SCORM Exchange Excitement

I willingly subscribe to a very small handful of things. One of them is Philip Hutchison‘s updates on his forthcoming book because I couldn’t be more excited about it. I think it’s important and exciting enough to share—the thoughts and files he’s been sharing at his site for years have been helpful and refreshing.

Below is his latest update and my response.


Thanks again for signing up for my book updates. The book and related code samples are coming along nicely, I hope to finish up this month, time permitting.

I wanted to take a moment to explain the gist of the book and see what you think.

First, some background:

Without a doubt, SCORM is convoluted, and is full of “nice… in theory” concepts. When SCORM was originally conceived, the authors were taking stabs at what they thought e-learning developers would like or need, but they were basically guessing, trying to predict the future.

As time progressed, they refined and expanded SCORM, adding complex features such as sequencing and navigation. Many of these new features made SCORM much harder to implement. The result was a chicken-or-egg scenario: LMS vendors didn’t fully implement SCORM features because of limited demand from course developers (and high development cost). Conversely, course developers didn’t use a number of SCORM features because the LMS didn’t fully support them.

For years we waited to see how it would play out: would the LMSs eventually start supporting more advanced SCORM features? Would we ever be able to fully utilize sequencing and navigation? Would support for CMI fields like cmi.interactions ever stabilize?

Today we know the answer: No, LMS vendors will not improve their SCORM support. The SCORM spec was last updated in 2009, and the ADL (owners of SCORM) have officially discontinued development in favor of the Experience API. Vendors have no incentive to spend development dollars on improving their SCORM support.

In my opinion, today’s level of SCORM support is the best we will get.

With that in mind, my book is focused on finding the sweet spot: how to hand-code a reliable HTML-based SCORM course, utilizing only the most widely-supported features. I’m attempting to level-set expectations about SCORM and taking a hard look at how we’re using it — the reality of SCORM in today’s world, not the dream of the original SCORM authors. I will not be delving into obscure and/or infrequently used features such as global variables or rollup rules.

If you’ve read this far, THANKS! I hope you’re as excited about this as I am.

I’m looking to make this book and the accompanying code examples as relevant as possible. If you have a minute to spare, I’d love to hear about your relationship with SCORM: how do you use it today, and what are your goals with SCORM? Are you trying to build a new course system, or do you already have one, but are looking to make it more reliable? Are there any particular kinds of examples you’d like to see?

Thanks for your time.
– philip

PS: I mentioned the Experience API (xAPI); it’s growing in popularity and has a bright future, but is still a child. Because of the Learning Record Store requirement, xAPI doesn’t work out-of-the-box with most LMSs, so I anticipate it will be a few more years before it’s widely adopted. In the meantime, SCORM continues to provide the foundation for the vast majority of e-learning courseware, especially in the corporate training realm. SCORM comes standard with most LMSs, and will not be going away anytime soon.

My Reply

I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time. I’m the instructional designer for a healthcare system with almost 10,000 employees — continual development of new, mandatory training to meet new regulations and requirements. We don’t use an LMS. We use Taleo Learn, an HCM that Oracle bought from some bargain basement estate sale so they could bundle it with their other products for the “convenience” of their customers who don’t know any better.

The lack of many of the most common LMS features aside, it isn’t even able to take advantage of what few things tools like Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate can do. I started my ID career during the glory days of eLearning created with Flash which, obviously, isn’t an option for many reasons. All of these limitations led me to your site and others trying to learn how to hand-code truly interactive, engaging, sane eLearning using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript — the only languages available to me even a little bit. Sadly, Taleo Learn isn’t compatible with “HTML5 eLearning.” Like many other products (including Captivate and Storyline), it is sold as “HTML5 compatible” which means little, if anything, more than a different doctype.

I’ve heard dubious rumors we may finally get an LMS in a year or two. Maybe. In my mind, that gives me hope for one thing — I can hand-code my own stuff without using Storyline and, if the stars and gods favor me, it will work in this new LMS.

What I’d like:

  • Animation
  • Control over navigation and interactivity
  • Communicate with the LMS beyond what little Storyline and Captivate can
  • Change code (and read code that is written with some sanity) … I’d like to know and navigate the directory structure with ease … what’s in there and where it is
  • Basically, something that can replace Flash

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