Object-Based Learning


Material objects have the power to excite, inspire, challenge, inform, and motivate students when used as tools for active learning and exploration, which are hallmarks of FLC’s commitment to “knowledge in action.” Because of this, object-based learning (OBL) can help with student engagement and retention by enriching learning experiences, making concepts more accessible, and adding depth to student understanding.


What is Object-Based Learning?

Object-based learning is a student-centered pedagogical approach that uses material objects such as artwork, natural history specimens, archaeological and historical objects, and archival documents to promote learning. Material objects are physical embodiments of processes and concepts. As such, they can be “read” like texts, each having its own syntax or vocabulary that influences how meaning and knowledge are communicated. Through OBL, students learn how to decipher these objects, gaining a greater understanding of their context and materiality, as well as broader socio-cultural, political, aesthetic, scientific, and technological issues.

This experiential and multi-sensory approach can be used across a wide range of disciplines and is based on the idea that active engagement with objects encourages subject-specific knowledge and the long-term retention of ideas, as well as a variety of transferable skills. Among these, object-based learning:

  • cultivates an appreciation for cultural difference;
  • enhances visual literacy and observational skills through sustained looking and focus; 
  • fosters dialogue, competency with communication, and the ability to work collaboratively;
  • encourages the development of problem-solving skills and abstract thought;
  • inspires creative endeavors; 
  • supports critical and analytic thinking by encouraging students to examine, evaluate, and utilize primary sources.


Object-Based Learning at the Center

As an academic museum, archives, and library, the Center of Southwest Studies is a valuable resource for FLC and the broader community. Its collections offer an important starting point for the development of active and enriching learning experiences that encourage dialogue, promote problem-solving and analytical skills, and cultivate an appreciation of the diverse cultures, histories, and environments of the Southwest.

Center staff can assist you in developing learning experiences for your students and enhancing your courses with object-based activities that utilize our collection. For more information on object-based learning, you can also see: Faculty Guide, Center of Southwest Studies.