SCORM: A complete guide to the Shareable Content Object Reference Model

By Jessica Vallance, Elearning Expert | Published: September 2020

Your ultimate guide

If you are working in elearning you must have heard the term SCORM or  Shareable Content Object Reference Model being mentioned.

In this guide, we bring you the basics of SCORM as well as a deeper dive  into how the standard works, which versions are available and, how it compares to other elearning standards. 

Any organization looking to ensure SCORM compliance will also need to make sure they have the right tools in place. This isn’t always the easiest thing to do. To help you out we added some helpful tips and advice. 

 

What is SCORM?

To kick things off let’s start with some basics – a kind of a SCORM 101

SCORM stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Model. It’s a collection of standards and specifications for setting up elearning that can run from any LMS – as long as the LMS is also SCORM-compliant.

SCORM governs two things: packaging content and run-time.

  • Packaging content determines how a piece of content should be physically delivered. SCORM specifies exactly how the learning content should be structured within its file so it can be properly launched, interpreted and tracked. 
  • The run-time communication or data exchange specifies how the learning object “talks” to the LMS. This is how instructions like “request the learner’s name” and “tell the LMS that the learner scored 85% on this test” are passed between the learning content and the module. 

To find out more about SCORM standards, SCORM packaging and SCORM compliance, check out the official SCORM website or the SCORM Wikipedia page

What is a SCORM file?

scorm compliant and scorm file

SCOs – or Shareable Content Objects – are the individual trackable pieces of elearning, so these might be whole courses or one page. A SCO is something that can be individually uploaded and tracked by an LMS.

SCORM defines how elearning content should be packaged into a transferable ZIP file called a “Package Interchange File.” This is known as a SCORM file. It’s this file that needs to be set up according to the structure that SCORM standards require, and including the core files that allow it to properly communicate with the LMS. 

What are the different SCORM versions?

There have been a number of different versions and releases of the SCORM standards since 1999.

SCORM 1.1

This was the first version of SCORM. Before this, work had been done to draft the standards and give a preview of work to come, but this version was when SCORM became implementable. This version showed that SCORM was workable as an idea, but it highlighted several issues to be resolved in the next version. 

SCORM 1.2

This version addressed the lessons learned from the first. Commercial vendors quickly began using it and benefitted from considerable cost savings. Almost all LMSs support this version, and most content developers still create elearning that meets its standards. It’s likely to be around for a long time. 

SCORM 2004 (sometimes known as SCORM 1.3)

This is the current release, giving content developers more control over how their elearning behaves. For example, it includes a sequencing and navigation specification that lets content vendors specify how the learner can progress between SCOs.

There have actually been several iterations of SCORM 2004, each one building on and ironing out the issues of the one before, but SCORM 2004 version 3 is the most widely used. 

The benefits of SCORM

There are several benefits to using SCORM as your elearning standard. To name a few: 

  • SCORM means that content can be created once and then deployed on many different systems exactly as it is. This is hugely powerful in terms of efficiency and cost-savings. 
  • SCORM is now the most widely used protocol due to its main benefit: if your elearning is SCORM compliant, you’ll find it can be read by almost any LMS. You don’t need to spend time tailoring your learning; as long as you work to SCORM standards, you can guarantee compatibility. 
  • Many elearning tools are set up to let you create SCORM-compliant packages with little technical knowledge, so creating and sharing your SCORM course is relatively easy. 
  • SCORM offers a solid set of tracking capabilities (see below for more on this) which gives content authors invaluable data about people who are actually using their training. It also lets you control the learner’s pace. This means you can manage your learner journey by specifying how long people should spend on an interactive element.

Is SCORM still relevant?

is scorm relevant

The most recent version of SCORM was created in 2004, so although the standard is still widely used, its functionality is limited in terms of modern capabilities. Newer standards like xAPI offer more features to elearning authors and let them gather more types of data on how their elearning is being used. 

As Learning Expert Amy Rouse eloquently puts it in her LinkedIn post The Decline and Fall of SCORM and Why You Should Care:

“SCORM is not dead, but it’s past its prime.” .

What alternatives are there to SCORM?

There are two main alternatives to SCORM: 

  • AICC or Aviation Industry CBT (Computer-Based Training) Committee. These standards were set up in 1993 for CD-ROM training and further developed in 1998 to include web-based learning. The main difference between SCORM and AICC is time. It takes longer to upload content to an LMS using AICC than SCORM. Support and tracking capabilities are poorer too. However, one advantage that AICC does have over SCORM is security. These standards are more secure.  
  • xAPI or Experience API or Tin Can API. xAPI is a protocol for tracking learning-related activity that was developed in 2013. The main difference between Tin Can API and SCORM is its ability to track learning. While SCORM learning can only be tracked within a compliant LMS, xAPI enables the recording, tracking, personalizing and improving of learning in almost any context. The only drawback is the support. This standard is gaining more traction in recent times, but it is still not as widely used as SCORM. 

At-a-glance: How does SCORM compare to other standards? What can be tracked by SCORM?As you can see, one of the key differentiators between standards is what they can track. That means what they can monitor and report back to the elearning manager. SCORM 1.2 keeps track of the following data:

  • lesson_location. This is where the learner is up to in the course. It means they can be taken back to that point if they want to leave and come back later. 
  • suspend_data. This is a general “bucket” where any specific data you want to capture can be stored. For example, if you want to know how a learner answered a specific question, you can set up the suspend data to monitor this. 
  • lesson_status. This means whether the learner has passed, failed or completed the course.
  • session_time and total_time. The time the learner has spent looking at the course, both in this session and overall. 
  • score_raw. This is the score the learner achieved for the whole module. 
  • mastery_score. This is the score the learner must achieve for the module to set as “passed.”
 AICC  SCORM    1.2  SCORM   2004  xAPI  cmi5
Does it offer course sequencing? No No Yes Yes Yes
Does it monitor:

  • Completion
  • Spent time
  • Pass/fail?
No No Yes Yes Yes
Does it offer advanced tracking (e.g., games, simulations, informal learning, offline learning)? No No No Yes Yes
Can it track single scores? No No Yes Yes Yes
Can it track multiple scores? No No No Yes Yes
Can it work without a web browser? No No No Yes Yes
Is it mobile-friendly? No No No Yes Yes


SCORM compliant software

Now that we have covered the basics, let’s talk about how do you choose SCORM-compliant software?

To make SCORM, you will need to use a SCORM-compliant authoring tool and a SCORM-compliant LMS. The authoring tool creates the SCORM-compliant elearning and the LMS publishes the course content. You need to consider both elements of the elearning experience. 

SCORM-compliant authoring tools

A SCORM-compliant authoring tool helps you create elearning that, when it’s published, automatically packages itself up in a way that meets SCORM standards. This is an essential feature if you want your elearning to run from an LMS and you want to keep track of learners’ progress. 

There are plenty of authoring tools to choose from (you can see a detailed comparison of SCORM compliant authoring tools here), but here are a few examples:

  • Evolve is an online authoring tool that builds HTML5-based elearning content. Courses built in this tool will work on any platform, device or system. The software is designed for novice authors, meaning it’s quick and easy to create simple content.
  • Elucidat is a fully cloud-based authoring tool, aiming to help managers easily create new courses and deploy them at scale. 
  • Adapt is an open-source authoring tool that creates responsive HTML5 content that can be published as a SCORM download. 

New call-to-action


What are some examples of SCORM courses?

Take a look at these three courses for some examples of elearning that can easily be delivered in a SCORM-compliant format:

Quick onboarding for practical tasks

This is an example of a simple one-page learning resource to get people up to speed with a new role. 

Microlearning for skills development

This learning is structured in a way to help learners improve a particular skill, letting them use the module to create an action plan to take away. 

in depth process elearning example

This example shows how a complex process can be broken down into manageable chunks.

SCORM-compliant LMS

A SCORM-compliant LMS means the LMS is set up in a way to “listen” to the information the elearning modules send to it. Both the LMS and the elearning course need to be SCORM-compliant so that the data can be sent between them, and the reports can be run to see who has looked at the elearning and how they’ve done.

Here are some examples of SCORM-compliant Learning Management Systems:

  • Docebo is a reputable LMS with a user-friendly interface to make managing learning easier.
  • LearnUpon is an LMS that’s been built to be powerful, scalable, and simple to use. You can easily manage and track your SCORM compliant courses.
  • Totara is an open-source LMS that lets learning managers create learning plans for their users based on tailored competencies and objectives.

You can view a detailed guide to choosing a SCORM-compliant LMS here,