Our emphasis on 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.

Defining 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 FLC

Objects of all types can be used as a foundation for experiential learning.  FLC, however, provides opportunities for object-based inquiry that are unique to our institution.  Among these, the Center of Southwest Studies offers exciting options for collaboration and scholarship through its museum, archives, and library.  Center staff can assist you in developing new learning experiences for your students and enhancing your courses with object-based activities that utilize our collections.


For more information on object-based learning and FLC’s Center of Southwest Studies see:

Center of Southwest Studies Faculty Guide

Center of Southwest Studies Website


Cory Pillen

Director, Center of Southwest Studies

Phone:  970-247-7359 

Email:  cjpillen@fortlewis.edu