What’s the Deal with SCORM

What’s the Deal with SCORM?

Everyone working in eLearning should be aware of SCORM and xAPI even if you don’t work directly with eLearning tools or code. That’s because SCORM (and xAPI) is not a specific tool or technology but a big-picture set of standards that ensure eLearning content is shareable and reusable.

What is SCORM?

SCORM (which stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Model) is a set of standards for creating training materials that was developed by the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative from the Office of the United States Secretary of Defence. It was introduced as a guideline to creating eLearning content that is modular and reusable across multiple systems. That means that a SCORM lesson doesn’t have to be tied to a single course, learning management system, department, or organization. The ADL (and many other organizations) realized that this was hugely important when creating, maintaining, and tracking large amounts eLearning materials.

Imagine you build an awesome new training lesson as a PDF (not exactly eLearning but its digital). Your lesson is so great that another organization wants to use it for their training as well. You can easily give them your PDF files but you’d also need to give them a lot more information if they want to successfully use your lesson as part of their program.

What are all the parts of the lesson (videos, images, documents, etc)? In what order should a learner complete the lessons? Who records that a learner has completed the lesson? These are the kinds of problems that SCORM tries to solve. SCORM itself is not tied to any single company, content, or tool.

How does it work?

There are 2 parts to making SCORM work: the LMS and the eLearning content. Both need to be speaking the same language.

The LMS needs to know what to do with SCORM content that it is given. It also needs to listen for important events from the content as the learner is using it (“Quiz passed!”, “Quiz failed!”, etc). On the flip side, eLearning content needs to clearly indicate how it is meant to be deployed and it also needs to send the important messages to the LMS.

SCORM standards tell LMS developers and eLearning designers EXACTLY how this information must be communicated so they can each build their own piece and know that they will work perfectly together.

A few technical details

The primary technology used by SCORM is Javascript, the main language used to control behaviours in web browsers. A SCORM compliant LMS listens for specific instructions in javascript from the learning content.

The most common instructions include Initialize (get ready to receive data), Terminate/Finish (store the completed data), Set Value (set a specific variable to a given value), and Get Value (get a saved value back). The values you save are the key to storing data in SCORM. Some of the most important variables to record are the Completion Status (completed vs incomplete) and a Score. Developers can also store individual question responses or time spent on the content.

A SCORM complaint LMS is responsible for listening, storing, and retrieving this data for later use.

How can I create SCORM content?

You probably don’t need to worry about the LMS side of SCORM but you and any content creators you work with are in control of ensuring the content you create is SCORM compliant.

Design: it all starts with design. When creating content, you are in control of the tools and methods you use to create your content ensuring that it is SCORM compliant. This includes both the technologies you choose and the instructional design you implement. Learning content that meets all the technical requirements to be SCORM compliant but doesn’t make sense outside a specific context is not shareable or reusable!

Configuration and tools: many authoring tools such as Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline include SCORM support — you just have ensure you set up and export your content with the appropriate SCORM settings. These tools ensure the content you export is speaking the right language.

Programming: SCORM is not tied to any particular tool and any eLearning content can be made SCORM compliant by programming it to communicate with an LMS.

SCORM started with version 1.0 in 1999 and since then has evolved; the most recent incarnation of SCORM is called Experience API (or xAPI). While the details of the technology have changed, the underlying idea has stayed the same: setting a standard for LMS’s and eLearning content to speak the same language and ensuring eLearning content is sharable, reusable, and trackable.

Learn more about Cogcentric and our customizable Fabric LMS!

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