Understanding SCORM Standards for E-learning Delivery

Calendar Icon September 28, 2021
Reading Time Icon Read Time: 5 min
By Firmwater

What exactly is SCORM? This techy acronym is simply a set of rules for developers to follow, ensuring that they create courses that can be used across any system compliant with the standard. Understanding SCORM standards will enable you to consistently create courses without compatibility issues.

SCORM is a content-packaging model that includes all the necessary files for content to be easily loaded into any compliant learning management system (LMS). The model contains a standardized API for the content and LMS to communicate about status, user interactions, and score, among other things. It sets a model for managing the status of a user’s attempt, so a course can be paused and resumed and later completed and it can be determined whether evaluations have been passed or failed.

What does SCORM stand for, and how does it work?

SCORM stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Material. It is a set of technical standards across the e-learning industry that are referenced so developers know how to use them. These standards mean that you can use shareable content objects (like your courses) across all e-learning systems and platforms. So, if you stick to SCORM, you can be sure that your courses will work with almost any LMS without issue.

SCORM data communicates between e-learning content and an LMS through run-time communication. The content must first “find” the LMS and then communicate by using various “get” and “set” commands. Together, these calls create a robust, interactive experience for the learner. You can see this data being communicated by viewing the SCORM Run-Time log. Viewing the log can help you identify any issues if your course is not behaving as expected. 

Before we get any further, let’s go over a few important terms:

  • Interaction data: These metrics enable you to analyze user activities. For example, you can get reports on individual question responses given by your learners.
  • Suspend data: This is information saved to the LMS while your content is running. For example, a learner may not complete a course in one session and will want to return later. For this to be possible, you will need generous amounts of suspended data so learners can pick up where they left off.
  • SCORM Package: This is the published and compressed SCORM content containing all the necessary elements to upload courses into an LMS.

Why is it important to use SCORM?

Understanding SCORM standards enables you, as a training provider, to create a course and use it across multiple systems. Since SCORM is used on many systems and platforms, you can take your courses anywhere while retaining control over your content. Having this control means you aren’t tied to any specific LMS, tool, or e-commerce platform, so you can use what works best for your training company.

Most authoring tools and learning management systems are SCORM compliant because it is one of the most widely used e-learning standards. If you keep your courses SCORM compliant, you will never have to worry about interoperability issues. You can easily reuse content for different learner populations, track your user’s performance, and adapt your material to the learner’s needs.

What about other standards?

Multiple other standards exist, each with its benefits and drawbacks. In general, one of the most significant drawbacks of using any other standard is that you will have to check if your tools and LMS will support them.

  • AICC: This stands for Aviation Industry CBT (Computer-Based Training) Committee. This standard was designed decades ago. Though it was used throughout many industries, it has been rendered mostly obsolete due to the creation of newer standards. Today, AICC only supports legacy content; it should not be considered unless you have a client with a legacy system. Interestingly, SCORM’s run-time communication is based on AICC.
  • xAPI: This stands for Experience API and is also known as Tin Can API. xAPI is a newer standard, so it has not yet been adopted as widely as SCORM. Due to the way that xAPI works, it has the added benefit of running courses offline. This standard does not address content packaging and launching as successfully as SCORM, which may be why it has not been extensively used.
  • Cmi5: This standard was designed to complement xAPI and is not used on its own. It helps with data exchange between courses and an LMS. Many authoring tools and vendors have begun to support Cmi5, but it continues to have a minimal presence.

SCORM 1.2 vs. 2004

SCORM 1.2

  • Compatible with most e-learning products
  • Low value for suspend data limit (4,096 characters)
  • Only one value for lesson status
  • Write-only interaction data
  • No sequencing and navigation specification

SCORM 2004 3rd Edition

  • Compatible with almost all e-learning products
  • High value for suspend data limit (64,000 characters)
  • Options to split lesson status into various values
  • Read/write interaction data
  • Sequencing and navigation specifications

Knowing these benefits and limitations may help you decide what SCORM version you wish to use. If you require the ability to report on student assessments, including question text and learner responses, you should publish your courses to SCORM 2004.

How to avoid common issues

First, ensure that all your tools and LMS are SCORM compliant. Second, test your content to ensure that it behaves the way that it’s supposed to. Starting with these two steps will prevent many issues when you start delivering your courses.

If you have a large module loaded into the LMS and learners aren’t resuming the course where they should be, you can investigate the suspend data to ensure that no limitation is imposed by either the LMS or the authored content. We recommend chunking larger courses into small, easily consumable modules. Content chunking reduces the risk of encountering suspend data limits and offers short-term completion goals for learners, which will help with overall course completion rates.

Another common issue faced by training providers is when learners exit their course module incorrectly. For example, some learners will exit out of their browser window instead of using a built-in Exit or Submit button embedded in the content or LMS. Depending on their progress, suspend data may not be properly communicated, so when learners resume the module, they end up further back in the course than when they exited the browser. This issue speaks to the importance of designing highly navigable courses with clear directions for learners.

No matter what e-learning standards or versions that you use, following general e-learning best practices is crucial to avoid problems. You should have clear learning goals and objectives, create courses using content chunking, and keep your courses updated.

Conclusion

Understanding SCORM standards is a critical task for professional training providers like you. SCORM has been universally adopted across the e-learning industry. Take the time to learn about e-learning standards, especially SCORM, and decide what works best for your training company. Then, use these standards, and implement best practices to avoid common issues.

Here at Firmwater, we don’t just sell an LMS for training providers. We partner with our clients, giving them the tools and insights they need to implement the best practices in e-learning course development, growth, and delivery. We care too much about our customers’ businesses to have them wade through forums and chatbots for help.

Ready to use an LMS that’s designed for the way YOU work, with a team dedicated to YOUR needs? Book a no-obligation consultation directly with our team today!

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