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Most RFPs specify that SCORM compliance is obligatory. But what is it and how does it impact an eLearning project? SCORM or Sharable Content Object Reference Model is a set of standards to ensure interoperability, reusability and communication between eLearning content and Learning Management Systems (LMSs). Instructional designers should have a basic understanding of what SCORM is and how it could impact designs.

But first thing’s first: What does SCORM actually do?


With so many authoring tools and component parts, there are many ways to develop eLearning content. What if you designed an amazing library of eLearning content only to find that it didn’t cooperate with your new LMS? SCORM ensures that eLearning content and Learning Management Systems seamlessly coordinate, or are interoperable. This means that regardless how your eLearning content is authored, if it is SCORM compliant it will work the same on any LMS.


Now imagine that you are responsible for providing training to five distinct sets of learners. Let’s also imagine that you have eLearning content – say an activity – that would be valuable to three of those five sets of learners. It would make your life infinitely simpler if you could make that activity available to those three sets of learners only. SCORM enables the reusability of eLearning content such as your activity. This means that it can be removed from the original module and reused in another for different groups of learners.


Now let’s say that the activity you just shared with those three sets of learners is only truly critical to one set, while for the other two the activity is a nice but not critical addition. Because you’re responsible for ensuring the training sticks, you want to know who among that one set of learners has completed the critical activity. SCORM enables communication between eLearning content and your LMS. This means that when learners in that one set complete the activity, that information is communicated to the LMS and is thereby made visible to you.

Impact to project

Most rapid development tools produce SCORM compliant solutions in a reasonably pain-free way and all LMSs are now SCORM compliant. The biggest impact to projects, from my perspective, is how to optimize SCORM.

Taking the bigger picture of your eLearning content into account is critical if you’re considering reusability of those Sharable Content Objects (the SCO of SCORM). The bigger picture involves understanding the learning objects you have, how they might be reused and who might gain value from them. This is a curriculum- and program-wide view that is directed by learner needs and would be considerably expedited though the use of a viable content management strategy involving curricular evaluation targeting performance gaps. But Instructional Designers will caution you that reusing learning objects (like that activity for your three sets of learners) introduces the risk of confusing or disengaging the learner because activities and content must be relevant and are therefore often context-bound if they are to be meaningful and helpful.

Then there’s the issue of the communication of learner progress. Many clients want insight into learner progress and so will ask for all learning objects to be SCORM wrapped. An eLearning consultant will ask about the feasibility of actually using that information in a meaningful way. Visibility can be a good thing, if you have the resources to make use of that information by, for example, offering coaching or supplementary learning opportunities to those who disengage or underperform. But visibility becomes a millstone around the necks of overworked administrators who have to juggle the competing priorities of administering, evaluating and maintaining learning programs. An eLearning consultant will be considering your human capital alongside your need for visibility.

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