What is SCORM and Why Should I Care?

Acronym SCORM over top of a background of falling ones and zeroes representing data
March 8, 2022
14 minutes
Acronym SCORM over top of a background of falling ones and zeroes representing data

I recently joined Sara Cortellazzi, LearnWorlds' Senior Product Marketing Manager and Dr. Paul Siozos, Ph.D., CEO at LearnWorlds for an Ask Me Anything webinar on SCORM.  

The session covered the important aspects of this key learning and development standard and a lot of great questions were answered.  

This article is the first in a series on SCORM, covering some of its core aspects as discussed during the webinar.

What is SCORM?

To begin any conversation about SCORM we must first establish the groundwork, or in other words, what exactly is SCORM?  

SCORM stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Model.  

It’s a standard developed by Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL for short).  

The standard is a trusted set of technical standards and requirements for self-paced eLearning content that enables creators of content (authoring tools) to communicate with distributors of content (learning management systems (LMS).)

The standard helps make sure that when you create content in an authoring tool such as dominKnow| ONE the resulting course package will launch, track results, bookmark where a learner left off and so on in your LMS of choice, all without requiring intervention from a programming team to make this work.  

This enables your dominKnow | ONE content (and any content developed with any other SCORM compliant authoring tools) to be versatile, interoperable, and accessible from virtually any learning system by any learner.  

And while there are both some older standards such as AICC, and some newer standards such as xAPI, SCORM-compliance is by far the most popular and universal standard for eLearning interoperability.

What is a SCORM-Compliant Package?

A SCORM-compliant package is essentially a single .ZIP file that contains all the requisite learning materials formatted to conform to SCORM specifications. Some of the key elements of a SCORM compliant package are:

  1. It’s zipped up. Zip is the standard format to package and extract SCORM compliant content.
  1. It has an IMSManifest.xml file in it at the root level of the Zip. Loosely speaking this is a specially formatted text document that explains what is in the SCORM package. It is a bit like a table of contents and listing of assets with some operating instructions.
  1. Programmatic calls, typically written in JavaScript, that send and receive information between the learning (SCORM compliant package) and the LMS when the content is being consumed by learners. These include data points such as what is the status of the learning content, and what is the score a learner has received.

As a user of SCORM you don’t typically need to understand these details, as the package and associated tools that are SCORM compliant take care of everything for you. Of course, understanding the basics can be helpful when something goes wrong and you want to understand, for example, how and why when someone completes a course in your LMS it isn’t recording the expected results.  

So Why Should SCORM Compliance Matter to Me?

Well, if you are a learning professional, there is a high probability that you will hear about and probably even use SCORM in some aspect of your professional life.  

As with any profession, having a base level understanding of foundational aspects can really help.  

The primary benefit of SCORM to you and to the learners you serve is interoperability. It doesn’t matter if you are a creator of content, a purchaser of off the shelf content libraries, or an administrator of an LMS. In all cases you’ll need content that is SCORM-compliant.  

The good news is that virtually all tools support this standard, and as an end-user this means you have choices. Choices enable you focus on other key functionality for your chosen solutions, such as does the authoring tool produce responsive content, or does the LMS have the talent management features you need.  

The bad news is that although most solutions are SCORM-compliant, there can still be some incompatibility or lesser compatibility problems. Fortunately, that’s less common and many tools (including dominKnow | ONE) have created on/off options or profiles to address these variances.

Some Benefits SCORM Provides the Training Industry

SCORM meets the needs of different groups of people in different ways. This isn’t too surprising, though, as a main purpose of SCORM is interoperability, enabling all natures of solutions (and people) to get along.  

Some of the key benefits of SCORM are:

Interoperability: If you are a creator of content (whether that’s as an internal employee of an organization or as a third-party vendor) it's a given that most of your clients will want you to load your content into an LMS. In almost all cases this can be accomplished by making sure your content is SCORM-compliant. Before the development of SCORM (back in the dark ages 20 years ago), integration with other vendors’ tools was a time-consuming and expensive process. 

Accessibility: Each SCORM compliant course is packaged in a way that makes it easily portable between different platforms. It is rare that you need to do anything different for a different customer using a different system.

Efficiency: The use of SCORM and similar standards enhances efficiency and reduces the support burden on eLearning teams and businesses. Of course, having a support team, or vendor, that has a strong understanding of SCORM can be a great boon as nothing is 100% foolproof.

Market expansion: If you are a content vendor making off-the-shelf courses, starting out your content creation in a proprietary all-in-one solution that combines authoring and an LMS might be beneficial at first. But if you want to expand your marketplace for your content, being able to publish as a SCORM-compliant package will help greatly in marketing and increased sales.  

Affordability: One of the key purposes of standards is to increase efficiency and SCORM has accomplished this in droves for the training industry.

Durability: SCORM has been around a long time with the first version of the standard released in January 2000.  Twenty plus years later, it is the most widely used and supported standard in the training industry.

Is this "Oldie but Goodie" Still Relevant Today?

“Is SCORM dead?” is a question any “long time” learning professional has probably heard more than once.  

Over the past few years this question has most often been raised by the creation of another standard, the Experience API, also known as xAPI.

Although the world is in constant flux, SCORM, as an eLearning standard, is very much alive and well. There are thousands of SCORM compliant packages created every day and many millions more in use by people all throughout the world taking self-paced learning. 

If you think about this, it isn’t too surprising. SCORM is a standard and standards are meant to endure. Think of how long it took many organizations to abandon Internet Explorer 11 as their web browser, and this wasn’t even an official standard, HTML 1.x was the standard language.  

Of course, standards do evolve, and we’ll review that a bit more in a future article, but evolution takes time, and adoption of that evolution takes even longer. Folks often follow the adage of, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” when it comes to standards.

The level of adoption of a standard can also determine its relevance. An innovative superior standard will have its impact greatly reduced if adoption level is low. This can be quite disheartening for standard supporters and creators!  

In the end adoption often trumps “better”. Just examine the BetaMax vs VHS fight in the 1980s and you will see that the better-quality standard lost big-time to the much more highly adopted standard.  

For SCORM, adoption is nearly universal among authoring tools and learning platforms. There are of course variations, but of the thousands of LMSs, authoring tools, and off-the-shelf content collections, a lack of SCORM support is the exception.

In a recent conversation, a person I spoke with thought SCORM 1.2 was the latest version and SCORM 2004 was its predecessor. More about those distinctions to come, but despite the name, yes, the most recent update to the standard was SCORM 2004 4th edition way back in March 2009 and SCORM 1.2 is an earlier version.  

In “tech years” that is old, but you might say it’s an oldie but a goodie. Or simply that it may be old, but it’s reliable. For a long time, SCORM has met key needs of the training industry and still functions as an essential element in virtually every solution.

SCORM into the Future

Technology continues to evolve and at an ever-increasing rapid pace. Mobile devices and apps, much less responsive design, weren’t really a consideration when SCORM was initially developed.  

Naturally working with the older technologies that SCORM uses can present a challenge. While these challenges are rarely insurmountable to date, they can reduce some of those legendary efficiencies, product selection, and compatibilities that drove the high adoption.  

Industry needs and demands have also continued to evolve, which has resulted in new standards like xAPI. Of course new standards don’t always mean it’s one or the other. With dominKnow | ONE, for example, you can use xAPI (a newer standard) and SCORM simultaneously, which is extremely convenient and allows advancement without having to abandon the tried-and-true support of SCORM.  

In short, SCORM has true staying power and will retain relevance or many years, but in the future its likely to share more than just spot on eLearning stage with newer approaches.

See SCORM in action – test drive dominKnow | ONE!

If you’re new to elearning or just want to do a compare and contrast with your existing elearning authoring tool, sign up for a free trial in dominKnow | ONE. You can publish anything you make as a SCORM 1.2 or SCORM 2004 package and upload it into your LMS to see how easy it is and how well it tracks.  

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