How to use SCORM Compliant Authoring Tools
SCORM has played an interesting part in the history of eLearning standards. Originally used by the US government as a course content format, it quickly became a set of specifications used worldwide to define how a course and LMS communicate with each other.
The purpose of SCORM is to increase ‘interoperability’. SCORM makes it easier for eLearning professionals to share and move course content across tools and systems. This exchange works because it provides a standard of communication that can be applied consistently across systems. Let’s look at how a SCORM compliant course is created, and explain exactly what defines it.
SCORM specifies how tools and content communicate
Let’s start by looking at a SCORM concept that’s often misunderstood. Many eLearning professionals mistakenly believe that SCORM defines the nature of an online course. But SCORM is a ‘specification’, essentially a communications protocol.
Let’s use an analogy to explain this. Think about truck drivers (yes, Jerry Reed, Smokey and the Bandit stuff!). A truck driver follows a specific protocol to communicate with other drivers. Before making a statement or asking a question over a radio comms system, the driver introduces himself or herself with “Breaker, breaker”, makes their statement, and ends with “Over” to signal that they’re finished speaking.
Another driver might respond: “That’s a 10-4”, to confirm they understand the statement and end with “Over” to signal that they’ve also finished speaking.
This is a simple example of a protocol for CB radio communications between truck drivers. Now, let’s map this analogy to explain how SCORM works:
- SCORM can be compared to the protocol of using terms like “10-4”, “Over” and “Roger” to confirm or signal the end of communication between drivers. Like SCORM, the protocol helps drivers to communicate by providing a shared set of rules that are consistently applied to minimize confusion.
- 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, scooter, 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, like language, are always evolving.
SCORM compliant authoring tools
There are two 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. But don’t let this make you feel like you have to hire someone to help you build this. It’s perfectly okay to use an off-the-shelf authoring tool as this makes course development accessible, especially 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 will look something like PowerPoint, in that it allows you to import media and build a slide set. One way an authoring tool is different, is that you can define rules around 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 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 time you have to build a course. To help define your requirements, sketch an outline of the course before using an authoring tool. There are lots of authoring tools to choose from including Elucidat, Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, iSpring Pro, and Camtasia.
You can use any of these 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. Elucidat specializes in easy cloud collaboration for the development of fully responsive content.
To find out more, our customer support team has written SCORM tutorials for a number of these tools. Learn how to publish SCORM content in Adobe Captivate, SCORM content in Articulate Storyline, or 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. When you use an authoring tool, you can also export content to multiple formats, including xAPI (Tin Can), web format (which provides a folder you can post on a website to host a course), or 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 provides you with two important options. 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. 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 course media, as well as some “magic dust” that allows your chosen LMS to import, read, and ultimately to run the course. Find out what’s in that zip file and inspect it thoroughly, to ensure it’s ready to import to your LMS.
You should now understand that SCORM is a specification or a protocol. 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. What SCORM will allow you to do, is to share your course, run it on an LMS, and track learner progress and results.