Remember back in the day when Japanese electronics giants Sony and JVC were battling it out in the video recording market, vying to make their recording formats, Betamax and VHS (respectively), the dominant player in the industry? Many consumers placed their bets on Sony’s Betamax, but VHS ultimately won the day!
The same leadership war played out for DVD formats; which ultimately has seen Blu-ray triumph over HD-DVD formats.
What Betamax, VHS, HD-DVD and Blu-ray have done for video viewing, so too are technical standards for Learning Management System (LMS) doing for the eLearning industry. ELearning content needs to conform to certain standards in order to interact with LMS solutions. Three of the most dominant of these standards are:
- Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense(DoD) in 1997. SCORM modules are interoperable, accessible and reusable between compliant LMSs, making them an extremely cost-effective investment
- The Aviation Industry CBT Committee (AICC) supports a Computer Bases Training (CBT) standard that comply with its AICC Guidelines and Recommendations (AGRs). eLearning content does not necessarily need to be aviation industry specific. However, any content that is AICC-compliant would have to follow at least one of nine AGRs
- Tin Can API, which is also known as the “Experience API” (or xAPI), is positioned as a standard that goes beyond a specific learning environment. Stewarded and pioneered by the US DoDs Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL), it is an API that’s community driven, and is free to implement.
So, why are these technical standards important for anyone who is researching LMS solutions? Well, while each of these standards have different features and functionalities tied to them, their ultimate objective is the same: They’ll act as intermediaries to ensure that the eLearning content you develop “plays nice” with your corporate LMS.
SCORM vs. Tin Can vs. AICC
Currently SCORM, which is available in its 2004 edition – its 4th, is the de-facto industry leader in terms of eLearning standards used. It does not address any pedagogical concerns or speak to specific instructional design constraints. It is a technical standard for eLearning software solutions.
Any SCORM-compliant LMS system is able to interoperate with any other SCORM-compliant environment, and vice versa. This then gives prospective LMS solution acquirers the incentive to consider SCORM compatibility when evaluating their future LMS tools.
- Track course completion
- Keep tabs on time spent on a course
- Monitor and report on pass/fail results
- Offer single score reports
One notorious limitation that SCORM has is its browser security limitations. As a result, SCORM does not enable communications between cross-domain content. So, if you had an LMS system on one domain that needed to share content with an LMS residing on another domain – that would be a challenge for a SCORM -enabled LMS.
However, eLearning occurs in a diverse range of environments – not just within SCORM-compliant settings. By virtue of its ability to record learning experiences in any environment, Tin Can/xAPI may provide more broadly applicable LMS solutions.
Unlike SCORM, which interoperates with compliant LMSs, an xAPI compatible system uses Learning Record Stores (LRSs) to receive, store and share/return details about learning experiences across multiple forms of learning environments – online, off-line, social media, and much more. These LRSs can either be stand-alone components of an eLearning environment, or can reside within LMS solutions. In addition to what SCORM offers, Tin Can API supports:
- Multiple score reporting
- Enhanced security
- Browser-free operability
- No cross-domain restrictions, and
- Broader applicability for simulations, gaming, social learning, adaptive learning and team-based learning experiences
It’s not infallible, however. While Tin Can offers a few more features over SCORM it’s crucial to keep in mind that it also lacks the ability to do things like track time spent in a course and it can’t report on launch history without a separate application to read and decipher the statements.
In many ways AICC, which has a history dating back to 1988, started it all. What sparked the need for standardization in the training world was the realization by leading aviation companies, like Airbus, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, that they needed to move away from “closed” training solutions. They formed AICC, which initially outlined its standards for CD-Rom-based CBT, but by 1999 evolved into a web-based training environment (HTTP-based).
While still considered a pioneer of online training standards, AICC was disbanded in 2014, and all of its assets and capabilities transferred to the DoDs Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) group.
What does it all mean?
Just as humans rely on some form of common language, be it signs, icons, emoticons, symbols or interpreters, to communicate across boundaries, borders and cultures, so too LMSs need certain standards to communicate with each other and with the content they manage and disseminate. Without these standards, LMS users would have a tough time understanding if specific content could be hosted or “launched” through their corporate learning environments.
So which of these standards should you consider when looking for your corporate LMS solution? Well, it depends!
Many organizations look for product maturity. With its 1st edition released in 2001, SCORM has been around the longest of these standards and, by virtue of that fact, will have more of an LMS eco-system available for prospective LMS buyers to choose from. Keep in mind though, that SCORM-compliant LMSs were originally designed with (and therefore inherited) desktop/laptop learning in mind, requiring learners to always be logged into an LMS to conduct learning.
xAPI, on the other hand, had its specifications, Tin Can API 1.0, released as recently as 2013. Rather than just course-based information, some companies may wish to collect data about their learners from a broad range of learning experiences. It is the relatively new kid on the block, and therefore still in its infancy. However, it can do more than just interact with LMSs. It can also transmit and share data on physical actions a learner might take during course interaction – like pressing a button on a smart phone.
Choosing an LMS system requires more than just decisions regarding what content can be played or hosted by the tools. Things like interactivity, scalability, security, global applicability/acceptance, richness of the eco system, must also be weighed. Ultimately, the type of content you’ll be using, the type of audience who will be consuming that content and the way content is to be consumed (desktops vs. mobile devices) will determine which eLearning standard you should embrace.
Which standard do you prefer?