Developing elearning content is a huge task. Considering the time, resources, and budget needed to create quality content, selecting the right format should be given serious thought. In this article, Des Anderson, CTO at LearnUpon, shares his thoughts on the two main content standards: SCORM and Tin Can (xAPI). (Want to see some examples of xAPI in action? See our latest article on xAPI here.)
The decision of whether to use AICC, Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), Tin Can (xAPI), or a brand new elearning standard will impact the systems and tools you can adopt later on. With the popularity of content standards ever-changing, it’s important to select a format with longevity. The two main players in elearning right now are SCORM and Tin Can (xAPI). While they’re often discussed together, these two content standards are actually pretty different. Here are some factors you should consider to pick the one that’s right for you.
The most important distinction between SCORM and Tin Can is that they’re different protocols. As specifications, they both define how learning content communicates with a learning management system (LMS), but they offer differing methods for achieving similar outcomes.
Of the two standards, SCORM is more established. It was developed in 1999, inspired by difficulties that US government departments experienced while delivering online training. Back then, a lack of coordination and consistency between departments made managing elearning pretty messy. Inefficiencies were caused by isolated technologies that were unable to cooperate and by content that could only be used on a single system. To solve the problem, under an initiative issued by President Bill Clinton, the US Department of Defense (DoD) and Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) combined their experiences with elearning to establish brand new standard, SCORM.
SCORM’s name (Shareable Content Object Reference Model) indicates that it is a piece of content that’s easy to reuse, share, and repurpose. That’s what supports SCORM’s “interoperability” for those who create elearning content and those who consume it. Its interoperability helped SCORM solve the problems its developers aimed to address.
SCORM is now an old standard. While it still works, it’s dated. Although it has evolved, its main issue is that version 1.2 (only the second version in its history) is still the specification commonly implemented with authoring tools and LMSs. Thus, while SCORM remains embedded in the industry and will be around for some time, development has stalled. It’s time to consider newer standards.
Tin Can (xAPI)
The xAPI specification is also defined better than the SCORM API and uses newer technologies to achieve its goals. That makes it easier to use, more accessible to developers, and more robust. While SCORM is adequate for users who just want to deliver and report on simple online courses, Tin Can offers a number of advantages:
- Tin Can is more reliable: Because Tin Can’s protocol was developed more recently, it’s less susceptible to errors. At LearnUpon, we frequently help customers with SCORM issues on older browsers. We rarely handle queries related to Tin Can.
- Tin Can offers more tracking options: One major advantage of Tin Can is the breadth and depth of learning experiences it understands. While SCORM is limited to tracking desktop learning, Tin Can is a better fit for the modern landscape, in which “learning happens everywhere.” The rising demand for mobile learning is one reason why Tin Can is becoming increasingly popular.
- Tin Can delivers richer data: Tin Can can track more and richer data, and with better reliability than SCORM. A good LMS will allow you to automate reports to leverage the detailed data Tin Can tracks. If you choose Tin Can, you can also integrate your LMS with a Learning Record Store (LRS) to take full advantage of xAPI’s reporting power.
- Tin Can is still evolving: Tin Can is the best option for future-proofing the elearning content you develop. While Tin Can will continue to evolve, SCORM is now stagnant. Choosing Tin Can will allow you to enjoy the continuing improvement of a developing technology.
Final thoughts: SCORM vs. Tin Can (xAPI)
In the end, the outcomes delivered by SCORM and Tin Can are similar. Whichever standard you choose, the content of your elearning course won’t differ too much. Both will allow learners to launch courses, bookmark and complete them, answer quizzes, and pass. That covers the major elearning objectives for most users.
Some course developers mistakenly believe that Tin Can automatically creates things like animations that work really well on mobile devices. However, that isn’t true. Tin Can-compliant courses are designed and developed in the same way as SCORM content. Choosing between SCORM and Tin Can isn’t about how your courses look but how they communicate with your LMS. Although using Tin Can won’t automatically improve the appearance of courses, it will help you make the most of them. If the decision is yours, choose Tin Can. If you do go with SCORM, consider version 1.2; there’s a better chance that the content you create will be supported by your chosen LMS and that the content will track and work as you need it to.
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