by D. Romero | Oct. 13, 2015 | 7 Min Read

What is SCORM? A Beginner’s Guide to SCORM Compliance


SCORM got you scratching your head? We hear ya! Clients and prospects often ask, “What is SCORM? And why does it matter?” Whether you’re buying your first LMS, or switching LMSs, our beginner’s guide to SCORM and SCORM compliance will shed some light on the subject.

What is SCORM?

SCORM is short for Shareable Content Object Reference Model. It’s a set of technical standards for packaging and presenting content in an eLearning platform. One of the biggest benefits of SCORM is its interoperability. As long as your content and your platform are both SCORM compliant, your training investment is safe regardless of what LMS you’re using now or may use in the future.

SCORM is also what makes tracking eLearning possible. It allows courses to talk to an LMS to mark training as complete or incomplete, or in the case of a quiz, passed or failed.

eLearning authoring tools allow you to assemble your content into a SCORM package (it looks like a .ZIP file). For example, a course could alternate short videos with quiz questions. SCORM is what groups those assets together and plays them in the correct order for your learners.

SCORM Versions

Just like there are different version of the iPhone or Microsoft Office, there are different versions of SCORM. In the eLearning space, there are two main SCORM formats you’ll hear about: SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004.

SCORM 1.2 was released in October 2001. It’s the most widely adopted version of SCORM and is considered the industry standard.

SCORM 2004 was first released in January 2004 and several updates (called “editions”) have been released since then. SCORM 2004 introduced sequencing and navigation. This gives eLearning authors more flexibility, allowing them to require learners to complete all course material before attempting a quiz, or take a learner back to a specific section of a course after missing a related question.

If you want to geek out more about the history of SCORM, I recommend Rustici's SCORM roadmap. It’s a great resource.

What About the Tin Can API?

If you've been following trends in the eLearning industry, you've probably heard of the Tin Can API, also known as the Experience API or xAPI. It’s like SCORM, but turned up to 11.

More than simply organizing content and marking courses as complete or pass/fail, the Tin Can API collects additional data like free-form text answers, game and simulation outcomes, and even learning activities completed outside of an LMS.

xAPI promises to take eLearning to the next level, but it does require specific technology. Not every LMS is Tin Can compliant, nor is all eLearning content.

SCORM Compliant Learning Management Systems and Courses

If you’re in the market for a new LMS, at a minimum you’ll want a platform that’s SCORM 1.2 compliant. But if you want to take advantage of everything eLearning has to offer and future-proof your training investment, look for a SCORM 1.2, SCORM 2004, and Tin Can compliant LMS.

For training content, there are a number of authoring tools on the market that allow you to create SCORM compliant courses. Like LMSs, they vary wildly in features, ease of use, and price. Similar to your LMS, look for an authoring tool that supports SCORM 1.2, SCORM 2004, and Tin Can to get the most value for your investment. Some training partners and vendors, including Unboxed, offer custom-created Tin Can content, which is a great option if you’re not creating your own content.

Wrapping Things Up

Hopefully this beginner’s guide removed any confusion you had about SCORM. In fact, if anyone ever asks you, “What is SCORM?” you’ll be better prepared to answer and have an easy resource to point to. If you have questions, drop us a line in the comments or contact us.

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