A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a grant program from the federal government that was going to require that the course content created be SCORM compliant. This was based on an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education that said:

Some higher-education leaders say a little-noticed technical note in a new $2-billion federal grant program could make it difficult for colleges to use the money to build free online course materials.

The issue centers around a single line of the 53-page grant guidelines for the program, known officially as the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grants Program: “All online and technology-enabled courses developed under this [program] must be compliant with the latest version of Scorm (Sharable Content Object Reference Model).”

and After

Now, it seems that the requirement for SCORM isn’t quite as important as previous thought. A new article in The Chronicle of Higher Education now reports that

Two weeks after college leaders raised concerns about what was perceived as a restrictive technical requirement in a new $2-billion federal-grant program, government officials issued an amendment that eliminates the requirement.

The article goes on to quote from the Department of Labor that

The amendment rewrites the old language of the regulations to leave it up to college which standards to follow, as long as the online courses follow some “industry-leading e-learning open standards.”

My Take …

I believe that this amendment that allows institutions to follow elearning standards continues down a road that is faulty. To go out on a limb here, I believe this may actually be the first of at least one more amendments that will be issued. I wrote in my earlier post:

As many of us in instructional design and eLearning know, SCORM has little to do with actual learning. Instead, SCORM represents a technical specification to help ensure that eLearning content survives different systems and upgrades….I believe the notion that one institution could build a SCORM-certified course and have it distributed and taught by another institution may in fact be flawed. Others may disagree with me. In either case, I would question whether the assessments are in fact aligned with the objectives and instructional methods for the content when the courses are shared. By way of the IMS GLC Public Forum, Rabel offers an extensive and deep analysis of the flaws of this thinking and follow-ups here.

I think what will happen is that many institutions will realize the difficulty of creating content that can be shared easily. David Wiley has written extensively on the need and the difficulty in sharing instructional content, and he has influenced my thinking on this topic.  Particularly, granularity of content makes it difficulty to simply share. Plus, as I mentioned, instructional content has a pedagogical perspective. It is not learning theory independent.  So, one faculty member’s theoretical perspective cannot simply be picked up and replanted into another faculty member’s course.

Also, I believe some will begin to question whether there is any other “e-learning open standards” besides SCORM. Yes, there is IMS Global Learning Consortium (IMS packaging standards), and yes, there is Dublin core, but these are certainly more esoteric to higher education in the US and are not “industry leading,” particularly in the US. I did interestingly find that the US Department of Education pledged to align with IMS Global Learning Consortium and their standards.

SCORM is it when it comes to elearning technical standards.  I do not believe, however, SCORM or another standard will work for higher education.

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.

One Thought on “Oops! SCORM isn’t quite as important as we thought in higher education

  1. Michael Dowdy on February 11, 2011 at 8:21 am said:

    Dr. Grant, interesting post. I’m surprised the federal government backed down on the SCORM requirement given the DoD and other major government agencies still have this requirement. To make content shareable via SCORM is no longer that difficult given that probably 90% of the eLearning development tools out there offer automatic SCORM packaging via built-in publishing functionality.

    I am now heavily involved in workforce development within the DoD (Navy); so, this debate between pedagogical design elements/approach and SCORM shareability is interesting. The reason for the interest is simply financial given the realities of the federal budget. Government agencies are being pressed as you can imagine to do more with less and the threat of rolling current budgets back to 2008 levels is very real. Training budgets have been decimated in the federal government so as a connected theme … shareability across agencies is considered paramount for many programs. It would seem SCORM addresses this issue as a flawed but off the shelf answer.

    As for the IMS standard, SCORM takes in IMS as a component and was in fact built off the IMS standard when SCORM was created. Not sure about the latest iteration of SCORM and the vestigial elements that might remain from the IMS standard. From what I can remember, IMS only takes into consideration the meta-data of the course, structure, etc.. However, that could have changed too.

    I’d love to delve deeper into a debate between ID principles and organizational ops realities sometime with you. Given our new financially constrained environment, I believe the issue is at the forefront or at least should be for most IDs. Question 1: Are you designing content with the organization’s bottom-line in mind? Question 2: Where does the “art” and science of ID stop and the needs of the org’s budget begin? Do they have to be mutually exclusive? Question 3: Wouldn’t the ID community be bettered served in the long-run focusing some attention to organizational needs and operations realities of delivering content to the learner?

    If you would like to see the future of the federal government and it’s IT environment, you should consult the latest strategic vision from the DoD CIOs office framing the future around cloud computing. Maybe SCORM is pointless after-all. However, shareability is alive and well. In my opinion, given the modern realities of tight budgets and the need to show heavy ROI on every procurement decision, Corporate America and the federal government will require more and more for their eLearning to be shareable. I think this puts IDs in the cross-hairs of a difficult decision regarding design and development techniques where the ID is trying to meet learning needs but also organizational requirements.

    Hey, if you are up for exploring the tension between learning design and organizational needs/environments, let me know. Fascinating stuff actually.


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