Feature Focus: What is SCORM?

SCORM stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Model. It’s a set of technical standards for elearning software products – which means a way of setting up an elearning course so that it can run from any SCORM-compliant LMS. In the same way that DVDs are created in a standardized way so they can be read by any DVD player, SCORM sets out the standardized set-up that means elearning can be read by any LMS.

SCORM governs two things: packaging content and run-time.

  • Packaging content determines how a piece of content should be physically delivered. SCORM specifies exactly how the learning content should be structured within its file so it can be properly launched, interpreted and tracked.
  • The run-time communication or data exchange specifies how the learning object 'talks' to the LMS. This is how instructions like 'request the learner’s name' and 'tell the LMS that the learner scored 85% on this test' are passed between the learning content and the module.

To find out more about SCORM standards, SCORM packaging and SCORM compliance, check out the official SCORM website or the SCORM Wikipedia page.

What is a SCORM file?

SCOs – or Shareable Content Objects – are the individual trackable pieces of elearning, so these might be whole courses or one page. It refers to something that can be individually uploaded and tracked by an LMS.

SCORM defines how elearning content should be packaged into a transferable ZIP file which is known as a SCORM file. It’s this file that needs to be set up according to the structure that SCORM standards require, and including the core files that allow it to properly communicate with the LMS.

What are the different SCORM versions?

There have been a number of different versions and releases of the SCORM standards since 1999.

SCORM 1.1

This was the first version of SCORM. This version was when SCORM became implementable. It showed that SCORM was workable as an idea, but it highlighted several issues to be resolved in the next version.

SCORM 1.2

This version ironed out many of the problems with the first and it quickly grew in popularity. Almost all LMSs support this version and most content developers still create elearning that meets its standards. It’s likely to be around for a long time.

SCORM 2004 (sometimes known as SCORM 1.3)

This is the current release, giving content developers more control over how their elearning behaves. For example, it includes a sequencing and navigation specification that lets content vendors specify how the learner can progress between SCOs.

There have actually been several iterations of SCORM 2004, each one building on and ironing out the issues of the one before, but SCORM 2004 version 3 is the most widely used.

Alternatives to SCORM

The most recent version of SCORM was created in 2004, so although the standard is still widely used, its functionality is limited in terms of modern capabilities. Newer standards like xAPI offer more features to elearning authors and let them gather more types of data on how their elearning is being used.

xAPI or Experience API or Tin Can API. xAPI is a protocol for tracking learning-related activity that was developed in 2013. The main difference between Tin Can API and SCORM is its ability to track learning. While SCORM learning can only be tracked within a compliant LMS, xAPI enables the recording, tracking, personalizing and improving of learning in almost any context. The only drawback is the support. This standard is gaining more traction in recent times, but it is still not as widely used as SCORM.

What can be tracked by SCORM?

As you can see, one of the key differentiators between standards is what they can track. That means what they can monitor and report back to the elearning manager. SCORM 1.2 keeps track of the following data:

  • lesson_location. This is where the learner is up to in the course. It means they can be taken back to that point if they want to leave and come back later.
  • suspend_data. This is a general 'bucket' where any specific data you want to capture can be stored. For example, if you want to know how a learner answered a specific question, you can set up the suspend data to monitor this.
  • lesson_status. This means whether the learner has passed, failed or completed the course.
  • session_time and total_time. The time the learner has spent looking at the course, both in this session and overall.
  • score_raw. This is the score the learner achieved for the whole module.
  • mastery_score. This is the score the learner must achieve for the module to set as 'passed.'
  • interactions. This includes how individuals engage with the questions and the time they spend on each section, for example:

SCORM-Compliant LMS

A SCORM-compliant LMS means the LMS is set up in a way to 'listen' to the information the elearning modules send to it. Both the LMS and the elearning course need to be SCORM-compliant so that the data can be sent between them, and the reports can be run to see who has looked at the elearning and how they’ve done.

Summary

SCORM 2004 is still the gold standard of elearning compatibility. If you create your elearning package following SCORM 2004 protocols, you can be assured it will be read and understood by almost any LMS. However, its features are limited. With learning becoming more varied and innovative and with an interest in more granular data reporting on learners’ behaviors, xAPI is becoming more and more popular.

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