What is SCORM? The Ultimate Guide for 2021

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on email

Wondering what SCORM is all about and why you should care? Tired of getting stumped by all the technical jargon that comes with using a learning management system?

Let’s try to clear that up for you.

SCORM seems to be a colloquial term for eLearning professionals, yet its technical nature means most don’t fully understand it or why it’s a critical part of their industry.

In this guide, we explore the meaning of SCORM, how it works, its pros and cons, and everything else you need to understand SCORM fully.

What is SCORM - featured image

What is SCORM?

First off, SCORM stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Model.

It’s an international technical standard (think of it as a formula that describes the best way of doing something) to score an eLearning course and make sure the course can work with almost any online learning management system (LMS).

Standards are crucial as they guide product/service development and ensure that both developers and users can use any product or service without going through a learning curve.

For example, we all don’t check if a USB drive will be compatible with our desktop or laptop before paying the cashier at the electronics store.

This is because Intel and a couple of other companies joined forces in 1996 to create the Universal Serial Bus (USB) solution that enables you to connect various devices without installing any manufacturer-specific drivers.

SCORM is the USB of eCourses.

With SCORM, anyone anywhere can share an eCourse on any LMS, and the learners have access to it instantly.

What is SCORM Compliance?

Before 1999, eCourses created for one LMS wouldn’t work on another. This meant that if your LMS became faulty, you either had to make a new version or lose important learning content.

Imagine if you ran an online university that would mean an entire catalog of courses wiped out.

At the turn of the millennium, the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) organization of the U.S. Department of Defense created SCORM. The eLearning industry widely adopted it as it standardized the different online course authoring platforms and software functionalities.

Fast-forward to today, it has become the de facto standard of the eLearning industry.

For an LMS to create a SCORM compliant course, it only has to adhere to the technical specifications set out in the SCORM guidelines.

Components of SCORM

To understand how SCORM works, it’s best to split its functionality into two parts: 

  • Sharable Content Object: Any SCORM compliant content is shareable across all compliant platforms and tools (just like the USB drive). The SCORM authoring software produces the content as a ZIP folder which houses all the information the SCORM conformant LMS needs to publish the course.
  • Reference Model: This directs course creators and LMS creators alike to ensure consistency across the industry. It contains the standards and rules that educators must follow when creating content or developing a SCORM LMS.

How Does SCORM Work?

So, how do you use SCORM in an LMS?

To successfully deliver eCourses, SCORM makes use of three components:

  1. Content Packaging: The training content packaging SCORM file contains all the learning materials and the information that an LMS needs to import and launch the course. It figures out which document you need to launch.
  2. Run-time Communication: This component handles the exchange of data between the LMS and course content. It also deals with delivery and tracking. Its process involves finding the LMS and then communicating through a corresponding vocabulary. In simple terms, run-time communication handles things like “ask the learner’s name” and “inform the LMS that the learner scored 75% on this test”.
  3. Sequencing: Sequencing refers to the way a learner navigates through the course. It directs what the user does next after performing specific actions. It also determines what activities the learner needs to complete before going to the next step.

Now, let’s look at what SCORM tracks.

What Does SCORM Track?

Typically, SCORM tracks how learners interact with your courses. Specifically, it tracks:

  • Quiz and test results
  • The learner’s final score at the end of the course
  • The answers provided by the learner while attempting a test
  • Pages the learner viewed and for how long?
  • The total time spent on the course
  • The learner’s progress (this also allows them to resume at the point they left off)
  • The learner’s score per module

This helps you optimize or adjust your course content based on learning and usage patterns.

Benefits of Using SCORM

Now that we’ve established that SCORM is the industry standard for eLearning let’s take a closer look at its benefits to course creators. 

  • Saving Progress: With SCORM, a learner does not have to go through an entire course at once. It allows the learner to take a break, come back and pick up from where they left off. All the progress is saved. Nothing is lost.
  • Feedback: As mentioned earlier, SCORM allows you to assess student’s progress and track their interaction with the course. When a learner completes a class, the system shows how many points they scored, and in some cases, the status “Course Completed” is displayed.
  • High Quality: All SCORM compliant learning management systems are of high quality and provide the best experience for learners and course creators.
  • Compatibility: Almost all learning management systems will recognize and be compatible with a SCORM course.
  • Clear Course Structure: With SCORM, course creators can build an easy-to-understand course structure and set guidelines for progression between sections.

What Are the Pros & Cons of Using SCORM?

It’s important to note that nothing is perfect. Here are some of the pros and cons of SCORM.

Pros

  • With SCORM, eCourse creators can choose from a vast range of authoring tools and learning management systems. This allows them to find the right fit for their needs and the needs of their learners while still distributing their eLearning content widely.
  • Its plug-and-play function enables creators to run a one-time course creation and distribution process across various platforms.
  • Course creators are assured that a SCORM compliant LMS will deliver and distribute their content without errors.
  • SCORM compliant content is always compatible with almost all platforms no fear of rejection.
  • It saves cost and time by up to 80%.
  • Content is more interactive and engaging.

Cons

  • SCORM is an old eLearning standard put in place since 2001. The latest version dates as far back as 2004.
  • New eLearning technologies have been developed that challenge the SCORM standard in all aspects interactivity, course engagement, ease of use, and accessibility.
  • Certain SCORM content, such as video content, was developed with Adobe Flash as the standard and thus didn’t work well with HTML5. Hence, SCORM can be buggy for iOS users, which affects the learning experience.
  • For first-time course creators, the price of a SCORM authoring tool could be out-of-reach.

Versions of SCORM

Since its release, SCORM has gone through three iterations. Each release has come with its technical specifications and advantages (or upgrades).

SCORM 1.1 was the first SCORM version. LMS vendors weren’t comfortable with this version, so it wasn’t widely accepted. But it showed that SCORM was a great idea that needed to be refined by its owners to work for the industry.

SCORM 1.2 resolved most of the issues in version 1.1. It quickly became a favorite among LMS developers and course creators. It’s still the go-to standard of most LMS and content vendors to date.

SCORM 2004 (initially named SCORM 1.3) is the latest version and gave content creators more control over their courses. It also included the critical function known as Sequencing and Navigation (this allows creators to chart a learning path for learners). Adoption hasn’t been as fast as the previous versions.

How To Create SCORM Content

Creating SCORM content used to be such a technical process. In the past, only professional programmers could build SCORM courses. They had to manually make the SCORM packaging content from several HTML pages and write code that would bind the course to the LMS.

Only then would they proceed to pack it all up into a ZIP archive.

Today, with different eLearning software products available, anyone can create an eCourse. There are authoring tools available that automatically generate the code for the LMS interaction and pack it all up into a SCORM package. All you need to do as the course creator is to upload the course into the training system.

If you are developing an eCourse for the first time, it is best to use a PowerPoint add-in.

With a PowerPoint add-in, you don’t need to spend time learning a new program each time. All you need to do is create the course in PowerPoint and upload it into the training system.

What is the Future of SCORM?

Although its creators haven’t updated SCORM in a while, it’s still a crucial part of the eLearning industry.

However, the new demands of eLearning mean that this might change. And for a platform that hasn’t been upgraded recently, that’s a low barrier to entry for the competition.

Alternatives like the Tin Can Experience API (xAPI), released in 2013, and cmi5, launched in 2016, look to be more prepared for the demands of current course creators and learners.

These two eLearning standards both allow learners to study offline while using their mobile devices. They also support interactive simulations and PDF documents, and their learner’s data collection is much more detailed than SCORM.

SCORM isn’t Dead, But it’s Past its Prime

Dozens of articles have been written about SCORM’s demise. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

If you plan on the sustainability of your eCourse, then it needs to run on almost any LMS. This means you still need to create content that’s SCORM compliant. So don’t throw away your SCORM standards yet.

But it’s time to start planning and preparing to shift to more flexible and engaging platforms that are a fit for the world in which we live today.