What is SCORM?


f you’re investigating eLearning and digital learning technology for your business you’ve no doubt come across platforms advertising that they are “SCORM-compliant”. It certainly sounds important, but what is it?

What is SCORM?

In layman's terms, SCORM is a file type that contains an eLearning course. It can be used to transfer a course from an authoring tool to a Learning Management System (LMS).

Most eLearning course creation tools will give you the option to download your finished course in a SCORM file. Hit ‘Download’, and you’ll receive a zipped folder - your SCORM package. If you look inside the folder, the files inside won’t make much sense, but they make a whole lot of sense to one very important receiver - a Learning Management System. When uploaded to an LMS, the LMS is able to read the package of files and launch the course you built.

Diagram demonstrating creating and downloading a SCORM package, then uploading it to an LMS and distributing it to learners.

How does SCORM work?

While it’s easy to think of a SCORM package as a file, or a folder of files, it is more accurately defined as a set of technical standards.

These technical standards direct programmers on how to structure the course data in a standardised way. That means that whenever a SCORM package is created, the files within it are created and structured in the same way. 

This standardisation allows any SCORM-compliant LMS to read and launch the SCORM package. SCORM packages also allow LMSs to read data about how the learner has interacted with the course, including how many pages they have clicked through, and how they have responded to assessment questions.

Why is it important to be SCORM-compliant?

SCORM-compliance is critical for Learning Management Systems and eLearning course creation tools because it is an industry-standard file type that allows them to speak the same language.

Prior to SCORM and the standardisation of eLearning file types, many LMSs and course creators spoke completely different languages, i.e. they created and received totally different file types. This was hugely detrimental for businesses who wanted to match the best course creation tool with the best LMS, because those two tools might use totally different file types.

When SCORM was introduced, it was a superior file type to others that had been available, and it was created by ADL, a research group sponsored by the United States Department of Defense (DoD), not an eLearning company. This meant that it could not be monopolised as a proprietary invention by a single company.

Since then, the vast majority of course creation tools and LMSs have become SCORM-compliant, meaning that businesses can now match the perfect LMS with the perfect course creation tool without worrying about compatibility.

What’s the difference between SCORM 1.2 and 2004?

SCORM 1.2 and 2004 are two different versions of SCORM.

Technically, there are five different versions of SCORM that you might find today:

  • SCORM 1.1 (Released Jan 2001)
  • SCORM 1.2 (Released Oct 2001)
  • SCORM 2004 2nd Edition (Released 2004)
  • SCORM 2004 3rd Edition (Released 2006)
  • SCORM 2004 4th Edition (Released 2009)

Each version has small variations on their technical standards and you can view a comparison of each in this Evolution of Scorm article. However, it is worth noting two of the most widely used versions.

SCORM 1.2 ironed out critical issues from SCORM 1.1, and therefore became the first widely adopted version. It is very robust and is still the workhorse of the eLearning industry - possibly the most widely accepted standard, 20 years after its release.

SCORM 2004 sought to improve on the capabilities of SCORM 1.2, particularly around sequencing and navigation. Unlike 1.2, SCORM 2004 allows course creators to restrict how learners move through the course in certain ways, such as requiring them to complete one topic before they can move to another, or completing all topics before attempting the assessment. Early editions of SCORM 2004 had their own issues however, and it wasn’t until the 3rd edition that it approached the adoption levels close to SCORM 1.2. 

Is SCORM dead?

Not by a long shot. Some industry influencers may like to crow that SCORM is dead, but this is far from the truth. SCORM is still the most widely used file type for eLearning courses in the industry. Almost all course creation tools and LMSs available are SCORM compliant.

However, the sun is setting on SCORM and it’s heyday is passing. With no new updates in the past twelve years, businesses are beginning to itch for new standards that can offer greater troves of data on how their learners are interacting with their courses. This data is valuable for understanding how learners are learning, and how courses can be optimised and improved.

eLearning practice has also evolved, with many new approaches such as blended learning, adaptive learning, offline learning, simulations and team-based learning. Unfortunately, SCORM lacks the capability to track these new approaches and is therefore likely to wane in popularity as the industry continues to evolve. A new standard called xAPI has emerged as SCORM’s successor.

Does HowToo publish to SCORM?

Creators and admins on the HowToo Creator plan can publish to SCORM 1.2 and 2004 (3rd edition) packages for immediate download. The downloaded packages can then be uploaded to any LMS that accepts SCORM 1.2 and 2004 packages.

Does HowTooHub accept SCORM?

Yes! HowTooHub accepts SCORM 1.2 and 2004 packages.

Is SCORM right for me?

It’s important to carefully weigh up if SCORM is right for you. For a full comparison on the advantages and disadvantages of different methods for publishing and distributing training courses, check out our blog on how to choose the best way to share your training courses. For a quick summary, keep reading.

For many businesses and individuals, yes, SCORM is a perfectly sufficient solution for publishing digital learning courses and transferring them to the LMS of your choice for learners to launch and complete. SCORM packages are easy and reliable.

For businesses with a greater degree of technological know-how, and a hunger for more data and more novel approaches to learning, SCORM may not be sufficient, and you may like to explore a standard like xAPI.

And for small businesses who aren’t interested in an LMS, or don’t have the budget for one, you might prefer an eLearning platform that allows you to create and distribute learning all in one place (like HowToo Growth), skipping the SCORM-packaging-and-transfer process entirely.

Got any questions? Contact our team and we’ll answer them as soon as we can.

Aug 26, 2021

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