The Learning Developer’s Dilemma

puzzling over how to track your eLearning? SCORM helps.One challenge that trainers and learning developers face – and we talk about it often – is the that it’s not enough to just teach a class or launch an e-learning course. We must also be able to determine that the course is actually being used. We want to know if it is having an impact. Are they learning something?

In addition, how can we keep track of all that? What if the course is mandated to show our corporate compliance with ethics standards or educational requirements for a specific job? How can we show they mastered the topic? How do we keep permanent records of all this?

The e-learning Challenge

N, w this is especially a concern with e-learning courses. After all, we’re not there to actually observe them in a classroom. We can’t look over their shoulder and make sure they access every page. How do we check up on what everyone gets done and how much time it took and how did they score on the test?


SCORM logoTo address these concerns, in 1999, the President of the United States Bill Clinton signed an executive order creating a task force and charging them with developing ways to use technology to improve federal government employee training opportunities. The emphasis was on technologies for distributed learning.

In 2000, SCORM was brought into existence. The name is an acronym for describing it’s purpose. The acronym stands for

  • Shareable
  • Content
  • Object
  • Reference
  • Model

As a result, the idea is that through SCORM we can develop ways to reuse and track learning information. It also defined for us a common “language” that e-learning courses and systems developed to track learning could use to communicate effectively.

The first two versions had a lot of issues and it wasn’t until SCORM 1.2 was released in October 2001 that people really took note and it began to be widely implemented. It continued to evolve and the latest version is SCORM 2004 4th Edition. In 2006, a Department of Defense directive mandated the use of SCORM by military learning systems.

What SCORM Does

SCORM combined what was learned by several different organizations into one collection. So it’s important to note that SCORM is NOT a standard or a specification; it is a collection of specifications and standards. As it’s name suggests, it is a “reference model” for how we can build learning that be reused by others.

What Makes Up SCORM

The main components of SCORM are:

1. Shareable Content Object

Also sometimes referred to as a SCO. The idea is that one little learning nugget – a piece of learning information – may be useful to more than one group. Rather than constantly reinventing the wheel why not take what already works and allow other groups to use it as well. So a SCO is learning information that is not dependent on other learning nuggets and can be recorded and shared. A SCO could be an entire course or one specific lesson within a course. The SCO is what communicates learner progress to the LMS.

2. Learning Management System (LMS)

Usually just called an LMS. This is software that exists on a server and launches courses. It also maintains a database that keeps records on each learner and what courses they have completed and how they scored on assessments.

3. Run-Time Environment

RTE for short, this is where communication takes place between the SCO and the LMS. Think of it as the liaison for open communication. The LMS is responsible for providing the RTE for the SCO to communicate with.

4. Course Package

The course package is basically a zip file that contains everything needed for the course to run in the LMS. This will include JavaScript and XML files that provide communication and information about course structure along with the course content files.

5. Manifest File

This file is an XML file in the course package. The LMS reads this file to get the course information such as title and description. It also lists the SCO’s available to be launched.

SCORM Feeds a Need

Therefore, SCORM is designed to serve specific needs in specific circumstances. It is not and was never intended to be everything to everybody in the learning community. So other technologies such as xAPI and CMI5 serve needs as well and don’t negate or eliminate necessarily what SCORM can do for you. For a comparison of these technologies, read this article and also this one.

Have questions about SCORM? Let us help. Contact us at for a free consultation.

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