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SCORM and Tin Can

SCORM and Tin Can

SCORM is a set of technical standards for e-Learning systems. It tells programmers and instructional designers how to write their code so that it can work well with other e-learning software.

SCORM has become the de facto industry standard for e-Learning interoperability as it determines how online learning content and Learning Management Systems (LMSs) communicate with each other. However, SCORM has no impact on instructional design or any other pedagogical methods. It is purely a technical standard.

SCORM governs online training only, and only between a single user and the system. Offline training does not apply, nor does group training. It remains intentionally silent on many things as well. Window size, cosmetic appearances, reporting… these items belong to the LMS or the content, and are not commented on at all.

What does SCORM stand for?

SCORM stands for “Sharable Content Object Reference Model”.

Sharable Content Object indicates that SCORM is all about creating units of online training material that can be shared across systems. SCORM defines how to create “sharable content objects” or “SCOs” that can be reused in different systems and contexts.

Reference Model reflects the fact that SCORM isn’t actually a standard. SCORM was not written from the ground up. Instead, its creators noticed that the industry already had many standards that solved part of the problem. SCORM simply references these existing standards and tells developers how to properly use them together.

How does it work?

Different versions of SCORM all govern the same two things: packaging content and exchanging data at run-time.

Packaging content determines how a piece of content should be delivered in a physical sense. At the core of SCORM packaging is a document titled the “imsmanifest”. This file contains every piece of information required by the LMS to import and launch content without human intervention. This manifest file contains XML that describes the structure of a course both from a learner’s perspective and from a physical file system perspective. Questions like, “Which document should be launched?” and “What is the name of this content?” are answered by this document.

Run-time communication, or data exchange, specifies how the content talks to the LMS while the content is actually playing. This is the part of the equation we describe as delivery and tracking. There are two major components to this communication. First, the content has to “find” the LMS. Once the content has found it, it can then communicate through a series of “get” and “set” calls and an associated vocabulary. Conceptually, these are things like “request the learner’s name” and “tell the LMS that the learner scored 95% on this test.” Based on the available SCORM vocabulary, many rich interactive experiences can be communicated to the LMS.

What is an SCO?

A Shareable Content Object (SCO) might be a module, a chapter, a page… the description varies wildly. Experts may say that it should be the smallest piece of content that is both reusable and independent. In terms of how the LMS treats it, this is the item shown separately in the table of contents and tracked separately from other items. It can contain its own bookmark, score, and completion status.

tin canWhat about Tin Can?

SCORM is now a relatively old standard and while it still works, it’s dated. In recent years, Tin Can has started to displace SCORM. The outcomes delivered by SCORM and Tin Can remain very similar. Whichever standard you choose, the content of your eLearning course and end results won’t be very different. Both protocols allow learners to launch courses, bookmark them, complete them, answer quizzes, pass or fail them, and generally track progress.  That’s usually the end goal of e-Learning for most users.

E-learning standards are always evolving. The Tin Can API is part of a new generation of learning standards. The Tin Can API (sometimes known as the Experience API or xAPI) is a relatively new specification for learning technology that makes it possible to collect data about the wide range of experiences a person has (online and offline).

This API captures data in a consistent format about a person or group’s activities from many technologies. Very different systems are able to securely communicate by capturing and sharing this stream of activities using Tin Can’s simple vocabulary.

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