If you're thinking about creating an eLearning course then you've probably heard the terms SCORM and Tin Can API tossed about. Alternately, if you've already got a SCORM compliant course you may be considering making the move to Tin Can compliance.
If you're in either boat you need to understand what these two eLearning standards all about so you can make the best decision for your needs. They both accomplish similar outcomes, but there are definitely differences.
Table of Contents
What is SCORM?
Let's start with SCORM in case you're not already familiar.
SCORM stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Model.
Yikes! What does that mean in English, please?
The SCO part of the acronym, “Shareable Content Object”, specifies that SCORM is about creating online training material that can be shared across different systems. SCO's can be reused in different systems. It's the smallest piece of content that is reusable and independent. An example is a video or web page.
The RM part of the acronym, “Reference Model”, indicates that SCORM isn’t actually a standard. Instead, SCORM references already existing standards and helps developers tie them together.
Who Created SCORM?
SCORM is a specification from the Office of the US Secretary of Defense. It fits under the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative.
It was initiated because the Department of Defense found themselves creating the same training multiple times. The training had to be recreated because each department needed it and each department was using a different learning management system (or LMS). If you're not sure what an LMS is, briefly, it's a system for managing online training content as well as users that provide a nice learner experience.
ADL developed common specifications so all the training could be used in any LMS. The result was the development of SCORM.
Collection of Learning Standards and Specifications
The idea of SCORM is similar to how you can play a DVD in any DVD player whether it’s a Sony or Panasonic DVD player. All DVD players work because they’re all using the same standards (although I guess this example doesn't always hold up because now you have 3-D and Blue Ray DVDs thrown in there, but at least they’re identified).
Essentially, SCORM is a collection of learning standards and specifications for eLearning. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty, SCORM defines how content is packaged into a ZIP file called Package Interchange Format.
It's essentially a set of rules specifying how the learner experiences content objects. For instance, the learner must go through the course in a specific way also called set paths. In addition, the learner must be able to bookmark their progress so that when they came back, they know where they left off. In addition, SCORM must assure the acceptability of test scores.
SCORM lets you know who takes a course and how well they do on a quiz. It only works when viewing the course in a browser on the same domain as the LMS.
There are actually different versions of SCORM. SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004 are the most popular versions.
Who Uses SCORM?
SCORM compliant content is created once and used in different systems. For example, a SCORM compliant video can be played and tracked by any SCORM compliant LMS. This allows for more functionality within an organization and even across organizations.
Therefore, big companies, institutions, and organizations (even government organizations) typically use SCORM.
SCORM compliant learning content and SCORM compliant learning management systems all work with each other. So if a big company wants to switch their LMS, they can do so easily.
For many, this is not relevant, and it will be a waste of time and money to try and make your content SCORM compliant.
If you are a course creator providing courses to large corporations, it may be worthwhile to create SCORM compliant content. Each of your clients will likely all use a different LMS and they will want your branded content to work well in it.
Advantages of Using SCORM
As mentioned, the ease of switching your LMS is a big advantage of SCORM. Another big advantage is that SCORM compliant content is interactive. You can use a SCORM-compliant authoring tool like Articulate, Adobe Captivate, iSpring, and many others to create your learning content. Learners can click on elements within the screen like images and even drag and drop elements.
Often, learners will need to complete a task like a quiz embedded within the course before they can proceed to the next section.
Even if you don’t need your online training to be SCORM-compliant, offering an engaging and interactive course helps your learners reach their goals. They will be more likely to finish your course, retain it, and act on it. Interactive authoring tools are popular whether or not you take advantage of the SCORM compliance factor.
Progressive Learning & Time on Content
SCORM allows you to control how long a learner spends on the course before they can mark it off as complete or often even move forward. This can occur on a page by page basis.
That means you can make your user spend a certain amount of time on a page before they can progress. The ‘Next’ button might not even be enabled until they’ve spent at least the minimum recommended length of time on that particular page.
Enabling progression won't make sense for every course, but you can see how this would be useful for corporate training. Many employees won't want to go through the training material, but by using SCORM in the LMS, corporate leaders can ensure employees are viewing the material and assess how well they retain it. This works great for all kinds of corporate training materials where employers really need to make sure the training is being consumed.
SCORM for Accreditation
Another smart use for this deals with accreditation. A great example is continuing legal education or CLE credits.
Attorneys have to take a mandatory number of credit hours (CLE credits) every year to keep in good standing. An attorney might earn 2 credit hours by taking a 2 hour CLE course. By using SCORM, the provider can make sure the attorney is actually spending at least 2 hours on the material. This tracking capability provides at least some accountability. As mentioned, since you can assign a minimum time for each page, you can make sure learners are spending the proper length of time per page and not just jumping to the end.
SCORM compliant assessments and quizzes can come right after the course and within the same unit. Learners don't have to navigate away to a separate assessment or exam. Passing an exam can be used instead of or in addition to the time factor mentioned above. SCORM-compliant tools can track that score for you.
Cons of SCORM
Authoring tools can be expensive. Articulate 360 is $1,299 per user, annually. If you really want to create SCORM compliant interactive course material, but can't fork over that kind of money, another option is to look into iSpring. They offer robust, but much more affordable authoring tools.
You can invest in iSpring Suite which is $770 for a lifetime license. If you don't need the entire suite, they offer a decent-sized catalog of separate learning tools for less.
Another con is that you’ll have to learn how to use these authoring tools and they all have a learning curve.
In addition, many of these tools output to Flash which doesn’t work that well on all devices. Some can output to HTML5, but there can be problems with this too. The screen is not always big enough to accommodate longer quiz questions so learners have to scroll. However, the quizzes work across mobile and desktop platforms so it's a trade-off.
In addition, SCORM can only track what's going on inside the LMS while the learner is on a browser. It does not always work across different devices.
SCORM Friendly Learning Management Systems
One thing I want to point out is that these are just content authoring tools. You'll also need an LMS that can accept the files created by these authoring tools and run them. Instead of having 100 different training videos and other materials, with SCORM, you’re just uploading one zipped package the LMS can accept.
It’s not necessarily the LMS that makes your course SCORM compliant (although that's a part of it). The authoring tool creates the SCORM compliant material and the LMS supports it. To walk you through the steps; you create the course in a SCORM compliant authoring tool, publish it as SCORM, and then upload it to your LMS.
Tin Can API
Tin Can API is a web service that allows action statement objects like ‘I did this’ to be recorded. For example, with Tin Can, you can pass “John finished lesson 1” to what's called a Learning Record Store (LRS). More complex statement objects can be used too.
The LRS stores all these learning statements. Grassblade LRS is one such LRS you can choose from although there are many others.
Tin Can is an alternative to SCORM that has picked up momentum. Tin Can is now being called Experience API or xAPI, but you can still call it Tin Can and people will know what you're talking about.
To dig into what xAPI or Tin Can is, let's start with the API portion. API stands for Application Programming Interface.
An API allows programs to speak with one other. For instance, if you're using the ConvertKit email marketing tool and you want to hook it up with Thinkific (a cloud LMS), then you will do that by adding in an API key. Once that API key has been added, the two programs can pass data onto each other. You can do this with virtually any two programs or platforms that offer API integration support for each other.
xAPI/Tin Can Allows You to Track a User's Learning Behavior
One issue with SCORM is that it can only track what's happening inside a course.
Tin Can will help you figure out more, even pulling data from several LMS's. It can also track a learner outside the LMS. For example, Tin Can will track a learner while they're taking a course and also track them when they go to watch a specific video on YouTube. Although the content is clearly off the eLearning domain, for tracking purposes it's like it's still within the LMS.
Tin Can supports the idea that eLearning happens everywhere. In addition to the content inside and outside the LMS, Tin Can will also support mobile content quite well. The learning material does not need to be within a browser for it to be recorded. Learners can start the content on one device, move over to another, and then finish it up on a third device.
How Do You Create Tin Can Compliant Learning Material?
Typically, course developers use Tin Can compliant authoring tools to create the content. Many of the same authoring tools that are SCORM compliant are also now Tin Can or xAPI compliant.
From there, the content can be uploaded to an LMS that supports Tin Can just like when making a SCORM compliant course. Cloud learning management systems supporting Tin Can include TalentLMS, Moodle, LearnUpon, Docebo, and Litmos among many others.
If you're interested in using a WordPress LMS plugin, both LearnDash and LifterLMS support Tin Can. To learn more about these tools you can check out an in-depth LearnDash review and LearnDash tutorial as well as a LifterLMS review and LifterLMS tutorial. If you need to compare the two head-to-head, checkout the LearnDash vs LifterLMS review.
In addition to using an LMS, Tin Can compliance requires a Learning Record Store or LRS.
What's an LRS?
You must have a functioning LRS to record data with Tin Can. An LRS is normally a stand-alone product that can be incorporated into an LMS. It handles the xAPI (or Tin Can) data while the LMS handles the learning content.
Rustici LRS, Learning Locker, and GrassBlade LRS can all handle xAPI data. You can connect these up to your LMS to get a very robust system for tracking learner data.
You don't have to use an LMS with an LRS, but it's still recommended. That's because the LMS has features that an LRS doesn't. Think of an LRS as a means to extend the functionality of your LMS, not replace it. The LMS provides the delivery of the content, user management, quizzes, and if you're integrating eLearning gamification then the recognition of achievements, badges, and other eLearning components.
Data collected through xAPI is recorded in an LRS.
Overall, going with Tin Can may make more sense looking ahead especially with the mobile eLearning trend. In addition, there are certain events only Tin Can is able to track.
SCORM can only track whether or not a lesson or quiz was completed, time to complete the learning material, a single score, or record pass/fail. If you need to report multiple scores, detailed test results, games, informal learning, and more then Tin Can is the only way to go.
Is Tin Can expected to replace SCORM?
It's hard to say, but Tin Can does seem to be advancing while SCORM is fairly stagnant. If you want to be able to track the full journey that your learners take, Tin Can/xAPI is the wave of the future.