Before we get into how SCORM, Tin Can (also called xAPI, or meaning Experience API), and AICC are different, let’s start with what they all have in common: a complicated acronym (AICC is a doozy), and standards and specifications for eLearning content that is compatible across multiple platforms. AICC led the way to the development of SCORM, Tin Can, and all other eLearning specifications.
Created by the Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee in 1993 (see what we mean by doozy?), the intent of AICC was to reduce costs for computer-based training by producing eLearning specifications for Learning Management Systems. The idea was that if an LMS could accept AICC-compliant eLearning content, it could host and deliver any content that complies with the AICC Guidelines and Recommendations (AGRs).
While AICC was developed by the aviation industry, it isn’t limited to aviation-only applications. To be AICC-compliant, content must follow one or more of AICC’s nine AGRs. Without getting into too much detail, the most common standards are AGR-006 and AGR-010, which relate to computerized training content delivered over the internet, or even a floppy disk or CD (remember those?), and to web-based learning content.
Whether or not AICC is relevant today is mostly a closed question. While most learning platforms can accept AICC-compliant content, the specification is no longer being maintained or updated because the AICC group—the folks responsible for maintaining and updating the specification—dissolved in 2014. AICC is also not commonly used outside the U.S.
In 2018, AICC was called a “defunct dinosaur” in a Software Advice article about choosing a technical standard for eLearning content. The magazine surveyed 150 learning and development professionals, and only 23% used AICC, while 62% used SCORM. While it may not be in use much anymore, it did form the basis for SCORM and all other eLearning specifications that followed it.
Like AICC, SCORM (Sharable Content Objects Reference Model) is a specification that fosters communications between eLearning content and an LMS. The heart of SCORM is that it allows Sharable Content Objects (the SCO part of SCORM) or programs 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.
Unlike AICC, SCORM is still relevant today: it is the industry standard for eLearning content, and nearly all LMS vendors support SCORM content. SCORM allows eLearning instructional designers, developers, and course administrators the freedom to include web-based content from many sources, meaning that they can also ditch vendors, tools and LMSs at will. eLearning programs can no longer be held hostage by anyone. As long as everything is SCORM compliant, the beat goes on.
And—creating SCORM content is pretty easy, as most SCORM authoring tools are intuitive, and allow you to convert existing content into an eLearning course complete with interactive elements like quizzes and knowledge checks.
SCORM’s major drawback didn’t matter at first, and it might not matter to you. Its tracking capabilities are limited to web-based content and events, which means that it doesn’t support offline learning: learners must have an internet connection to access a course. SCORM’s dependence on an LMS also means that learning must happen in an LMS—not on a tablet, smartphone, or another web site. It also means that the content itself is pretty limited. Because SCORM is flash-based, it doesn’t work well on mobile devices—and can’t handle the demands of multiple media sources like videos and GIFs.
Released in 2013, Tin Can API (xAPI) is built on the concepts of SCORM, and solves a lot of SCORM’s limitations in terms of mobile device compatibility and tracking. Unlike SCORM, Tin Can API isn’t dependent on the internet, which means that companies no longer have to upload a course to the LMS because the API can host content outside of the traditional learning management system. With Tin Can API, learners can view and interact with courses on their smartphones through mobile apps, making learning more convenient. And, Tin Can API automatically uploads training metrics into what’s called a LRS (Learning Record Store), which can exist within a traditional LMS as well as on its own.
Escaping the grasp of an LMS means that learners aren’t limited to learning only in a traditional or virtual classroom, which eLearning and education professionals agree has limited ways to measure employees’ training progress. Tin Can API can record and track all types of learning experiences—real-world experiences that take place outside of the classroom, as long as they are stored as Actor:Verb:Object, such as John Smith:Toured:Louvre Museum, or Someone:DID:Something.
In spite of sounding like a grammar lesson, storing experience data in this format allows you to measure an employee’s trajectory rather than amount of learning, which creates a more accurate picture of learning trends. Here’s a metaphor: if Ted is driving from A to B, a SCORM system can only measure whether he reached his destination. In contrast, Tin Can API can record whether Ted took a detour, ran a red light, or picked up flowers for his spouse along the way. That’s why it’s also called Experience API.
Of course, tracking can go overboard: it’s is up to you to define what type of activity is “meaningful” enough for the API to track. For example, if the goal is to get Ted from point A to point B in less than twenty minutes, you can measure Ted’s progress in different ways. Maybe on day 1, he learns about getting a car; day 2, he studies for his driver’s permit; day 3, he passes the test; and day 4, he buys a car. All of these steps show that Ted is making progress toward his ultimate goal of traveling between A and B faster than before, but if we were to just measure his progress by time, it would be hard to discern whether or not he is improving. Tin Can API provides a big picture perspective of the learner experience.
The differences between AICC, SCORM, and Tin Can API are clear: trends tell us that AICC is moving out, while Tin Can API is quickly on pace to pass SCORM in the race for eLearning standards. While SCORM still has its place due to its widespread compatibility, user-friendly authoring tools, support from a majority of LMS vendors, and the “because we’ve always used it” mentality, its dependence on an LMS has limitations. Tin Can API opens a new world of learning that’s not tethered to an LMS, and its tracking capabilities far exceed what SCORM can do. However, it’s not the standard quite yet: it may take a while for the eLearning industry to fully embrace it.