As CTO of LearnUpon, with sixteen years’ eLearning experience, I’ve seen a lot of SCORM. Over the years, our team has helped hundreds of customers to resolve every kind of issue the format throws up. That’s left us with internal expertise that could save you a lot of time and work. So this week, I’m bringing you something a little different – everything you need to know about SCORM! Over the course of five blog posts, I’ll explain:
- what SCORM actually is
- how it relates to authoring tools
- how to get SCORM content into your LMS
- how SCORM API tracking really works
- what the future of the standard looks like.
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Believe it or not, day one of our SCORM series, starts in 1999, with the United States government. Back in the day, many US government departments conducted online training. At the time, however, the co-ordination and consistency of training provided was pretty much non-existent. If you can imagine, multiple departments produced reams of course content, duplicated it, generated inconsistent completion and exam results, and so forth. That was life pre-SCORM! The US Department Of Defense (DoD) and Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) decided to combine their collective experience on the subject, under an initiative issued by President Bill Clinton no less. SCORM was soon born.
It would be wrong, however, to describe SCORM as the first “standard”. AICC (Aviation Industry Computer-Based-Training Committee) deserves a mention too. AICC was, indeed, the first official eLearning content standard. Developed in 1993 as a CD-ROM based standard, online web support was added to its specifications in 1998. However, AICC’s interoperability and ease of use (when imported to an LMS, for example), made it very difficult to work with. Many steps were often required just to get content in the format up and running in an LMS.
What is SCORM?
But what does the term ‘SCORM’ actually mean? SCORM stands for: Shareable Content Object Reference Model. Isn’t that memorable?! Ultimately, its name indicates that SCORM is a piece of content that’s easy to reuse, share, and repurpose. That’s what supports SCORM’s ‘interoperability’ for those who create eLearning content and those who consume it. Its interoperability helped SCORM to solve the problems US government departments sought to address. So, SCORM is essentially a specification that defines how learning content consistently speaks to, and tracks results back to, an LMS, in that way enhancing shareability.
Versions of SCORM
In its infancy, SCORM was released as version 1.1. Undoubtedly, it started a revolution. While the version lacked some key concepts, it’s still the ground on which SCORM stands today. In 2001, version 1.2 was released in order to improve on some concepts that 1.1 failed to address, like the lack of metadata, and to offer greatly improved interoperability. As a result, version 1.2 was a big hit with the industry and is still heavily used today. Arguably, it remains the most popular version in the SCORM family. That status quo remained until 2004 when (cleverly enough!) SCORM version 2004 was born. In fact, SCORM 2004, 2nd edition, was the official version released in July 2004. Up to 2009, four editions of the 2004 version were released, each refining what preceding versions had delivered.
The most notable advance the 2004 version offered over 1.2, was the ability to sequence content (i.e. to control the order in which learners complete course sections or modules), and an enhanced ability to track how learners navigate between module subsets. SCORM 2004 also introduced a number of new features. The release of new tracking fields became a hotly contested element of the specification. The field for storing learner bookmarking data increased from 4,096 characters to a much-needed 64,000 characters. But funnily enough, the size only increased in the third edition. The second actually reduced it to 4,000 characters, causing an outcry!
But what are the implications of all of these versions in reality? In my view, SCORM 2004 introduced too many editions of the format. Each included too many changes, even reducing the size (if only temporarily) of a bookmarking field that was already a bone of contention in the industry. While the format continued to move forward, it also took a number of steps back, introducing some concepts that confused developers. As a result, the 2004 version ended up being more about what data could be tracked, than a true addition of new features to the specification. Ultimately, version 1.2 has prevailed as the preferred solution and is still more widely adopted. In my opinion, that’s as it should be because the version is less ambiguous. In most cases, a sensible LMS implementation will allow a SCORM to track larger bookmark sizes than the 4,096 specified in 1.2. But more on that later – I’ll save the real technical gems for days two and three of our series!
All in all, SCORM has travelled a rocky road since its inception. Like any form of online standard, it took time to mature and settle down on the path to widespread adoption. If you’re thinking about using SCORM for eLearning content or are interested in developing a SCORM-based course, my advice is to consider version 1.2. There’s a better chance that the content you create will be supported by your chosen LMS. And, indeed, a better chance the content will track and work as you need it to.
Next up I’ll look at how SCORM works with authoring tools.