SCORM is a frequently used acronym in the world of training software and content. We know we are supposed to look for it, we know our IT guys really like it, but most end users and people outside of the technology world do not fully understand what SCORM really means.

Alphabet soup, word salad

SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) is a universal standard that allows all training and software created under its guidelines to work seamlessly with each other. SCORM sets the standards developers can use to ensure that training software and content can speak to each other. The concept is similar to the ability to play a CD in your car stereo just as easily as in your home stereo - the CD and CD players were developed with a set of standards that allow interchangeable play from device to device. SCORM is a similar model, allowing content and learning management systems to play nice with each other.

According to Rustici Software, the recognized expert in SCORM, “Sharable Content Object” indicates that SCORM users are interested in creating units of online training material that can be shared across systems. SCORM defines how to create “sharable content objects” or “SCOs” that can be reused in different systems and contexts.

“Reference Model” reflects the fact that SCORM isn’t actually a standard. SCORM simply references these existing standards and tells developers how to properly use them together.

Integration of SCORM content and a SCORM Learning Management System (LMS) is less costly than the alternative. SCORM also gives you the flexibility to select your LMS and your content from multiple sources.

DoD roots

In the mid-1990s, online or e-learning development was in full motion. Learning organizations began to harness the power of what could be delivered over the Internet for training.

The United States government was no different. In 1996, the Department of Defense recognized the need for on-demand learning for employees. In 1997, the DoD developed a department-wide strategy to standardize and modernize education and training. This strategy was called the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative, which was enacted in 1999 by President Bill Clinton.

In 1999, DoD established an ADL Co-Laboratory in Alexandria, Va., to provide an open forum for collaborative development and assessment of technical standards, prototypes and associated tools in support of DoD needs. Since that time, it has fostered the development, dissemination and maintenance of guidelines, tools, methodologies and policies for the cost-effective use of advanced distributed learning resource sharing across DoD, other Federal agencies and the private sector. It has also supported research and documentation of the capabilities, limitations, costs, benefits and effectiveness of advanced distributed learning.

What does SCORM mean for me?

ADL didn’t write SCORM from the ground up. Instead, ADL members noticed that the industry already had many standards that solved parts of the problem. The ADL initiative brought together multiple organizations to develop guidelines and specifications to make learning software accessible, interoperable, durable and reusable.

The ADL defines these terms as such:

Accessibility: The ability to locate and access instructional components from multiple locations and deliver them to other locations. For example, a content author can search the ADL Registry and identify relevant content that has already been developed by another organization and deploy that content on any LMS that complies with the same version of SCORM to learners anywhere in the world.

Interoperability: The ability to take instructional components developed in one system and use them in another system. For example, content packaged for delivery in one SCORM-compliant LMS could be loaded into another LMS that complies with the same version of SCORM for delivery to learners.

Durability: The ability to withstand technology evolution and/or changes without costly redesign, reconfiguration or recoding. For example, upgrading to a new computer operating system should have no effect on the delivery of content to learners.

Reusability: The flexibility to incorporate instructional components in multiple applications and contexts. For example, e-learning content designed for one organization can be redeployed, rearranged, repurposed or rewritten by other organizations that have similar learning needs.

The ADL worked with international organizations to ensure common goals were being met and standards were agreeable on a global scale. Whenever possible, the ADL adopts, clarifies, harmonizes, synchronizes and applies the documentation that these standards organizations develop. ADL promotes the application of standards with reference implementations and tools to assess compliance to the requirements.

Although developed through cooperation with the U.S. government, SCORM compliance is not mandated for vendors by any government body. Many proprietary software solutions work well for clients who do not want to integrate courseware with a large LMS or plan to utilize courseware from multiple vendors within one learning management system. Some safety professionals may find it easier to keep their safety training and tracking in a separate system. If, however, the IT department is involved with your online training purchase, they may ask you to look for a SCORM-compliant vendor for ease of future and/ or unanticipated integration. Your IT team may prefer SCORM simply for the standardized code, which may make maintenance and troubleshooting easier.

SCORM compliance may not be at the top of your list when choosing training software, but it should be a consideration for you and something to discuss with your vendor. As with any vendor, make sure you have a complete understanding of any costs involved with your software purchase, such as SCORM conversion, technical support (and where technical support is located), implementation fees, customization costs and any other aspect of online training that is important for you. Online training software is most effective when it works for you, not the other way around.