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Ye Olde Switcharoo, from HogueLikeWoah

Do you remember the old phone switchboards? They connected a caller to a receiver, and it required some handholding on the part of the operator, right?

As much as we’d like for SCORM to work perfectly every time, and without intervention, that just isn’t reality. Some LMSs are great, but others aren’t. Some LMSs support SCORM 2004, but many don’t.

One constant is that connections made by our products have always been strong. And so we’re now offering the ability to create a “Dispatch”, or a connection, between a piece of content and any LMS that goes through SCORM Cloud.

If you have ever found that your content worked in Test Track, but not in your LMS, now is your chance to fix that problem. Upload the course into SCORM Cloud, download a Dispatch, and put that in your LMS. We’re betting that your problems will be solved.

Follow along below for step-by-step instructions, we’ll save the technical details for another day.

Creating a Dispatch in SCORM Cloud
Step 1: Import a SCORM course

First of all, you have to have a package that works in SCORM Cloud. Theoretically, this includes any SCORM or AICC course, but it’s definitely worth importing it and testing it via the Launch button in the SCORM Test Track Sandbox.

Once you’ve done that, though, you can move on to creating your Dispatch package.

Step 2: Push the “Dispatch” button
dispatch__button
The button
Step 3: Choose or create a Destination

We’d like to help keep you organized. Some people will be using Dispatch to protect and track their content by creating Dispatches for their customers (that’s another blog post).

If you’re just creating a Dispatch to get around some limitation of your LMS, then you can simply create a single Destination and select it each time. (If you don’t already have a Destination created, you’ll need to bounce over and create it.)

The tags and notes sections of this page are completely optional. Skip them your first time through, if you like.

dispatch__selectDestination-1

When you’re content with your Dispatch, hit create.

Step 4: Find your Dispatch

OK, we know this step is kind of lame. Rather than taking you to your newly created Dispatch, we’re taking you back to a list of them. (Trust me, we’ll fix this before our final release.)

For now, though, pick your recently created Dispatch and click on it.

dispatch__betaclick
Step 5: Export your Dispatch

Now that you’re back on your precious Dispatch screen, you can click the Export button. This is the payoff for all of your work. When you push Export, you’ll be given… wait for it… a SCORM zip file!

dispatch__exportbutton

That’s right… you put your SCORM zip file into the Dispatch box, and out the other end comes… a SCORM zip file! I know, it seems like we aren’t doing much, but there’s a little magic going on behind the scenes. Your new zip file will be smaller, and oh so much better.

dispatch__packagezipped
Step 6: Deliver your well-dressed SCORM package to your LMS

The rest of this process will depend largely on your LMS. Take the new package and import it into your LMS just like any other piece of content. Your LMS won’t even know the difference.

dispatch__testtrack import
Here, I’m importing my Dispatch into the old version of Test Track
dispatch__ttlikeanyothercourse
Just like any other course

From this point, the experience will vary based on the LMS into which the course is imported. But that’s the beauty of it… it should work in any LMS. (Now, as this is a beta at this point, we’d love to hear your feedback on how well it works. Going out into the wild, as we all know, is a different thing than testing yourself.)

Step 7: Report on the course’s usage

The real power of Dispatches, other than the fact that they just work, is that you can then report on the usage of your content anywhere. Each LMS will point back to SCORM Cloud to deliver the training, and that means that you can see details about who is using your content and when.

dispatched

Further, you have the ability to disable Dispatches. This means that if someone doesn’t pay, or is mean to your mom, or whatever, you can prevent them from launching that content again. This is a massive change for the SCORM world in which most content is delivered complete with all its assets to the LMS server… This gives you something we all like… control.

Enough.

I know this article is long. Seriously, I do. So I’m going to stop here. There’s a lot of technical detail behind Dispatch. If you care, let me know that in the comments and we can dig into that detail. For now, though, experiment. Give it a shot.

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SCORM Cloud is a relatively new product, and new products need prices and pricing schemes. So we picked one. We promised ourselves, though, that we would listen to our customers and prospective customers (the market) and that we would be willing to change that pricing structure if we needed to.

Well, I’m happy to announce today that we are raising prices across the board! You all seem to think the product is too cheap… wait, stop, hold on. I’m kidding. Nobody ever wants something to be more expensive.

Soooo, we’re lowering the price of every registration beyond the first 300 each month. Once you reach the “Big” plan ($300/month for up to 300 registration), there’s no bigger plan. We simply charge you $0.50 per registration for the next 700 registrations, and $0.25 per registration after that.

So, an example might help here. If your organization launched 1500 courses for the first time in March, you would be charged $300 (your basic fee) + $0.50 * 700 + $0.25 * 500 = $775 for the month.

Enjoy the reduced pricing. And if you have concerns or questions, or simply wish were doing something differently, tell us. We’re obviously open to your ideas.

Note: The new pricing scheme will be deployed next week sometime, and will affect your next bill, not this one.

Further Note: The new pricing scheme is now in effect.  (March 25, 2010)

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People often ask us to recommend an LMS for them. We shy away from doing so because we don’t want to pick favorites amongst our clients and potential clients. More significantly though, we really don’t know all that much about the functionality and utility of a particular LMS beyond its SCORM interface.

“Well then,” the inquisitor asks, “who has the best SCORM interface?”. Well duh, our SCORM Engine clients of course.

“Come on,” he presses, “who else is good at this stuff?”. One of the first names that comes to mind has always been SumTotal. That judgement is far from a scientific; we don’t go out and technically audit the details of every LMS’s SCORM implementation. Rather, it is an empirical judgement based on how many problems our content customers report with an LMS. More than that, though, it is the experience in working with the vendor if a problem is found. Are they receptive and supporting? Do they have a pragmatic attitude that leads to collaboratively fixing the problem rather that just passing blame?

Historically, we’ve rarely had to deal with SumTotal problems. That bodes really well for the quality of their implementation. On the few occasions where we have had occasion to iron out a problem, we’ve had the pleasure of working directly with their lead SCORM developer, Ben Clark.

SumTotal is closing its Bellevue development office and sending Ben’s job over to India. When we heard the news, we jumped at the chance to bring him onboard. He accepted and will be starting with us next week!

The guys here often joke that I am “one of the top ten SCORM professionals”, well in my mind, Ben is a fellow “top-tenner”. We’ve worked together on the ADL Technical Working Group for several years and Ben has always impressed me with his insight, knowledge and reason. He’s equally adept at seeing the big picture and navigating the technical weeds.

SCORM is at a crossroads now. It needs to evolve and needs to be improved. There will be a lot of work done at ADL, LETSI and others over the next couple years. We plan to be heavily involved, contributing our time, energy and vision to ensure SCORM’s successful evolution. Ben will be joining me in this effort and should enable us to provide a lot more bandwidth to standards development activities. We’re looking forward to great things to come.

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We are moving from [commercial hosted LMS] to [open source LMS] for now. But I really am looking at SCORM Cloud as a way to integrate the serving and tracking of training modules into our customer service portal, website and software. I dislike the concept of the standalone LMS.

–A prospect, via email, today

Let me say first, I totally understand the value of an LMS. To this point, we’ve built our entire business around LMSs and the content they deliver. I believe they still have a place, and they provide excellent value… for the right organization.

I also believe that there are companies, schools, and organizations that simply don’t have a need for a full fledged LMS. This is one great case for the SCORM Cloud… This prospect could easily embed the SCORM Cloud as a part of her HR system. In what system could you embed SCORM delivery?

(Now we wait and see if our prospect takes the bait!)

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I got this question today (and yes, we really do mean you can ask us anything…):

We are making configuration settings for our new LMS ([redacted]) and one of the questions is:

1.3.5. How is the overall score for a SCORM course with more than one SCO computed? With the following choices:

  • MaximumScore. Highest score of all items (SCOs) in the course.
  • AverageScore. Average score of all items (SCOs) in the course.
  • FirstScore. The first score achieved by the user across all items (SCOs) in the course. Note: If this option is selected, ScormScoreUpdateOption should be set to “Never” and the user’s score will always remain the first score they achieved.
  • MostRecentScore. The most recent score achieved by the user across all items (SCOs) in the course.

What do you recommend?

My first reaction

Well, clearly we’re talking about an LMS that is really SCORM 1.2 centric. This ability to manage scores across attempts and SCOs is one of the things that SCORM 2004 actually does very well. Rollup rules allow the content author to specify these behaviors in great detail, including weighting the various elements and even excluding some. This provides the author with useful tools such as pre-assessment that doesn’t impact overall satisfaction.

My second reaction

There simply is not a good answer to this question. If these settings are global, as they appear to be, I can’t be forced to pick one in particular as it wouldn’t serve other situations adequately. The most common multi-SCO package structure, to my mind, is a course with several SCOs and a single post test (assuming we’re dealing with more than one score). I’m not sure that any of these options serve that package structure well at all.

My ultimate conclusion

An LMS simply can’t afford to make singular decisions about how to deal with content. It absolutely has to provide configurability on a package by package basis. Failing to acknowledge that the world of content is widely varied will lead to content that doesn’t work as desired. This, frankly, is why building an LMS with SCORM conformance is so difficult to get right.

How we handle it in SCORM Engine and SCORM Cloud implementations

Package properties provide our ability to address different pieces of content differently. (Take a look at the possibilities. There are more than 50 options for configuring a course. All are defaulted intelligently, but all are also the answer to a question that has to be answered for certain courses.)

packageproperty-1

Take a look at how we’ve approached the particular problem of rolling up scores in SCORM 1.2. We have options that aren’t unlike those offered in the question above. The differences are relevant, but only to a degree. Fundamentally important, though, is that you can set these properties for each package.

I hope this provides a bit of illustration as the level of detail required to really nail the SCORM problem. We suffer this minutiae so our customers don’t have to.

Note: Don’t worry, my recommendation for the person who sent the question isn’t as obtuse as, “Use the SCORM Engine”… We’re still chatting via email…

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