L&D Secrets: The Origin of SCORM (and why you shouldn't live in the past)


As L&D leaders, we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. We desperately want to innovate and improve the learner experience, but we’re often tied to platforms and systems that put serious restraints on our imagination.

Perhaps the biggest culprit is SCORM. The mantra of “SCORM compliance” is all too familiar when thinking about developing a new e-learning course, but...

  • Why is this such a big deal?

  • How did we come to this place of thinking everything has to be SCORM compliant?

The answer (and origins of SCORM) may surprise you...

In 1999, President Bill Clinton established the “President's Task Force on Federal Training Technology” - also known as Executive Order 13111. The goal of this Task Force was to:

“...provide leadership regarding the effective use of technology in training and education; make training opportunities an integral part of continuing employment in the Federal Government; and facilitate the ongoing coordination of Federal activities concerning the use of technology in training.”

The Task Force went about its business, but keep in mind the technology of the time.

  • We were using CR-ROMs for computer storage.

  • VCRs were still commonplace.

  • The World Wide Web was about as old and mature as a 4th grader.

Even so, the Task Force published a pretty insightful report in July 2000 that noted efforts by the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) standard.

Yup, you read that right. The DoD, and more specifically the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Co-Laboratory, is responsible for creating the most widely-used learning standard (SCORM) all the way back in 2000. The ADL has been central to the evolution of SCORM ever since. Until fairly recently, no alternative standard outside of SCORM has been introduced or adopted.

The upside of SCORM is that it allows you to move content from one LMS to another with relative ease. With its introduction, many authoring platforms popped up and were built to only export to or comply with SCORM standards.

What SCORM bought you in practicality and scalability, it sacrificed in creativity.

However, this tradeoff makes sense in hindsight. Given the DoD’s original intent to more rapidly boost personnel readiness, it’s quite practical and sensible to develop a standard that allows you to package and distribute learning content across different systems. This use case-specific logic, however, is bad news for some L&D leaders. Why?

  • Legacy platforms and systems, limited only to SCORM-compliant content, can create “handcuffs” to innovation.

  • Leveraging technology like Virtual or Augmented Reality in training efforts may not be possible or allowed if the training can’t be tracked inside of their organization’s traditional LMS system.

  • In many compliance-driven industries, it’s just safer to stick to what’s known and develop SCORM-compliant content that resembles a glorified PowerPoint presentation instead of making strides to truly engage and motivate learners.

All is not lost, though. In recent years the ADL introduced and adopted xAPI, which essentially cures the ailments caused by SCORM’s rigidity. In a nutshell, xAPI allows non-SCORM-compliant content to be recognized and tracked in an LMS. This means that learning experiences developed outside of a traditional authoring tool or living outside of a company’s LMS can potentially be connected to it and tracked.

This opens up a whole new world of possibilities for L&D leaders, so the first question to ask is whether or not your LMS supports xAPI. Once you know the answer to that question, you can either push forward on creating new and innovative ways to develop learning content or shop for a more modern LMS.

Knowing the origins of SCORM should make you question whether or not its original and intended use case matches yours today. If it doesn’t, you should consider freeing yourself from those SCORM handcuffs and embrace a platform that supports a more modern standard like xAPI. Learning shouldn’t be based on a legacy. It is a continuous and evolving journey shared by every human being. With so much content and technology available to us today, it would be a shame to keep on SCORMing like it’s 1999.

#scorm #technology #LearningandDevelopment #fathom

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