Understanding SCORM and Tin Can
Whether you are new to e-learning development or have been around a while, you have likely heard about and had to deal with SCORM. This collection of standards and interface allows you to get information from and send information to a Learning Management System (or LMS). SCORM has been THE big boy in the e-learning marketplace for a long time. We built our business on it.
Yet now you have been hearing about this new thing called Tin Can. Then some people talk about Experience API and others about xAPI. And everyone says you now need to move over to whichever one they are talking about because this…THIS is the future! Forget SCORM!
All in One – Tin Can, Experience API, and xAPI
Put your mind to rest about one thing. There isn’t really a whole menu of new options out there. Tin Can, Experience API, and xAPI are all just names for the same thing. It’s a new program interface for delivering and tracking training. But if you want to be correct, Experience API is its official name. Tin Can was the project name during development and xAPI is just an abbreviated reference for Experience API. We’ll use all three names interchangeably in this post.
But do you really need to drop SCORM and run to Tin Can? While the short answer is yes eventually you will, it’s important to know that it doesn’t have to happen tomorrow. Before you think about starting any kind of transition, you need to compare SCORM and Tin Can so you can understand what each will do for you.
Wait! First what’s this API stuff?
API is an acronym for Application Programming Interface. It sounds fancy but really just means it serves as a communication liaison between two systems. SCORM has an API at the heart of it and so does (obviously) Tin Can. The API is simply a list of commands that both systems know are available to communicate information. Google, Facebook, and many others use APIs all the time to allow other applications and systems to use their services.
So what makes Experience API so special? Is SCORM still my best option or do I really need xAPI? To answer that, you need to first understand how the two compare.
Comparing Main Features of SCORM and xAPI
- A SCORM-conformant learning object must be launched in a web browser. That was critical to the communications required to track learner progress.
- Experience API allows for collecting data on multiple activities accessed a variety of ways. If the learner reads a wiki post it can be recorded. A learning activity can be run on a smartphone app and data collected on what happens.
- A big part of the reason for developing Tin Can was the acknowledgment that learning no longer happens just on a desktop computer in an office through the Intranet and a Learning Management System.
- SCORM requires an LMS to both play a course and collect and store data. The LMS uses databases to store information about the learner as well as their access to a Learning Object, including how many times did they take it, how long they were in it, did they finish, where did they leave off, whether or not they passed the assessment.
- Experience API uses what is called a Learning Record Store (LRS for short). This is where xAPI really differentiates itself from SCORM. The LRS records statements about what are called Learning Activities. Those activities can be a formal or informal learning. The LRS is meant to be flexible and mobile. One LRS can communicate with another LRS, allowing for easy exchange of data. An LRS can stand by itself or be incorporated into an LMS. An LRS could also share data with virtually any application that supports the Experience API. Think about HR Talent Management System or any system that collects data for on-the-job performance.
- Again, SCORM is designed to launch Learning Objects on demand through an LMS. The learner must be on a computer using a web browser and in the same domain as the server (there is a cross-domain solution for this, but that’s a topic of another discussion). There must be a constant Internet connection. SCORM works for a single learner with a structured learning object.
- Experience API does not launch courses, it is simply a communications interface for storing statements about Learning Activities either from a single learner or a group. xAPI is environment independent and allows for tracking a learner/employee beyond just the learning activity but also into job performance. The data collected can be shared with other systems and reporting options. It’s even possible for a learner to “own” their data and share it with whomever they want. Data becomes truly portable.
So, on the surface, it sounds like you should drop everything and run to Experience API. Eventually, you will need to make the transition but whether you need to make it yesterday or sometime in the future depends on what you need.
If you are a small business and primarily concerned with whether your employees are completing required training courses and passing certifications, then SCORM still meets your need. If pretty much everyone will launch formal courses from a desktop or laptop computer online, then SCORM still works for you.
Yet if you have a mobile workforce and most of them rarely come into the office and depend greatly on their smartphone or tablet then you should consider Experience API. If you want to collect data on a variety of learning experiences both offline and online as well as how they perform after the fact, then xAPI is a good option.