First, a little history on SCORM.

SCORM began as an initiative from the Department of Defense, which wanted to modernize technology-based education and training and expand distance learning initiatives. According to the DoD Strategic Plan for ADL Initiative created in 1999, the DoD’s vision was to

Harness the power of the Internet and other virtual or private wide-area networks (WANs) to deliver high-quality learning. It brings together intelligent tutors, distributed subject matter experts, real-time in-depth learning management, and a diverse array of support tools to ensure a responsive, high-quality “learner-centric” system.DOD STRATEGIC PLAN FOR ADL INITIATIVE, 1999, P. 8

The DoD also wanted common standards so that learning could be “accessible, interoperable, durable, and cost-effective,” and to “re-engineer the learning paradigm from a class-room centric model to an increasingly learner-centric model, and re-engineer the learning business process from a ‘factory model’ to a more … ‘information age model’ which incorporates anytime-anywhere learning” (DoD Strategic Plan for ADL Initiative, 1999, p. 9).

While we tend to think about “anytime, anywhere learning” as a recent phenomenon, the concept has been around for more than 20 years!

What is SCORM?

Learning Management Systems (LMS) distribute eLearning materials through a web browser, allowing learners to take courses anywhere, any time without having to install any software.

SCORM allows Sharable Content Objects (the SCO part of SCORM) to run on multiple LMS platforms in multiple browsers.

Put simply, SCORM makes it possible for different brands of LMS platforms to run programs created from different authoring tools.

The RM in SCORM means Reference Model, which means it’s a specification or set of rules followed by eLearning professionals. SCORM includes standards for packaging and describing content, how content is communicated to the LMS, and how learners navigate from module to module.

SCORM compliance, then, ensures compatibility across delivery platforms much the same way as writing to HTML and CSS standards allows web content to be delivered across multiple platforms and browsers.

Like HTML, which is maintained and directed by W3C, SCORM is governed by Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL), a research group sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense, and is the most widely used standard in the industry.

So what does a SCORM course look like?

SCORM courses are usually chunked into modules. These are standalone units that can be accessed according to learner needs—in any order, and skipped if the learner tests out. This “chunking’ also allows content to be reused and shared across courses, which reduces development costs and makes updating content easier.

You can think about a SCORM course as a PowerPoint deck on steroids. Instead of forcing the learner to methodically go through an entire course from start to finish, learners can: go at their own pace, stopping and starting the course at will; view the modules that interest them; test out of a module and move to the next one; circle back if they need to. And instead of passively watching the screen, users are interacting with the content: dragging and clicking, watching videos, playing games, taking quizzes, going through relatable scenarios, participating in a story, earning points and badges.

That’s a SCORM course from the learner’s perspective. With SCORM, instructors and designers can see how learners are interacting with the course by tracking students’ scores, quiz results, time spent on each module, lessons completed, videos watched, games played—giving them vast amounts of data they can use to improve the course. And—because the information is chunked, they don’t have to go back to square one to update the module.

How do I implement SCORM?

Remember that SCORM is the set of rules that allows communication between eLearning software and Learning Management Systems. Authoring tools  | 429automatically generate the underlying code needed to facilitate that communication.

Most have a workspace for building a slide set, where you can import media, create assessments and games, implement drag and drop and roll-overs, create branching elements and timelines, and work with other interactive features. Many have vast asset libraries containing icons, photos and illustrations, character packs, and templates.

Once the course is ready, publishing the course creates a ZIP file containing everything—media files, quizzes, text, images—and important files called imsmanifest.xml and SCORM API communications and logic files. If you want to get into the down and dirty about what’s in that ZIP file, read this article by Des Anderson at LearnUpon. This ZIP file is then uploaded to the LMS, which is now accessible by an end-user with a browser.

The future of SCORM

While SCORM is still widely used and remains the industry standard because of its interactivity and platform independence—it’s old; the most used version dates back to 2004, back when phones were phones and tablets were pads of paper. And—according to industry experts, SCORM doesn’t play well with modern-day versions of these devices.

There’s a new system out there that not only plays better with mobile devices, but escapes the leash of an LMS. It’s called Experience API, or xAPI, and can live online, offline, and on multiple platforms, allowing companies access to more data about how learners are learning.

xAPI began as “Project Tin Can,” an initiative led by ADL, the keepers of SCORM. Some of the issues xAPI intended to tackle included not requiring a web browser, simplifying SCORM standards, making it easier to update content, and creating more paths for analyzing learning data. According to, “With xAPI, a big difference is the ability to track learning on mobile devices—where roughly 40% of learning happens. Learners can interact with material on one device and pick up where they left off on another device later on. Not only that, offline learning can be tracked, such as real-world performance and team-based eLearning.”

xAPI is not only great for learning on mobile devices—it is increasingly being used with virtual reality. Imagine the cost savings of a fighter pilot learning to maneuver a plane in a VR simulation—also saving lives; or a counselor learning conflict resolution through VR scenarios. The real-world applications of xAPI are boundless.

While SCORM has been revolutionary for eLearning, the learning environment is fast evolving. Keeping up to date with the next generation of online learning standards will give you a leg up in the eLearning universe.

At ELM, we’re all about customized learning experiences | 429. We’re uniquely positioned to provide SCORM-compliant eLearning content for your LMS.