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xAPI and more - what next for SCORM?

While SCORM has dominated the eLearning standards field since it was developed, there are now new kids on the block. Let’s look to the future of eLearning content development and explore what lies ahead.

eLearning past: AICC

The AICC (Aviation Industry Computer-Based-Training Committee) is considered the first eLearning standard, used to track how learners progress through course content. While many eLearning vendors still support AICC, the standard is usually a legacy of older platforms and businesses. Organizations that implement AICC have typically been around for a while and began using it when it was still common. This is also evident from the fact that the AICC specification hasn’t been updated in over ten years.

The main benefit AICC has over SCORM is that it uses HTTP post requests (known as AICC-HACP) to track data. As a result, AICC avoids the difficulties caused by the kinds of cross-domain communications issues. Funnily enough, xAPI (Tin Can), adopts a similar approach to AICC regarding the HACP and, as a result, can track data across domains, or indeed, almost anywhere. 

eLearning present: xAPI (Tin Can)

SCORM has been through many iterations. While it has evolved, its primary issue is that 1.2, the second version in its history, is still the specification commonly implemented with authoring tools and learning management systems. That indicates that, while SCORM is embedded in the industry and will be around for some time, development has stalled and other standards need to step in. In fact, other standards like xAPI already have. Also known as Tin Can, xAPI version 1.0 officially released in April 2015.

Pitched as a successor to SCORM, xAPI became widely adopted pretty quickly. Like SCORM, the specification is an API and defines a communications protocol for tracking learning-related activity. However, xAPI is much more than a JavaScript API that sits in an LMS and talks SCORM. It can track learning in almost any context. As a result, the standard is used to track more real-world scenarios, across a broad range of devices and tools.

The xAPI specification is better defined than the SCORM API and uses more modern technologies to achieve its goals. That makes it easier to use, more accessible to developers, and more robust. xAPI also introduced the concept of an LRS. An LRS can be located inside or outside an LMS. It’s essentially a large unit that understands how to speak the xAPI protocol. It’s used for storing and retrieving xAPI data, also known as statements.

One weakness of xAPI that SCORM has in its favor relates to the CAM specification, or packaging aspect, of SCORM. xAPI’s creators published a white paper on how xAPI courses can be packaged. But in reality, the document was little more than a suggestion, intended to help authoring tools get to grips with xAPI quickly. It also enabled learning management systems to import and launch xAPI packages in a manner similar to SCORM. But why does xAPI’s lack of packaging matter?

From the perspective of an LMS vendor, the original white paper was received as the definitive word from the xAPI crew. eLearning developers believed the paper described exactly how learning platforms and authoring tools should create, package and import xAPI courses. And while the method does work, it’s ambiguous. Different tools create packages in different ways, which creates confusion and misconceptions about how a package should be defined or interpreted.

A classic example is that the xAPI package itself can define questions included in a quiz that the course can also define in real-time during its tracking. Yes, you read that correctly! This is very inefficient and unreliable, from an LMS implementation perspective. It means that two different ways to source question data from an xAPI package has to be implemented, one of which (the packaging) is not well defined. But xAPI was developed to track learning everywhere and “everywhere” and that can’t be neatly packaged, right?

Enter cmi5

The people behind AICC haven’t been left behind just yet. With cmi5, ADL is writing the packaging and structuring specification that xAPI failed to deliver, pitching it as the “true next generation of SCORM”.

That means if you already support xAPI, implementing cmi5 should be pretty easy. ADL is taking the best parts of AICC, SCORM, and xAPI, and combining them with a new specification, to improve tracking for online course delivery and reporting systems. In short, the people behind cmi5 are using xAPI as a communications protocol and are defining how courses should be packaged and structured too.

LTI and Common Cartridge

New eLearning standards, Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI) and Common Cartridge (CC), are also gathering ground in the academic arena. And the IMS Global Learning Consortium has focused on these standards in particular.

LTI allows any tool to connect to an LMS, assuming both understand the LTI API. That makes it possible to integrate a diverse range of tools with an LMS for tracking relevant data. For example, if grading tools or online books were plugged into an LMS, LTI could be used to track progress and results.

So what’s Common Cartridge all about? In some ways, the standard redefines the concept of a course and brings LMS functionality into play within the course itself. Content packages defined for CC are very similar to the packaging of SCORM courses. That’s one exciting aspect of CC for LMS vendors. It provides an easily accessible definition of how online content can be imported and shared between platforms. CC excels in giving course developers more options by supplying specifications for including handout-based files, access to chat and discussion forums, all within the course itself.

Looking to the future

It’s an exciting time for the eLearning industry and eLearning content development. Remember that the above list is not exhaustive. For example, Caliper Analytics, by IMS Global Learning Consortium, is another standard that could be one to watch as it gathers momentum in the field of data science. 




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