What is SCORM?

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SCORMWhat is SCORM? If you have any involvement whatsoever with online learning, you’re going to need to wrap your head around SCORM.

Whether you’re dealing with eLearning software, eLearning content creation or the administration of a learning management system, you’ll have SCORM to thank for making things run smoothly.

Let’s take a quick look at what it is and how it became the all-encompassing force in the industry!


SCORMCast your mind back to the 1990s. This was the decade which saw The Spice Girls, Friends, James Cameron’s Titanic, and of course an explosion in the use of online training!

The problem was that there was no agreed structure for eLearning at this time, so every piece of content had to be tailored for a specific delivery system. This was costly, and meant that if an organisation wanted to switch to a new learning platform, all of their content would suddenly become obsolete!

Eventually, in 1999, the United States Department of Defense decided that enough was enough. They called for eLearning production to be standardised, in what we would like to retroactively name Operation Desert SCORM.

The Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL) answered the call, and developed the Sharable Content Object Reference Model, more conveniently known as SCORM. Though it faced some competition from AICC, this eLearning specification would become the dominant one, used almost universally across the online learning landscape!

Here’s our very own Juliette discussing the complex world of SCORM!

How does SCORM work?

SCORMSCORM provides a list of technical specifications for eLearning content. If all content is made to meet these criteria, then it becomes much easier to provide a matching system to host and deliver it. We call this SCORM compliance.

Think of a child’s shape sorting toy. When you have a large number of shapes to fit in, it can be difficult to find a match, and no matter how hard you try to fit a square peg into a round hole, it simply won’t work! But if all of the pegs and holes are triangles, then you can fit any peg into any hole.

This is the premise behind SCORM. There are currently two specifications, called SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004, meaning that there are only two shapes to fit. As long as your content and your LMS are built to comply with the same specification, then they should work seamlessly together.

While you shy away from the thought of building your content to meet these strict criteria, in reality, you won’t really need to consider it. Most content authoring tools are SCORM-compliant, meaning that they handle the technicalities for you. Anything you create will be automatically packaged up into a .ZIP file, which you simply upload to your LMS.

What is the Future of SCORM?

SCORMSCORM has done a fantastic job, considering that it’s more than 15 years old! However, after so long it’s become clear that it could do with a bit of a facelift…

The ADL has emerged once more to steward in the new age of eLearning specification. This time they have sparked the creation of the Experience API, better known as xAPI or Tin Can API.

This builds on SCORM and adds more functionality, letting you track mobile learning and learning which takes place outside of the LMS. It also makes learning records more mobile, so that learners can take their data with them when they change schools or jobs.

Though xAPI is up and running, it will take a long time to dethrone the behemoth that is SCORM. So expect to see the incumbent supported by both LMSs and authoring tools for many years to come!

Is it Time to Replace SCORM?

Is it finally time for SCORM, the specification superstar of the noughties, to move over for modern learning technology? Here’s the case for making the change to xAPI, LRS and cmi5.

1: It’s Safe (too safe!)

SCORM has failed to evolve with the times. The last SCORM version was in 2004! And yet many L&D professionals are so used to their versions of SCORM, they are reluctant to move on to something new and improved. Thousands of online courses continue to be created in SCORM and many authoring tools solely support SCORM compliant learning technology.

SCORM may feel as cosy and familiar as that college hoodie you can’t throw out, but safe is not always good – SCORM is like a relationship that is OK but not awesome. This leaves many L&D pros thinking: “SCORM is fine for now”, “we’re used to it”, “we know how it works”. Yet, something is missing. SCORM no longer understands or meets learners’ needs. It’s inflexible, has limited capabilities and is unsuitable for the modern mobile age. It’s time to stop settling for SCORM!

2: It Doesn’t Meet Modern Technical Expectations

Today we live in an on-demand world where our expectations of technology are forever growing. We expect everything to be mobile, instantaneous and intuitive. We expect technology to know us inside out – and it does! Your smart fridge knows which treat you crave, can order it and even play your favourite music while you eat it!

Surely we want our online learning experience to be as intuitive as everything else in our lives?

What’s more, it can not be fully embedded within modern mobile technology. This means SCORM-compliant eLearning, especially older content, does not always translate easily onto mobile devices. This is an issue because 64% of employees say accessing workplace learning from a mobile device is essential or very useful. SCORM struggles to deliver the strong mobile learning experience modern employees want.

3: Limited Tracking Functions

SCORM works well when it comes to the linear world of formal training. It can track learner progress and completion of online content. The difficulties arise when we want to track all the other informal learning that happens when the formal course ends.

Informal learning is responsible for up to 90% of what we know. This includes everything from an enlightening Googling session or sharing a podcast, to conversations on the LMSs messageboard. People are learning nonstop.

4: Limited Reporting

If we can’t track learners’ full behaviour we definitely can’t accurately report on it. And if we can’t measure it, we can’t change it. SCORM means L&D pros are only able to get data on specific types of learner behaviour, such as completed training.

As we’ve discovered, learning is about a lot more than finishing a course or getting a test score. Without all the informal learning data, L&D pros cannot correctly analyse learners’ activity or design future eLearning tailored to meet their needs.


What if we told you there is something better out there than SCORM? Something a lot better.

Here are the top 3 modern eLearning solutions, ready to sweep your learners off their feet! Together, these learning technologies can transform eLearning into an efficient, flexible and personalised learner experience.


Ever wondered how personal technology became so smart? Or how everything from your smartphone and FitBit, to your fridge seems to know you better than yourself? Well, it’s largely down to something called an Application Programming Interface (API). This can track and capture our online and offline activities. Imagine the possibilities this creates for tracking and understanding learner behaviour!

In the eLearning world, this software is called Experience API (or Tin Can). ‘Experience’ in this context is commonly shortened to ‘x’. It describes how xAPI tracks learners’ experiences whenever or wherever they happen.

Benefits of xAPI

  • xAPI is super flexible because the software specification can be embedded within almost any technology you can think of, from your traditional LMS to smartphones and video games. This creates massive opportunities for mobile learning.
  • Where SCORM was limited to monitoring learner progression and completion of formal training, xAPI can track just about any kind of learner activity. This includes that all-important informal learning. In this way, you can use xAPI to create a full picture of your learners’ behaviours, preferences and goals.
  • You can analyse the collected data to create more personalised learner experiences. So, it’s massively important to the success of your online learning!
  • L&D pros and instructional designers can choose what type of learner behaviour they wish to capture, dependent on the business and learner needs.


You may be thinking, ‘Wow! That is a lot of information to store!’ You need somewhere to store all the valuable data tracked by xAPI. This is where the Learning Record Store (LRS) helps. Think of the LRS like one massive virtual storehouse or Hermione’s bottomless bag. You get the idea, it’s massive! The LRS stores all the data fed to it by xAPI about learners’ activity!

So, that time John from accounts clicked on the policies training – that’s there. The time your top performing retail team shared a video of their store-opening ritual – that’s there. The time the intern aced the company’s Master Mind quiz – that’s there. If it was captured by xAPI it will be stored on your LRS.

The LRS can be located within your company’s xAPI-compliant LMS. Alternatively, it can be located externally from your LMS. Housing your LRS externally frees the LMS up to focus on learner management functions rather than reporting. This is useful because you’re no longer tied into an LMS that houses heaps of excessive historical data. You could switch LMSs and keep your LRS (or move your data from one LRS to another easily).


Feeling brave? Are you considering making the move from SCORM to an xAPI and LRS solution? cmi5makes the transition easier than you may think.

cmi5, released in 2016, is the new standardised specification that makes xAPI and LRS possible. Before cmi5, implementing xAPI within a compliant LMS could be complicated stuff. This is because there was a massive range of specifications being used to create xAPI LMSs. You could say, xAPI creation was starting to seem as complicated as the eLearning world before SCORM.

In the same way SCORM simplified eLearning back in 2000, cmi5 has simplified xAPI implementation now. cmi5 is the standard specification for creating xAPI compliant LMSs. It incorporates the specification needed to allow xAPI to be embedded within a massive variety of modern technology from apps to email. cmi5-compliant learning technology can use xAPI and LRS to fully track, report and deliver personalised eLearning for the modern workforce.

Final Word

We owe SCORM so much. It brought order out of chaos and it’s been a huge help to everyone in L&D. But SCORM is no longer the best option available, there are so many alternatives offering major improvements. xAPI and CMI5 both offer a different vision of the future.

Intellectual Capital is shaping our world. This could mean that xAPI holds the key to the future. Want to find out more about intellectual capital? Why not download out handy Guide To Intellectual Capital? It will tell you everything you need to know about what it is and why it’s so important. 

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