Key Points:

  • Growing demand for disconnected mode — essential for mobile/tablets.
    • Requested by both LMS and authoring customers.
  • have a proprietary solution, but need standard to allow disconnected use with content and LMS from different vendors
  • Customers have requested ability to adapt based on past performance / trends, in other learning objects
    • requests have been for trends on the current student.
  • Social is a big trend in learning
    • social learning capabilities may be for a different market from the traditional compliance-based market
  • customers want to blend online with instructor-led
  • a little demand for Instructor grading of essay questions, etc
  • a reporting API would be helpful
  • suspend data size is too limiting

TinCan: Would you mind briefly describing your roles in your organization and how you use SCORM?

John: Senior Vice President of Authoring systems here at Trivantis. Tim and I basically started the company, from a technical standpoint. We wrote the software, Lectora, CourseMill, all those things, so we still shepherd — between the two of us, I shepherd the authoring products, which is Lectora and Lectora Online, and Tim shepherds the LMS product, Coursemill.

Tim: We’re were heavily involved in the beginning with doing AICC, SCORM implementations, we’re very familiar with all standards.

TinCan: What do you have on your road-map or what are your customers really asking for?

John: The biggest thing that we see is a disconnected option. That’s the biggest hole right now, is the ability to be disconnected, it’s a question all the time, and it’s becoming more more prominent. We’ve had this for years but with the advent of mobile and the tablet, it’s beyond essential. I am sure you know that we have created our own and we call it SCORM Disconnected, though there isn’t such a thing. Just because we had to. But we were forced to create something because it was so demanded by our customers.

TinCan: SCORM doesn’t address it directly, but you aren’t the only ones to create such a thing, so there is such a thing now. It’s not a SCORM standard; it’s still SCORM to some disconnected portion, and then you do the communication later. Have you been getting the requests from your LMS customers or also your authoring customers?

(all): Both!

TinCan: So what pieces are missing from a standard to enable you to do that more easily?

Tim: We’ve done it with our own authoring and our own LMS, but if someone is running with a different LMS, we can’t give them a disconnected model that works. Because you need both sides.

John: You need both sides. It’s session-based. You have to be in a session and log in and go through all that.

TinCan: So — you are looking for a way to communicate between systems that doesn’t rely on a browser session?

Tim: That doesn’t mean your not in a session, it just doesn’t rely on any session- based information.

TinCan: You want your content to be able to be published in that way, and then speak to any LMS.

John: Realistically, the content we’ve published in a variety of ways, but then speak to the same way across all content.

The other big thing we always keep running into, some people call it remote content or in other cases, it’s local content — but we deal with it in Europe all the time where you’re, the LMS is in one country and they have all these remote nodes that they want to run local content back into because of bandwidth issues, but then just report back to the central LMS someplace else. So we run into that all the time.

TinCan: We hear that a lot and it’s a pretty well-understood issue so we don’t need to talk about it much.

Going back to the broader picture, those are things that the LETSI RTWS solutions set out to solve, and there’s just a lot of good stuff that can be adopted with that, and hopefully there will be a lot more information about that coming out. Are you familiar with that at all?

John: I’ve looked into it, in the web services, etc., and that to start; but there’s also — we just have to see how it gets fleshed out.

TinCan: What are some more innovative and futuristic things that your customers are doing or hoping to do? That you would like to accommodate for them?

Tim: We do get requests from customers to track overall experience or trends that — you see from past history and present things so that you can adapt it and do adaptive learning in my next set of learning objects, because I know the kind of mistakes you constantly made in your old learning object.

TinCan: So that’s something you would want to use right within the training or learning objects that you were creating, not necessarily within the LMS? You’d want within the learning experience for it to say, “When you went through this previous learning experience, you did something and now we’re doing something based on that?”

Tim: Right, whether it comes down to doing things like known objectives, or strengths, or weaknesses, etc., so you could gear new content towards helping out a learner’s short- comings.

It could be the same SCOs in a package, or just the SCOs from different content authors. If there were some sort of consistent objectives or standard objectives, somehow that things from different authors, everyone use this information, to create better learning, adaptive learning. Basically so that there was some way of knowing either historical information towards — on how a student was doing so you could create adaptive learning in future modules could leverage what the student had problems with previously, either in related content or totally unrelated content.

TinCan: You mentioned trends before, too; does that imply other students as well, or just trends for the one student?

Tim: It could be either. But mostly the ones I have been hearing from my customers is trends on the current student.

John: But where that ends up leading to is, the biggest trend in learning is not necessarily part of a standards discussion, as much as social — involving social interaction and managing these trends at a multi-student level might be a part of that. Say this group is taking these courses, they’ve signed up for them, they’re learning these things — Oh, but this group has that expertise, so maybe we add socially, group them together in a way. Social is obviously the big buzzword going on in learning right now. Not necessarily directly related to the standard we’re referring to, but any way to include some of that, group learning — informal group learning, learning from your peers, within the standard. That’s what people are looking for.

TinCan: That is something we’re trying to dive into a little bit. We’re trying to stretch the scope of what’s included in tracking, but the scope of what SCORM is right now shouldn’t be a constraint to what we’re thinking about. So if social is the next wave, what does that , and what interoperability needs does it bring up? What are the shortcomings that need to be addressed to enable that industry or that part of the industry, that learning methodology to flourish. I hear you saying there is probably a need to find a way to exchange expertise and things people are doing well, and not doing well, and do you have other thoughts as to how that — what needs there are and how that might need to happen? We’re treating this as an experience API which means, I meant and read an article I found on Google is a learning experience, or I sat down with Joe from accounting and got the basics of cost-accounting billing, also a learning experience. I contributed to the corporate Wiki […]. Does that trigger any other thoughts?

John: On the LMS side, it’s enabling people to — it’s almost a LinkedIn version of your site, you are able to put your experience and where your expertise lies. It’s not all from formal learning on there; the LMS currently tracks just what you formally learned. Having a way to put in a broad swath of experience in there that you can get from any area, may enable it to make these ties a lot better to be able to tie people in from all over — this guy knows about this and this, maybe he did it by talking, but most learning comes from talking to someone, going on Google — that sort of thing. So enabling a way for that information to be held within the system, to be searched and used, I think they’d want to be able to do that.

TinCan: To look a little bit more specifically there, anybody can implement the LinkedIn version of their LMS right now; would you as a course author or authoring tool, would want to then query that information, or do anything that would require a standard way to do it across systems?

John: I can see it as “Get Help,” some sort of thing where you get resources on the system. Look for groups.

Tim: Look for groups, or technically even just look up anyone who uses a resource, that you could do some of what we were talking about, the social learning — if I’m stuck in an area and don’t understand a concept, I can see who is currently online right now that understands this information. Either interact with them through chat, IM, etc; I know that goes beyond content but it is a resource you could somehow tie in.

TinCan: So then you might not be implementing chat through the LMS, but you could have an API to query — if the LMS administrator had somehow tied into the system where they knew what IDs people were using for IM, you could then have something where you query the LMS to say who is online, and then you could get back that information and you could talk to them, maybe.

Tim: Yeah, I think potentially chat groups could do the same sort of thing.

TinCan: Or if you would be implementing chat through the LMS, I guess you could do it that way too. For some of these social use-cases, and I don’t want to — I absolutely even want to know about what you think people don’t necessarily want right away, but what would want in the future. I’m curious if these are just some of the things you think are current buzz now, or if you had a system that did these things, do you think people would want to buy that feature right now?

Tim: I hear from our potential clients all the time that these are the things that they want. They want the social stuff. Now, the flip side of that is that all my current customers, adamantly would be against it and turn it off immediately because all my customers currently are all certification-based. They don’t want their healthcare providers getting any help when they take certification exams.

TinCan: So you think there would be a market, it would just be a different market?

Tim: I have been making this argument to our sales guys; there are two different markets. There is a desire for it, and then it’s there, but it also has to be able to be constrained in certain instances. Having it available in an LMS as a whole, but then on specific certification exams as an author, I want to have the ability to turn that off and say, No — not when you’re running this content.

TinCan: That brings up a tangent here that you’ve alluded to and we’re hearing a lot of and see a lot of — there are really different markets out there: training and compliance-oriented, which makes up a lot of online learning right now; and those concerned with learning rather than checking off requirements — those are the ones into this new stuff. Then we’ve got this big standard around tracking that people did something, which is for compliance. In that new world of caring about people learning, do you see a need for tracking?

Tim: Yeah, I know where you are going with this because we run into it all the time with — there’s real learning and then the check-box of did you do [given content], which is what we get from a lot of older, more rigid customers. But what you get with newer ones, one thing we haven’t talked about is blending more instructor-led in addition to online content and how they can tie those pieces in together.

John: I think you always want to enable tracking and I think — you have to, on some level, track and report on it.

TinCan: But is that always the case? I’ll go to an extreme here: I went to Google to learn about something — do people have a need to track that?

Tim: I don’t know if people have a need to track that, but there has to be some sort of a validation at some point to say you actually know what you claim you know. Whether you went to Google to learn about it, or read about it on a bunch of different Wikis, etc., but at some point, so that you can be a self-proclaimed asset to other people and did it, there has to be some sort of certification process to say you actually know the information, and you know where to send people to get the information.

TinCan: Sure, so is the certification process saying you know something; in your opinion, it is relevant how they acquired the information or simply relevant that they know it?

Tim: It’s relevant that they know it. I don’t care how they got it.

John: That’s what’s changing more than anything these days is the method of acquiring is much more informal than it used to be.

TinCan: So it would be safe to say, in your opinion, that there wouldn’t need to be experience-tracking of the informal acquisition of learning, but you would want ways to assess and measure the outcomes of that learning.

John: I don’t think it should be mandatory, but I don’t think it should be eliminated, experience-tracking. Perhaps it’s someone who wants them to say how they got that — if they attended seminars, webinars, etc.

Tim: I can see immediately, then you get the companies who are marketing, they will want to know how you learned it, where you went, what attracted you to those sites. Because they want to use that information to basically sell you — they want to glean that information to know what are the most effective ways to learn for people using that information? How can we leverage it, make our dollar off them?

TinCan: There might also be something to be said for the fact that if someone learns something by — if it took them fourteen hours on Google, and eighteen interactive tutorials, and twenty hours pestering a mentor, to get to a basic certification versus, I went out and read one tutorial and got it right away, that might indicate a different level of competency between the person who kind of gets it intrinsically versus the person who had to really study hard and memorize the facts. It might be a value in that as well.

Tim: It might also lend credence to the quality that the learner used.

TinCan: So you have had people interested in essay questions — they aren’t computer gradable, but have you had people interested in doing content with essay questions and having an instructor grad them?

Tim: We thought about doing that. We went the email route because it was easy enough to implement in the different cases, but if there was a way to — the problem with the — as soon as you put the essay in, it makes your overall test ungradable, and so the solution some people did was to make separate tests that were not gradable because they had to be manually graded and there were other tests that were gradable so you could get 2/3 of a score could be determined, but the last third had to be manually graded.

We’ve heard all of those, and are very interested in whatever could be done within the framework that would support it.

TinCan: The data your customers want to track, how do they want to access that data and are they satisfied with the methods you have provided them, so far?

Tim: No, no customers are ever satisfied with any reporting anyone has, or when they go from one LMS to another, none of their reporting tools developed for that LMS work in another. Everyone has implemented data models in the underlying storage differently. You can’t — you are completely rewriting anything that you custom-created or any kind of reporting you did because there is no easy way to get to anything from LMS to LMS.

TinCan: I don’t know if you’ve seen this item on our user site, but people are interested in a reporting API. There are pretty major technical issues with that, but what are your thoughts on it?

Tim: I saw all those and agreed, that if somehow you could do something as a web service to get access into it, with the proper authentications, so you could batch pull that information out, and generate reports without having to go through the LMS, would be great. If it was standardized across them — I also agreed with all the comments about UIacross LMSs, that in content you have no idea how you are being presented, from any LMS to any other.

John: You’re going to have vendor differentiation there that they’re going to want. That would be very hard to standardize.

TinCan: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you want to bring up?

John: If SCORM mandated the LMS has to store 2 megs of suspend data, if mandated, then that would just solve so many problems.

Even a megabyte — that would enable you to store essay questions, to track so much more in the course.

TinCan: Then it shouldn’t be suspend data, right?

John: They were talking about that in SCORM harmonization, that they would actually break out course-specific information into an extendable XML specification. I’m sure you are involved with that as well, where they would allow that to be extendable and so each content unit could have it’s own little XML database, if you will, so they could archive information in there and still make it readable and usable.

TinCan: What could we do that would make you money; in other words, what’s the best thing we could do that would cause you to definitely adopt whatever comes out of this, because it would be great for your business?

Tim: Disconnected tracking that LMSs would support.

John: And a broad amount of LMSs. That would be huge for us.


Ben is literally one of the top experts on SCORM and xAPI in the world. Heck, he wrote the first draft of xAPI. He’s a software developer here at Rustici Software and enjoys visiting us “down South” because it means trying new foods, like catfish.