Key Points

  • 90% of content loaded into our system is SCORM 1.2 — because it’s perceived as simple by our clients.
  • Demand for SCORM 2004 support seems to be mainly as a “check-box”, something you’re supposed to have.
  • Mining industry: simulating big trucks. Have objectives & interactions to track but don’t have a way to track them.
  • Support for distributed content is our biggest issue.
  • “Content as a Service”, need to manage IP, licensing, discovery of distributed content.
  • API needs to keep track of what version of content is used. And report on it.
  • Would be great to have an instructor API to allow an observer to indicate an objective has been met.
  • Reporting API may make sense, but our clients aren’t asking for it.
  • System integrations generally consist of passing certification status (yes or no).
  • Discovery, license, and use of content needs to become more like buying an iPhone app for your organization.
  • Cross-platform will be big
  • SCORM should have a mission statement, and a roadmap, that should allow people to feel more comfortable putting effort into it.

Can you describe your role within your organization and how you have made use of SCORM and other similar standards, or where you’ve avoided it too?

I’m founder of Ecampus and I’m looking at this from a commercial/usability point of view. Our technical guys can’t agree on how things should be done. So I don’t think I’ll bring that discussion to the table.

All of our clients use SCORM and a LMS to deploy their learning content. So it’s something we work with every day. It’s a big part of our business.

What versions of SCORM are you currently supporting and why?

1.2 and 2004. 90% is still 1.2, though. Perceived simplicity is the reason. People just want to be grab the raw score. The other things that SCORM 2004 offers are often surplus to requirements.

Since you do support 2004, is that just a request of the other 10% or do you think it’s more of a check-box for people? What pushed you to do 2004?

I think it’s a check-box for most people. Only a few of our clients use sequencing or anything like that. Even when they do demand 2004, their authoring tools often won’t support it.

You mentioned raw scores, but are there any other sorts of data your customers typically want to track?

We’ve got clients in the mining industry who want to use mining simulators. They’re simulating big trucks. They want to push that data back into their LMS. How do you measure whether someone’s driven a truck correctly? Scoring doesn’t really work. So objectives are the kind are useful there. But not entirely adequate.

It’s not just that they don’t know about objectives, it’s that they don’t have a way to hook it up to track them? So the JavaScript API is not sufficient and we need new services?

Yes. Another thing that’s top of our list is distributed content. That’s our number one thing we’re passionate about. That’s where SCORM needs to go.

That’s probably one I don’t necessarily even want to spend a lot of time on, because it’s such a slam-dunk, we don’t need any more justification for it.

Sure. I would emphasise, though, that when deciding on using SCORM with apps and virtual world simulators, ways to manage IP, licensing, etc, in a standard way is vital. During both the discovery and use of courseware. I think that will take SCORM a long way forward – making it really easy to grab and utilize content.

I don’t want to gloss over the API too much, because it’s still useful to know all the use-cases in case there is more to it than we just need to get rid of the JavaScript API. That’s something the other folks have brought up too, is the content as a service model.

For example, in Australia, a lot of content is driven by compliance, changes to legislation, and so on. So managing versions is really important. Administrators need to know which version of the course has been completed by a given student. I guess this will mean the API needs to pass something along that says, “Okay, John Smith actually is doing version 2.2, not 2.1 now.” Something like that.

If the mining companies were to track objectives to see how well people could drive; do you have any specifics on objectives there might be and where the data is coming from? Flipping a particular switch, etc.?

I’m by no means an expert in this area. If you can successfully execute a 3-point turn in a mining truck might be an objective, though. I think it’s kind of binary, yes or no in most cases. But not always.

So they don’t want, driver started their 3-point turn at an angle of 40 degrees, then took five seconds, then reversed, nothing like that?

I don’t think so. I can see the military guys would probably love that, though. We need SCORM to handle more sophisticated data models that capture information like that.

Any other examples that spring to mind with customers with something they want to track, whether due to the API or something missing in the data model, there doesn’t seem to be a clear, good way to do it?

Clarity around the API can sometimes be the issue. But sometimes it’s the structure of it. In the mining scenario, we’ve got people out in the field. It’s competency-based training, so instructors observe learners doing it. The instructor needs to tick a box that X and Y have been done, on an iPad. It would be fantastic if that guy could — either in real-time or it could sync up later, tick that off via the API without logging in as the learner.

That’s something that if that were available, you would want to implement that in your LMS, and you think your customers would prefer to handle it through the API than through the features your LMS provides?

Yes. It needs to be standard. Then for example, the manufacture of a piece of equipment could have an app to do the training and interact with the API. The app steps the trainer through things, which can be tediously complex. So that’s what we’re thinking; it might be a pie-in-the-sky, but it sounds like a nice idea, conceptually, from where I’m sitting.

Once it’s captured, how do your customers want to access that data?

Just by LMS reports, typically. I think some people are talking about a report API, it may make sense, but in many respects, our clients aren’t asking for it.

What other sorts of vendors or systems are you integrating with now?

We integrate with lots of systems. For example, we do a lot of contractor induction. Which uses SCORM content. And ultimately that data gets pumped into a compliance / risk management system because they need to ensure that people working in mines know not to drink whilst driving that big truck. And there are business systems, too. We don’t really integrate into other learning systems, except simulators, which we talked about before.

When you integrate with compliance systems, you’re pushing that out to say, these people have been certified, they’ve taken the training they need to? And that is purely completion certifications, or is there the score, that sort of thing going over there too?

Purely completion at that point. If people need to dig down deeper, they go to the LMS, but this is purely tick the box, if you’ve met the requirement‚ and off they go. I think that it’s completed is all that gets sent through.

Do you think there’s any need for standardization of that sort of communication, to say — I guess this is another aspect of, is it a reporting API, or just, shouldn’t it be possible to just check with the LMS that they’ve met this certification?

We are creating more and more systems where this is occurring. So this is a reporting API of a kind. And you look at any sort of development community out there. Provide an API and they do all sorts of crazy stuff you’d never think of.

Are there any things that you’ve noticed or aware that your customers are doing in the learning experiences they are creating you would describe as new and innovative and do you think those would have any impact on what sort of communication might be needed in the future?

An example. We have people trying to add forums to SCORM courses. Making forum responses part of assessments. We’ve done it on behalf of clients, for quite a while now. It’s messy at the moment. But it would be great to have an assessor assessing items and then having the results slide back through the SCORM API.

That gets back, I guess, to the instructor API?

Very much so. Social may turn out to be an interesting domain that we could sell our clients on if we could present meaningful use cases for it. At the moment, the SCORM spec just doesn’t support it.

Maybe that is an opening for the SCORM spec; you could try to make sense of all that’s out there. I’ve seen tweets about activity streams. If you guys can make sense of all that, I’m sure people will use it, they just need someone to make sense of it all first.

What do you think will change or should about e-learning in the next 5 – 10 years?

That’s a big question. I hate the generic answers I could give here: mobile devices, blah-blah virtual worlds, blah-blah …

But more practically, there’s too much complexity, too much friction in elearning. It’s hard to go out and find a piece of learning content. It’s hard to deliver it to learners. So the point of discovery, licensing, and using elearning content has to become like buying an iPhone app for your organization. Bullet-proof. It just works.

It all needs to operate cross platform. It would be awesome if you could just publish once for for the different target platforms and deploy new versions with ease.

Is there anything you had on your list you haven’t been able to bring up yet?

What’s going to happen to SCORM in the next ten years? The world’s moved on since the first spec was drafted.

SCORM needs to be more than a set of tech specs. Realistically, with tech, we have no idea what’s going to happen in five years. In broad terms, sure. But in technical terms? No. So we need some kind of a framework allowed SCORM to evolve and adapt to new technology. So that if something really cool comes out, there’s a fair chance it will get picked up and integrated into the spec. That would give some degree of comfort for vendors.

To do this you have to get people behind it. So many people show so little interest in SCORM. Content portability, open standards, and so on, are not at the top of most peoples priorities. Integrating SCORM with new technology is even lower. But if you can create demonstration projects that actually show the benefits of the new SCORM standards, the way Gmail did for web apps, a roadmap explaining where it’s going, and simple, comprehensive documentation, then you have a better chance to generating the excitement required to get people investing in SCORM.

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.