A learning object is "a collection of content items, practice items, and assessment items that are combined based on a single learning objective".[1] The term is credited to Wayne Hodgins, and dates from a working group in 1994 bearing the name.[2] The concept encompassed by 'Learning Objects' is known by numerous other terms, including: content objects, chunks, educational objects, information objects, intelligent objects, knowledge bits, knowledge objects, learning components, media objects, reusable curriculum components, nuggets, reusable information objects, reusable learning objects, testable reusable units of cognition, training components, and units of learning.

The core idea of the use of learning objects is characterized by the following: discoverability, reusability, and interoperability. To support discoverability, learning objects are described by Learning Object Metadata, formalized as IEEE 1484.12 Learning object metadata.[3] To support reusability, the IMS Consortium proposed a series of specifications such as the IMS Content package. And to support interoperability, the U.S. military's Advanced Distributed Learning organization created the Sharable Content Object Reference Model.[4] Learning objects were designed in order to reduce the cost of learning, standardize learning content, and to enable the use and reuse of learning content by learning management systems.[5]