Guest Blogger PostSCORM is a standard. That is the bottom line. It is a way to move content across Course Management Systems (CMS) and Learning Management Systems (LMS). It is a way to package information and move it between various conformant platforms. Standards make our lives easier. Imagine going shopping for a queen size mattress and none are the same size. Standards are important, but if SCORM is just a standard, then is it important to learning?

Some elearning professionals believe that SCORM is mandatory for anyone who is developing elearning. On his blog, Tony Karrer espouses the importance of SCORM as a standard for elearning when creating any content for an LMS. Other elearning professionals vigorously defend the standard because of improved interoperability of content across learning systems. Despite the heavy protection from some SCORM camps, others in the blogosphere admit to a variety of SCORM issues such as the difficulties non-technical users, such as teachers and instructors encounter, when trying to implement this standard.

Despite the many opinions elearning professionals have, the question still remains: Is SCORM important to learning? In my opinion, SCORM has nothing to do with learning.  First, learning is personal, and individuals learn in a variety of ways. Just because your elearning content is SCORM compliant doesn’t change how the learner will understand it. All it does is guarantee your learner can view the same content on more than one SCORM compliant system. SCORM standards do not affect other traditional methods of learning. Second, SCORM is only important to elearning distribution, not learning.  Having standards in elearning can be good, but standards do not change how people learn. Third, SCORM has nothing to do with the quality of the instruction. If the instructional design is poor, all of the SCORM in the world won’t help one bit.

Do you believe SCORM has an impact on learning in general? Do you think all elearning should be SCORM compliant? I look forward to your comments.

Guest blogger: Stacy Clayton is an IT Specialist with over 8 years of experience in Higher Education. She is employed at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. She manages websites, web conferencing, interactive development, and video services. Her interests are in creating elearning content and improving the way technology is used in the classroom at the university level.

Image courtesy of throwthedamnthing at

About Michael M Grant

Dr. Michael M. Grant is a passionate professor, researcher, and consultant. He works with faculty members, schools and universities, and districts to integrate technology meaningfully and improve teaching and learning. When 140 characters just won't work, then he blogs here at He has a beautiful wife and three equally beautiful daughters, who will change the world.

17 Thoughts on “The Perfect SCORM: Is there an impact to elearning or not?

  1. Joey on March 5, 2010 at 4:48 am said:

    Great post Stacy. I agree with you that SCORM is great for the distribution of eLearning, but has no impact on how effective your instruction is. Standards like SCORM are important, but as it is now it can’t help improve the instruction.

  2. Hallelujah! SCORM no more improves learning than a DVD improves a movie. Effective learning is all about the content, not the technical nuts and bolts under the hood.

  3. Michael on March 5, 2010 at 7:21 pm said:

    Hey Stacy,

    Congrats on getting Mike R. to post … let’s just say he’s heavily involved with SCORM and has been for some time. Mike represents a successful way to approach eLearning and standards with viability and sustainability in mind. Mike and his company partners with learning companies (such as mine) letting them focus on learning design while he perfects the architecture supporting that learning.

    I’ve waffled in the trenches of SCORM for several years early in my career and learned a lot … the biggest thing was that SCORM never once made online learning better. It did however make it shareable which is important. SCORM “done well” should be seamless and invisible and I think most anyone involved with SCORM would say the same thing.

    The problem with a standard like SCORM is that sometimes they become standards way before the tools, the systems, and the people are ready for it. That was the case with SCORM. Nice idea that became a BEAST with loose interpretations and glitchy code. In the early part of last decade, a lot of people grew a lot of gray hairs trying to do the right thing and implement SCORM conformant content on shaky LMSs. It was maddening … enough so that I got out of the business of eLearning pretty much altogether (more on that later).

    In my opinion, here’s what SCORM did for eLearning. It made people sit up and think about content that was shareable. It made people think more about how their content “conversed” with the LMS. It made the LMS industry come together (somewhat) and build their content players in roughly the same way. It saved the Department of Defense quite a bit of money … not because the learning was better but because the DoD finally “trusted” online content as a conduit for training. SCORM provided eLearning content providers a way to market their wares on an even playing field where customers were unafraid to buy their content because they knew SCORM = easier integration with the LMS. SCORM saved the Learning Content Management System industry from an early death because people saw the benefits for the first time of asset-based repositories spooling content on the fly to the learner. Finally, SCORM made a wide diaspora of people involved in eLearning come together and talk. That talking creating all sorts of synergies that we are benefiting from right now. Whole industries came about when eLearning people got together and began seeing the benefits of shared content. Even though SCORM didn’t necessarily do all this alone, the existence of SCORM and the problems it created brought many people together in the industry for the first time maybe. There’s value in that.

    However, in my opinion, there is a dark side to SCORM as well. I believe the work around SCORM took the learning folks’ eyes off the ball for half a decade. What I mean by the “learning folks” are the people who design learning … not the learning architecture people like Mike Rustici. We (ID) buried ourselves in making content standardized and forgot about our work towards better more effective online learning. If you saw some of the early SCORM 1.2 content presented on LMS content players (circa 2002-3), you would laugh. Was it SCORM conformant and therefore DoD legal … yes. Was it good learning … good god no! Too many smart people stopped making good learning experiences and began to work on standardizing their content. Why did they do this and temporarily go a bit crazy? It’s because (like I said earlier) SCORM was pushed on the eLearning industry too soon. It wasn’t baked through and through and we had to work hard to make it fit our systems. It was the shared fault of vendors as well as the customers. Customers saw a “future-proof” standard that made them warm and fuzzy inside and the vendors were forced to follow suit or look like an outsider. Again, we lost maybe half a decade while we congratulated ourselves on crappy linear learning modules strung together via XML and JavaScript which was a mistake.

    So, I got out of the eLearning business because I felt that the onus of early SCORM was unfairly slung over the shoulders of instructional designers and content developers. We were forced down a path we were not prepared for and suffered because of it … the content and thus the learner did too as a result. SCORM shepherded by LETSI seems to be in a better place these days and the true vision of an invisible seamless standard allowing content to be shared seems to be a reality now … a huge step forward. Hopefully today’s designers and developers can concentrate on what they do best … teaching people via good content.

  4. Michael on March 5, 2010 at 7:22 pm said:

    Viral Notebook = Cathartic Oasis

    Sorry for the long monologues …

  5. Stacy on March 7, 2010 at 11:11 am said:

    Thanks for all of the great comments. Michael, I like the idea of having a standard as Joey also pointed out. But, I’ve also encountered my share of SCORM frustrations already early on in my ID career. Presently, I’m trying to create content that will load into the Blackboard system. Let’s just say that my tool of choice isn’t creating SCORM conformant content (content loads but won’t collect data), so I’m on to tool number two. It is better in that at least it collects data, but I’m not sure whether to blame the elearning tool or the CMS. Perhaps both. I’d still say the whole SCORM idea is far from perfect yet.

  6. One of the things SCORM did really well has also proven to be its nemesis. ADL wanted to create a specification for interoperability that would allow vendors to work together, but that wouldn’t overstep its bounds and tell vendors too much about how to implement their systems.

    For example, SCORM specifies how content can report test results. There is a lot of detailed information available to do in-depth question item analysis. But SCORM does not say “content shall report detailed test results”. To do so would implicitly require that content shall have a test that is worthy of reporting results. While often true, that is not always true for all content and thus can’t be a requirement to be SCORM content.

    ADL left the decision as to whether it is appropriate to report test information up to the vendors. The theory was that vendors would make a good faith effort to implement the standard fully and completely and that if they did not implement it well, the market would sort out the winners from the losers.

    I think that ADL made the right decision, but unfortunately the vendors didn’t always step up to the plate with that good faith effort. That is what you are seeing here and that is what leads to a lot of the industry’s frustration with SCORM. When implemented well, SCORM is very effective. When a vendor just does the absolute minimum to become SCORM conformant it can get pretty ugly.

    Poor SCORM implementations are really a pet peeve of ours over here. See our related blog post “SCORM Doesn’t Suck, Your Vendor Sucks”

  7. Dr. Grant, Have you seem Dr. Hu’s implementation of ITS with in SCORM framework? If you have not i would highly recommend to check the prototypes he has. I would love to hear your comments on that.

    SCORM has nothing to do with quality of instruction or “learning” but if we cann’t blame the framework to be the limitation.

    Mike R, Dig the blog post on “SCORM Doesn’t Suck…”

  8. Ethan on March 8, 2010 at 7:53 am said:

    I’d argue that SCORM helped vendors produce better content in an indirect way. With SCORM we were able to build a reusable content package that we could sell to multiple clients. Without SORM more of the clients money would go into building the glue for each environment and not to improving the content. Given this would not prevent a vendor from pocketing the difference but that is a vendor level issue.

    As an aside to Mike’s point: Nor does the SCORM spec require the LMS to expose the data stored by the content in any meaningful way to the managers. So you might have interactions stored but not be able to run reports against a speciifc question on students who failed the test more than twice. So as he said it works if you make the investment. Many have not.

  9. If elearning is good for learning, then SCORM was good for learning over the last decade. As Mike and Michael point out, SCORM enabled technical and organizational changes that could 1) reduce the cost over the lifetime of content (modular maintenance, reuse); 2) reduce the risks of buying expensive enterprise systems (vendor lock-in); and 3) generally increase the sustainability of a major elearning adoption by a company or a country.

    Big investments in elearning over the last decade were critical to elearning’s current level of acceptance. SCORM helped get us to where we are. Of course, there are always tradeoffs, SCORM captures a particular model of elearning that doesn’t extend easily to some things that are possible with today’s computer/network technologies, like collaborative, exploratory, immersive, and mobile learning. It is time to re-examine SCORM’s fundamental assumptions about learning (single student, didactic) and about technology (LMS, LAN). But without SCORM, we never would have seen the kinds of investments in elearning that have made it an accepted technology today.

  10. Jeremy on March 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm said:

    Hey Stacy,

    Very good post. I totally agree with you that SCORM really does not have anything to do with learning. I can see how these standards may help (I really liked your mattress analogy), but those standards do not have anything to do with the learning itself. Much like how standard bed sizes have nothing to do with the make up or quality of the bed. Your third point, “SCORM has nothing to do with the quality of the instruction” is the point that I most wholeheartedly agree with. Nothing can substitute intelligent instructional design when it comes to creating effective instruction. As good as SCORM may be for content packaging and delivery, it just really is not that relevant to effective teaching.

  11. @Suresh, I haven’t seen Dr. Hu’s implementation with SCORM. However, I do believe that SCORM/XML has missed an opportunity. A former student of mine, Jongpil Cheon, and I suggested a markup language in order to address the deficiencies SCORM has left for learning. You can see the work at Following David Wiley’s recommendations, we were suggesting that markup/XML should include tags for pedagogy in order to provide better linkages with RLOs/SCOs and repositories.

  12. SCORM is a tool, nothing more. When used judiciously, it can make building a course easier. If mishandled (by you or your LMS vendor), it can make your life painful.

    As Avron mentioned, SCORM has had an impact on learning because it helped eliminate technical barriers. However, it can also lock you into a specific instructional approach, which is what a number of people are unhappy about these days.

    Should all courses be SCORM conformant? Well, it depends on what you’re trying to do. Do you need to track the learner’s progress? Do you need to track interaction data? Then the answer is probably yes, SCORM can help you standardize how you handle your data (so can AICC). Are your courses being built for the US Military? Then the answer is definitely yes, you must use SCORM. If your courses are informal and don’t require granular tracking, I’d say no, don’t bother with SCORM. For that matter, don’t bother with an LMS.

    Which leads me to my main point: In most of today’s use cases, SCORM is simply a mechanism to help course developers place data into an LMS. What data and what you do with that data are up to you.

  13. Stacy on March 9, 2010 at 8:22 am said:

    Thanks for all of the great comments! Obviously, SCORM is still a hot topic.
    @Mike R. Thanks for enlightenment on the vendor issues. I guess that the tools I’m using and Blackboard aren’t playing well together because the vendors have dropped the ball on making the standard work. I’m using Blackboard for a project because it is what the client (a university) uses. I have tried using both Articulate and Captivate. There are issues with how both load into this system. I love the idea of a standard. I guess I just wish that standard was implemented better across the board.

  14. Linda on March 10, 2010 at 1:48 pm said:

    This may not be the sort of question to insert into this discussion, but why doesn’t PowerPoint produce SCORM compliant files. I am familiar with iSpring (Presenter has SCORM compliant feature), Articulate, and PPT2Flash but each of these are plug-ins that you download and add to PowerPoint to convert the files to Flash with the option to make them SCORM compliant. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful that they provide 30 day trials, but I’d like a solution right inside PowerPoint without tacking on a 30-day trial plug-in. PowerPoint seems to be a favored tool for development, why not make it complete?

  15. Stacy on March 18, 2010 at 8:09 pm said:

    Linda, I’m still new to SCORM myself and am unable to answer your question. However, another professor suggested this Web site: This sounds like a good site for more SCORM information that I plan on reviewing. It might help answer your question.

  16. In case you’re interested, Here’s a short list of SCORM resources.

    Also, has a great section on their site called “SCORM Explained”, I’d start there.

  17. Pingback: e learning standards

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