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Published on:
February 8, 2021

SCORM: eLearning Standard Explained

SCORM is the default learning management system (LMS) standard in use today. It seems to be a complex term that confuses most clients seeking eLearning solutions. This article will explain in detail what this learning standard is all about.

It is important for developers and trainers to understand the nature of SCORM to establish the role it plays in eLearning. A good LMS platform is SCORM compliant, however, it is good to assess whether your organization needs to create SCORM courses.

SCORM is one of the most common elearning topics. For information on other popular elearning topics, visit this page.

What is SCORM?

SCORM is an acronym that stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model. SCORM dictates how to create LMSs and learning content that can be shared with other SCORM-conforming systems.

‘Sharable’ in SCORM means that this learning standard is about developing learning content that can be shared across multiple systems. It defines how to create SCOs (Sharable Content Objects) that can be used over and over across different learning contexts and systems.

Rustici Software LLC is the organization behind SCORM. It was started in 2005 with the aim of helping people to understand and how to use the SCORM standard. However, the company did not develop this standard. It was created and is currently managed by the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL) to support the Department of Defence’s (DoD) objective of promoting portability of learning content across systems and standardizing learning objects.

Rustici also provides resources and support to assist people when navigating through SCORM. Additionally, the company also provides software solutions that assist organizations with compliance issues and solves common problems that arise when implementing SCORM.

‘Reference Model’ means that SCORM is actually not a standard. In reality, it is a framework that just emphasizes interoperability and compatibility of eLearning systems. ADL did not create a learning standard from scratch. They discovered there were so many learning standards in the industry that only solved some of the problems.

SCORM was introduced to define how these standards can seamlessly work together and dictate to developers how these standards can properly be used together.

SCORM also defines how courseware is created and launched. Most authoring tools and LMS platforms are built with SCORM in mind. Consequently, these tools operate smoothly and can share content without any challenges. If a particular tool does not conform to the standard, it is punished by the resultant isolation.

In most cases, when eLearning courseware is being created, a SCORM-compliant authoring tool will be used. The product is a zip folder, which will be uploaded to your SCORM-compliant LMS, which then takes care of the rest.

Later, the course is published on the LMS and a learner can log in to view the course material using a browser. The LMS will be responsible for collecting data, tracking, and reporting the learner’s performance. Also, SCORM will define to the LMS which data to receive.

An Analogy for SCORM

When you need to connect your computer to a device, mostly, you will do so via a USB port. Indeed, the USB is the universal standard set by hardware manufacturers to ensure that all computer products work together easily.

The USB standard ensures that no manufacturer develops a device that needs a special proprietary plug. Consequently, companies create products that work with each other seamlessly in the computer ecosystem.

Hence, the customer will have more choice and not be limited to a few ‘compatible’ devices. SCORM is like the USB standard. It just standardizes many elements of eLearning and punishes those which are not compliant. In the same fashion, the USB standard will punish you if you try to connect your computer to a non-USB compliant device.

In a nutshell, SCORM is a set of technical specifications that were developed to create a uniform approach to how eLearning content is authored and consumed. Over the years, SCORM has gone through some major changes.

Sharable Content Object (SCO)

This is the most basic launchable resource in the SCORM framework. Most people like to view it as a page or a module. Indeed, it is the smallest piece of content that is independent and reusable.

In an LMS, the SCO is shown separately in the table of contents and is tracked independently of other items. Mostly, it will have its own completion status, score, and bookmark. It must be designed to be launched on a standalone browser or in an HTML frameset frame.

SCOs are unique aspects of the eLearning environment. Once a learner launches an LMS on a browser, the SCO communicates information regarding a learner back to the launching LMS, mostly, a remote server. Such information is important to give a report on a learner’s performance.

SCORM doesn’t dictate the size of the SCO to be uploaded. An SCO can be a single web page or multiple web pages; as long as these pages can be seen as a single unit. Also, every SCO should be independent of the learning context and must be reusable. To make an SCO reusable, it should be self-contained and not link or reference other SCOs.

A browser frame or a popup window should be used to launch an SCO. Also, unless an SCO determines it is the owner of the window, it should not close the window in which it is launched.

How Does SCORM Work?

There are different versions of SCORM (discussed in the next section), but they all govern two things; content packaging and data Run-Time exchange.

  • Content packaging or content aggregation model (CAM). This determines how content should be delivered physically. At the heart of the SCORM packaging is the document ‘imsmanifest’ which contains all the information needed by an LMS to import and launch courseware without any human interaction.

Inside the manifest is the XML (Extensible Markup Language), which defines a course’s structure both from the physical file system context and from a human context. This document determines issues such as the name of the content and what documents should be uploaded.

  • Data Run-Time exchange. Also known as data exchange or Run-Time communication, this element decides how content interacts or ‘talks’ to an LMS while content is being played. This part of SCORM is described as delivery and tracking.

There are two components to this communication. The first is where the content finds the LMS. Once the LMS is found, the content can then communicate via a collection of ‘get’ and ‘set’ calls and a related vocabulary.

In perspective, these are things such as a request for the learner’s name and the score attained by the learner in a certain test or assessment. Depending on the associated SCORM vocabulary, enhanced interactive experiences can be relayed to the LMS.

Versions of SCORM

Currently, there are three versions of SCORM. Every succeeding version is an update of the previous one and builds on top of it. SCORM was developed to introduce an ecosystem where all eLearning systems can operate seamlessly with each other. To achieve this goal, support for all three versions is key.

SCORM 1.1: This was the first-ever released version. It wasn’t widely adopted but some systems still support it.

SCORM 1.2: This version succeeded 1.1 and solved many of its problems. It was widely adopted and is still the most used version to date. In fact, many LMS platforms support it, and developers and vendors are still making content that is SCORM 1.2 compliant.

SCORM 2004: It was previously known as SCORM 1.3 and is the latest version released. It formalizes and extends the packaging and Run-Time elements of the SCORM 1.2 version. However, its notable addition is sequencing and navigation (S&N). The S&N specification allows the vendor to specify behavior within the SCO and behavior between SCOs.

As a result, SCOs become reused substantially and content interactions are enriched. The adoption of this version has been slow but there is a considerable number of LMSs and content creators that support and create SCORM 2004 content.

Benefits of SCORM

By now you have a picture that SCORM was developed to regulate all the chaos in the eLearning industry. However, what benefits does this standard present to you? These benefits have helped to handle all this chaos effectively.

  1. All high-quality authoring tools and LMS platforms conform to the SCORM standard. The result is an interoperable ecosystem that is reliable.
  2. SCORM favors the consumer. A learner can consume course content on any compliant LMS which eliminates chances of being trapped in a poorly-developed LMS. If you are unsatisfied, you can always upload content into an alternative LMS if you have the zip folders.
  3. Training does not have to be bespoke for every platform. In turn, this saves costs of delivering training.
  4. High-quality content is created since most course creation and authoring tools work seamlessly with SCORM-compliant LMSs.
  5. SCORM content can be created one time and used in many platforms and systems without any modifications. This plug-and-play feature is powerful both within an organization and across organizations. To add, SCORM content can be delivered to users in a robust and faster way and at an affordable price.
  6. Huge organizations have adopted this standard. In fact, it is the industry standard. The DoD, for instance, has stipulated that all of its content must be delivered either via SCORM or Experience API (xAPI).
  7. Slowly, the standard is being embraced and many procurement departments in various organizations are ordering SCORM 2004 compliant training content and LMS platforms.

How SCORM relates to AICC, xAPI and CMI5

SCORM is a ‘best of breed’ solution merging the best pieces of previous specifications. Thus, it is a reference model built on top of existing standards.

AICC (Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee) is a standard with origins in the aviation industry. It was previously used for the Run-Time communication element of SCORM. However, conforming to one standard does not necessarily mean that you are compliant with another.

xAPI, also known as Experience API or Tin Can API, is the latest eLearning standard and is seen as ‘the next-generation SCORM.’ Rustici Software LLC worked hand-in-hand with ADL to develop SCORM. xAPI has more enhanced features that SCORM doesn’t such as tracking learner activity outside of the LMS environment.

CMI5 defines the vital components that allow systems interoperability. These include content packaging, launching, consistent information model (CIM), and credential handshake. CMI5 is an xAPI-based profile that is used when an LMS launches xAPI activities.

Do You Need SCORM?

You need to conduct a cost-benefit analysis to help you decide whether you need SCORM. In most cases, the expenses and time spent implementing it are the factors to consider in your analysis. To help you further, below are some pros and cons.

Pros

  • Creating SCORM content is easy and user-friendly. You don’t need programming knowledge to create learning material and many authoring tools come with templates you can use.
  • SCORM is supported by most developers and authoring tools and migration from one LMS to another is easy.

Cons

  • The last SCORM update was in March 2009; more than a decade ago. It is quite an outdated standard.
  • It does not support offline learning. You must have an internet connection.
  • Tracking options are limited and include assessment scores, time spent on courses and completion levels. Advanced metrics like engagement are not included.
  • SCORM works only within the LMS environment. While publishing SCORM courses on your website is possible, you do not get any of the tracking metrics that you would inside an LMS.

As a bonus, you should consider xAPI over SCORM. It supports offline learning and can work outside of the LMS environment. To add, it is less famous, more modern and more effective. Moreover, developing content is the same process. xAPI also eliminates all the drawbacks of SCORM.

Are SCORM-Compliant LMSs the Same?

No. The SCORM standard only defines how content is launched and tracked based on some strict rules. SCORM ensures that certain activities are conducted and tracked. This feature is the only common function in most LMS platforms.

Other functions such as interface and ease of use vary from one LMS to another. Here at Tovuti LMS, we have features that we have developed to overcome the drawbacks of SCORM. These features were not developed for our platform to be SCORM compliant. They were developed with user experience in mind and to make the process easy.

Tools for Producing SCORM Content

You need an authoring tool if SCORM is a requirement. An authoring tool is a software for creating eLearning courseware. Ensure that you choose the right authoring tool for your LMS; check for ease of use, features, customer support, and price when choosing one.

Simplify Your Training Needs

If you have SCORM-compliant courses ready, you can upload them to Tovuti LMS with ease. Our modern LMS platform is loaded with great features that will help you achieve your training objectives.


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