that guides the user. It should be noted that most metadata associated with a learning component applies to the component as a whole and not to learning objects, information objects or content assets contained within it.
Learning Environment Information about a learning environment is rarely encoded using a standardized metadata record. Nonetheless, it is important to provide a description, information about intended users, rights and technical information, and proper documentation.