Oct 242011

SCORM – A simple answer to a common question: What the heck is SCORM?

SCORM: Posted on September 30, 2011 in SCORM

Many people who are just starting to dip their toes in the online learning waters run into this term “SCORM” and say “Yikes! Not only is it an acronym that I don’t understand, but it’s an acronym with 5 letters, so it must be fairly complicated.”

Inevitably a search for SCORM on Google leads to numerous white papers and technical specifications that can be quite mind boggling and explain much more about how to implement SCORM than what it really is and why you might want to use it. This document is an attempt to explain how SCORM applies in practical everyday usage. It is not an attempt to explain every aspect of SCORM, just some of the basics.

SCORM technically stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model. What SCORM really does for the general public is provide a standard for communication between online courses and Learning Management Platforms.

Many People’s “Journey into online learning” goes something like this:

  1. I buy a program or hire someone to turn my PowerPoint slideshows into some sort of online courseware, and I put it on my company’s website somewhere.
  2. It works nicely, but I realize that I have no automated way to know who took the course, and what their score was. I have them all printing certificates at the end of the course, and then mailing those certificates to me and I make an entry in an excel spreadsheet somewhere when I get a chance.
  3. I realize that this is tedious work trying to track all of this, and think “there must be a better way”
  4. I discover Learning Management Systems, and realize that some sort of LMS is probably what I need to use to automate all of this tracking.
  5. I start looking into various Learning Management Systems and wonder how I will get my course loaded into and LMS, and how the LMS will be able to track my course.
  6. Someone on a forum or twitter tells me that SCORM is the answer, but I don’t know what that means.
  7. I read this blog and confidently set out to produced a SCORM compliant version of my course and load it into a Learning Management Platform and live happily ever after.

SCORM is essentially the “middle-man” standard between online courseware and Learning Management System, so that content developers can build e-learning content that is SCORM compliant, and Learning Management System developers can build LMSs that are SCORM compliant, and they can have some assurance that the two will play nicely together.

Essentially, if you build a course that is SCORM compliant using some development tools like the Adaptive Course Authoring PowerPoint Plug-In or Articulate, and you run that course in any number of SCORM compliant Learning Management Systems, you can be assured that the course and the LMS will communicate properly, and the course delivery will be “tracked” properly.

The most commonly used set of “tracking” features that SCORM provides are:

  • Status – Your SCORM compliant course will tell the Learning Management System when the user has launched your course (when it is still incomplete), when it is completed, and whether or not it is Passed or Failed.
  • Score – Your course will tell the LMS what the student’s score was when they finish a scored course.
  • Time Spent – Your course will tell the LMS how long the user spent in the course.
  • Bookmark – If your student leaves your course in the middle, before finishing, and comes back to launch the course again at a later date, the course can read the latest “bookmark” from the LMS and return the user to where they left off.
  • Item Analysis – If you choose to implement this feature, and if your LMS supports it, your course can tell the LMS how the user answered each question in the course, which option they selected, and whether their selection was correct or incorrect.

Those are the basic features used by most courses and SCORM compliant LMSs. Different versions of SCORM provide for many other features, but these are the basic features that are most commonly used.

SCORM is not something you need to program, or to hire a programmer to implement for you. Just about every e-learning development tool available, like the Adaptive, Articulate or Captivate will create a nicely packaged SCORM compliant version of your course for you with very little trouble. And just about any Learning Management System worth its salt will accept that course and launch it, track it, and report on it properly.

So the next time someone asks you “What the heck is this SCORM thing?”, you can quickly answer “It’s a standard created to allow courses to communicate basic tracking information to learning management systems.”


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