Friday, 25 May 2012

This SCORM thing

So I work in e-learning of course (hard to believe sometimes I guess with the rubbish I go on about) and I know what SCORM is. Well.. Actually that's not one hundred percent true. Firstly I'm calling it S because it's easier to type, particularly on an iPad late at night. I know what S is in a sort of layman's terms. That brings me to the point of this blog today.. You'd be amazed at how many people involved in this little world of ours don't seem to have the slightest idea about what S is, how to make it work or when they should or should not be adhering to the standards.

So for the purists out there please excuse me as I start to tell you what S is from that layman's perspective. First and foremost it reminds me of the SI units back at school in England. The UK is funny in the way we apparently hate the French but use System Internationale as our units (the French version). The French like the rest of Europe of course use something different, the far more widely accepted but technically inferior metric system. The US of course in a further twist of irony use the British Imperial system that the Brits dropped to pick up the French one. At this point most of you are probably doubting the existence of SI and wondering where I'm going (unless your in the US where none of that modern stuff makes any sense and miles and gallons work fine for you and I can't say I disagree unless I actually have to do some sort of mathematical calculation). The key difference lies in the use of centi in metric but not in SI. In SI you have mm and ml and mg but you don't have cm, cl, or cg. Centi is a bit ugly you see in that it's based on ten to the power of -2 whereas every other unit is based upon 3 or -3 or multiples thereof. Eg milli (-3), micro (-6), kilo (3), nano (-9) etc. (and if you don't believe me buy a can of Coke in the UK and any other European country and check out the volume on the can).

So what's the point here eh? The point is that it kind of reminds me of our beloved S. Make sure your e-learning is S compliant you'll hear and for good reason. Now S stands for shareable content object reference model, that obviously seemed like a good idea at the time but hardly rolls off the tongue, still it's what we've got to go with, I like to call it S for short if you hadn't already guessed. I then think the key part of S is that it kind of stands for Sharing Standards (yes purists I know). I guess technically that would be SS but that's an acronym I don't care for particularly so S it is. S may be a model technically but we want in the e-learning world is a set of simple standards that you have to use to make your content work on more than one LMS. The issue is that whilst the metric system (S) exists it has a few variants, we could call one SI which is essentially S1 or SCORM 1.1 or AICC or earlier. This is something that simply doesn't get used on modern material outside of Coke can learning in the UK. It's just old and no longer used so move on, it will probably work on your LMS but don't even think about selecting it as an option moving forward. Cool, got that out the way so that must make it pretty simple right? Not really, that leaves us with two big systems remaining. S1.2 logically follows on from S1.0 and 1.1 and is as close to the standard as it gets. For most people this is still the preferred method for sharing your content and making it compatible with the vast majority of the systems. Thing is though, they went one better and created S1.3, except it doesn't exist any more as that. It was a change in direction and branched (ironically enough) into new territory so much so that it seemed over complicated and was resisted by the vast majority of producers and adopters. Whilst technically the new 'standard' allowed for more options and better and more complex tracking, it just wasn't as easy to get to grips with, it was a bit like living in a world of feet and inches and suddenly finding out that you had to talk in metres which were too big or too small so people thought of it as just over three feet (one too many for most people). So much so that the name was changed to disassociate it from S1.2 and it became known as S2004, that was the year the fork essentially occurred. So that means you have two real choices? Maybe.. Most e-learning is set to S1.2. Reason being that it's simpler and less open to interpretation than S2004. Lots of LMSs will still only fully function with S1.2 and few people actually know enough about S2004 and even less care.

So that's us done. If only, there's still some room for wiggle in the model unfortunately, and today I was given a package someone was having trouble moving between one LMS and another despite it being S compliant apparently. This is not something that is that rare because despite the model being quite prescriptive you should never underestimate the ingenuity of fools when claiming something to be fool proof. So some developers cut corners from time to time and cheat to make things work for the system they are writing for and sometimes they assume things like the case of the file names won't matter to anyone. But they do. Linux based systems like Moodle and Totara LMS will run such packages fine when hosted on Windows but will spit the dummy when hosted on the better performing and preferred Linux system (such was the ultimate cause of my headache today).

Simple solution would be to use a system that produces the S for you surely? Articulate, Storyline or Captivate will automatically produce S compliant content, but even that you can break by your actual content and a clever mix of options that people will play with! Especially some of the older versions which were rather insistent on only sending back scores if you clicked the right button at the end rather than exiting in the normal manner, or my personal favorite where they can't seem to generate a new attempt.
One could think from all of this that S itself was completely pointless if you don't want to change your LMS and to a certain extent you'd be right. That said I've changed a few big corporate LMSs to Totara recently and moving courses that aren't S compliant is always a lot of work, not to mention the records that are associated. Also if you use those rapid tools to produce content and particularly assessments you really want your LMS to track them and unless you have someone creating all your content in a way to talk to your LMS then S1.2 seems like the best way to go. As a Moodle and Totara fan I still tend to opt for the quiz interaction in Moodle itself as you get greater analysis beyond basic S data, but to each his own.
The one thing that's definitely true is that you need to make sure your e-learning developer truly understands what S is beyond the basic and ALWAYS get your source files. If they won't give them to you drop me a line :)

Finally if you want to get all technical then go to to find out all the real clever stuff about S and how it has nothing to do with the metric system and no one but no one calls it S, these guys came up with it so they should know!

As always all the opinions here are mine.. Feel free to drop me a line at or follow me on @nigelkineo on Twitter.
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Location:New Zealand