SCORM – Is It The Root Cause Behind Dull Digital Learning Experiences?

I love engaging with clients who want to be true “disruptors” in the eLearning industry! And why not? Why be average when you can be excellent? Why follow the norm when you can become a true thought leader? Working with clients that think like this breathes new life into me as an instructional designer – Afterall, creating engaging and meaningful learning experiences is what we IDs do best! However, I am encountering more and more of these statements being followed by “But we need to move away from SCORM, it’s so boring – SCORM is DEAD!”

But is SCORM really the root cause of dull learning experiences or do we need to change the way we approach the learning journey completely? These, often baffling statements lead me to believe that there is a major misunderstanding surrounding the term “SCORM”. When I hear comments about SCORM being “dead” I often probe further into what the client means… “We’re just so tired of the glorified PowerPoint programmes (often generated by most authoring tools) or that terrible “scroll of death” look and feel (resulting from most template-based authoring tools). We want to create dynamic and transformative learning experiences”. Understandably so! But what does SCORM have to do with these?

What is SCORM?

SCORM is a set of technical standards  for hosting learning content that revolutionised digital training when it was first fully developed and adopted in 2001. It allowed content distribution across other systems that conformed with SCORM, which made creating courses that could be sold and transferred to multiple learning management systems realistic. Think Microsoft Excel versus Word….Excel formulas are not compatible with Word…if you create a table in Word your calculations need to be completed manually as Word lacks the “coding” so to speak to replicate the functionality of Excel. This is the main benefit of using a standard.  SCORM has been compared to the universal language of digital learning courses, allowing them to communicate and work on different platforms that ‘speak’ the same language.

So, what are the alternatives to SCORM? And do you even need to conform to a standard?

The question you should really be asking is “Does your training even need to be compliant with a protocol?”

Depending on your specific needs, it may not be necessary for your courses to be complaint with a protocol or set standard like SCORM. There is a common misconception that a learning course must be SCORM compliant in order to be hosted on a learning management system. When a course is built with a flexible authoring tool within an LMS, it is not necessary to make it compliant with a set of standards like SCORM or xAPI unless you want it to be quickly transferrable to other LMSs. Certain Learning Management Systems allow you to build your courses within the LMS directly. This means that you don’t need to create it within a separate authoring tool, nor package it into a format like SCORM. Therefore, if you don’t need to move the course out of the LMS, making it compliant with a set of standards like SCORM is unnecessary. 

Enter Experience API (xAPI): An Alternative Standard To SCORM

If you do need to work within a protocol, it is a good idea to consider the alternatives to SCORM. The recognised heir to SCORM is known as xAPI (sometimes referred to as Tin Can or Experience API). It is a set of standards which performs the same tracking and transferability functions as SCORM, but can be applied in a much more sophisticated way. xAPI can track just about any activity that you can observe or record such as interacting with coworkers, using social media, completing activities in games and simulations, performing job functions, producing work outputs, and more. This kind of learning recording is very desirable since most learning takes place outside traditional methods of delivery.  But many companies are slow to adopt given the embedded nature of the LMS into their learning ecosystem and the need for a Learning Record Store (LRS) in which the data from these activities are stored.

Flexible Tracking For Diverse Learning Experiences

xAPI’s main distinction is its ability to track and make use of a much wider range of learning data. With xAPI, learners can input their own records of learning in the ‘real world.’ A huge part of our activity online now takes place on mobile, but learning content on SCORM still cannot fully operate this way. Unlike SCORM, xAPI can track learning offline, on mobile and from a wide range of learning environments.

In addition to formally tracking learning activities and a learner’s interaction with content, people and processes, many learning platforms also provide functionality that rewards learner behavior, progress, ranking and more. There are several terms for a variety of features and include digital badging or “badgification,” open badges, rewards, competitive quizzing, gamification, and leaderboards. Many organizations are using a competency-based approach to guide hiring, learning, and performance decisions and digital badging is a way to make those existing competencies visible to others.

To Summarise

SCORM is not dead, but it is past its prime as it just can’t keep up with current learning activites, it, therefore cannot address the challenges of our modern learning enterprise. When LinkedIn Learning released 2021 Workplace Learning Report it indicated that: “Millennials now dominate today’s workforce and Gen Z just walked in the front door. These professionals want more collaborative work environments and self-directed career paths. Today, it’s imperative that you tap into the potential—and preferences—of all learners. Workers of every age are getting more mobile and social and the trick is to figure out what levers to pull to inspire learning. Get this right and you’ll encourage cross-generational collaboration and participation, while nurturing the next generation of rising professionals to be learning leaders.”

We are in a new era of corporate learning. Learning platforms are evolving to support more engaging content and experiences. LMS’s are improving their user-interfaces and adding functionality while new systems such as learning experience platforms (LXP) and learning engagement platforms (LEP), microlearning platforms and others are strong players in the market.

L&D leaders are finally beginning to grasp that learning activity does not necessarily predict business outcomes, therefore, the 20-year-old metrics of course completions, scores and “smile sheets” do not tell the full story of the impact of learning. Learning in the flow of work and measuring that impact on the business means that L&D professionals should build less formal training and spend less time measuring training participation and focus more on enabling systems and processes to help workers perform their jobs better. The role of learning leader, then, shifts to employee experts as new learning platforms enable prolific user-generated content, social learning, and performance support embedded in the workflow.

LinkedIn Learning’s 2021 Workplace Learning Report also indicated that talent developers believe closing skills gaps is the best way to demonstrate the value of learning programs. Measuring and closing skill gaps is critical to a company’s survival and a far better approach to measuring the effectiveness of any type of learning activity. Capturing and displaying evidence of learning from a wide variety of activities, using capabilities of xAPI and LRSs or digital or open badges, helps individuals and organizations understand what was learned and how it impacted the employee, work team and/or department.

All things considered, you may still need to keep Grandpa SCORM around, especially for your compliance, safety and mandatory training, but it’s time you make the shift to providing engaging learning in the flow of work and measuring true impact of learning if you want to truly impact your bsuiness.

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