How to use SCORM compliant authoring tools

How to use SCORM Compliant Authoring Tools

Day one of our SCORM series explored the history of the eLearning standard. While I briefly explained what SCORM is, I mostly focused on its origins and the problems it was developed to address. Ultimately, we concluded that SCORM is a set of specifications that defines how a course and LMS communicate with each other.

The purpose of SCORM is to increase 'interoperability'. By providing a standard of communication that can be applied consistently, SCORM makes it easier for eLearning professionals to share and migrate course content across tools and systems. In this second post, I’ll delve into the details of how a SCORM compliant course is created and explain exactly what defines it.

SCORM specifies how tools and content communicate

To begin, I'll explain a pretty simple SCORM concept that's, nonetheless, often misunderstood. Many eLearning professionals mistakenly believe that SCORM somehow defines the nature of an online course. While that's incorrect, the difference is subtle. SCORM is a 'specification', essentially a communications protocol.

As an analogy, think about truck drivers (yes, Jerry Reed, Smokey and the Bandit stuff!). A driver follows a specific protocol to communicate with other drivers. Before making a statement or asking a question, the driver introduces him or herself with “Breaker, breaker” and ends with “Over”, to signal that they've finished speaking.

Another driver might respond: “That’s a 10-4”, to confirm the statement and end with “Over” to signal that they've also finished speaking. They might also talk about quizzes or yo-yos on the road but that’s beyond the scope of our analogy!

That's a simple example of a rudimentary protocol for CB radio communications between drivers. We can develop the analogy to map it to SCORM:

  1. SCORM can be compared to the protocol of using terms like "10-4", "Over" and "Roger" to confirm or signal the end of communications between drivers. Like SCORM, the protocol helps drivers to communicate by providing a shared set of rules that are consistently applied to minimize confusion.
  2. SCORM doesn't care what kind of truck you're driving (or LMS you use) or which brand of radio (or authoring tool) you prefer. The role of a protocol like SCORM is to help drivers to communicate with each other. In theory, they could be using a three-wheel truck, milk-cart, or pair of rollerblades. Once they know how to talk CB, they can communicate, share information, and be 'interoperable', just like SCORM.

So, SCORM is a specification that provides rules for how things communicate with each other. It doesn't influence the color, size or complexity of a course. But it does define how the course talks to an LMS - just as truck drivers all over the world use a protocol to communicate, regardless of which vehicles or radios they prefer.

And just as CB chatter evolves across time and territories, SCORM has also changed since the first version was published in 1999. Communication protocols always evolve. Next, I'll explain how your vehicle is assembled, that is, how a SCORM compliant course is created, and what it contains.

SCORM compliant authoring tools

There are two main options for creating a SCORM compliant course. Either you can use an off-the-shelf authoring tool or you can build a tool yourself from the ground up. The latter requires a deep understanding of the SCORM protocol, as well as development skills. I've worked with customers who have taken that approach and it worked well for some of them. Building a SCORM compliant course gives you full control over how a course is developed and the details of learner experience.

Navigation and design choices aren’t limited by the features of a generic authoring tool. Courses developed in this way also tend to work better, as they can be designed to suit the organization’s specific needs and target the individual browsers and devices they support. With that said, an off-the-shelf authoring tool makes course development accessible, particularly if you lack necessary skills in-house. 

A wide range of SCORM compliant authoring tools are available, from the simple to the highly complex. Usually, an authoring tool's workspace looks something like PowerPoint. That’s a loose generalization but it’s also accurate. Most authoring tools allow you to import media, build a slide set, and define rules about how learners navigate between slides or pages.

That covers the basics of what a SCORM compliant authoring tool must deliver: a course composed of multiple pages or screens that a learner clicks through from beginning to end. A more sophisticated authoring tool will allow you to add interactive elements, like exams, surveys, and rich media including audio and video.

The most advanced authoring tools will allow you to create nice transitions between screens and set rules about how learners progress through a course. You could, for example, choose to limit access to an exam until learners have viewed every page that precedes it.

Which authoring tool you select should be determined by your requirements, skills, and the patience and time available to build a course. Before using an authoring tool, sketch an outline of the course to help define your requirements. Some authoring tools I recommend include ElucidatArticulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, iSpring Pro, and Camtasia.

You can use any of these tools (listed in no particular order of preference) to create SCORM course content. Each has particular strengths. Some, like Camtasia, specialize in the creation of video content. Captivate and Storyline are particularly suited to adapting existing PowerPoint content. While Elucidat specializes in easy cloud collaboration for the development of fully responsive content.

Learn more: Our customer support team has written SCORM tutorials for a number of these tools. Learn How to publish SCORM content in Adobe CaptivateHow to publish SCORM content in Articulate Storyline, or How to publish a SCORM quiz in iSpring.

Creating a SCORM package

Once your course has been created, you’re ready to export what’s called a ‘SCORM package’. Remember, SCORM is essentially a communications protocol. Your completed course might contain imagery, text, video, and a quiz. But that doesn’t make it a ‘SCORM course’. In order to SCORM-ify the course, you’ll use the authoring tool’s export option. To use an analogy, when you create a Word document, you can save it to formats like PDF or RTF. When you use an authoring tool, you can also export content to multiple formats, including Tin Can (xAPI), web format (which provides a folder you can post on a website to host a course), or, indeed, SCORM

If you select the export to SCORM option, your authoring tool will use all the elements of your course (including text, images, video, navigation settings, quizzes) to create a SCORM package. That package gives you two important things. Firstly, you can reuse the package by importing it to an LMS that supports SCORM. That’s what makes SCORM ‘shareable’. And secondly, the package understands the SCORM protocol, the API specification itself is embedded in your course by the authoring tool, delivering all the interoperability of SCORM.

An authoring tool may also provide options for exporting to a specific version of SCORM, like 1.2 or 2004. But whichever version you choose, you’ll achieve the main goal of exporting your course to a SCORM package. The package is effectively a .zip file. That file contains all of your media (the course’s images, videos, buttons, quizzes, etc.), as well as some “magic dust” that allows your chosen LMS to import, read, and ultimately to run the course, delivering it to the masses. In the next post in this series, we’ll open up that zip file and inspect it thoroughly, as I explain how to import SCORM content to your LMS.


At the end of day two, you now understand that SCORM is a specification or a protocol. You still need to build your course in the usual way and to create a SCORM package with its contents. SCORM won’t make the content, usability, or structure of your course better or worse. That's up to your instructional designer or course developer. But SCORM will allow you to share your course, run it on an LMS, and track learner progress and results (which we’ll cover in day four of this series!).




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