Like so many organizations in and around Washington DC, ADL has a messaging problem.

Like so many organizations in and around Washington DC, ADL serves many masters.

Like so many organizations in and around Washington DC, ADL’s messages are best understood through the filter of a trained professional.

Call me SCORM’s James Carville, if you please.

The Noise

If you read every comment from ADL’s people and the responses to them, you get noise.

“We’re doing more to support SCORM”…
“SCORM isn’t being evolved”…
“We’re updating the SCORM books”…
“SCORM is going to ISO”…
“Introducing the Future Learning Experience Project”…
“Participate in Project Tin Can”…
“AICC CMI 5 is defining a new data model”…
“Check out LETSI RTWS”.

Without context, that looks like a big fat mess. It looks a bit directionless. But don’t despair, ye fans of SCORM. It’s actually laced with a lot of good news.

The Signal

ADL is doing the right things to support SCORM in its current form going forward, in the best ways it can as governed by its many masters.

ADL is pushing SCORM forward in leaps small and large (short term and long), but its many masters make continued use of the name SCORM difficult.

ADL hopes to work with willing collaborators to create the best learning standards.

Context and Background: The Noise Source

“If you serve too many masters, you’ll soon suffer.”
— Homer

As a government organization, ADL’s masters are many and their interests all impact ADL’s ability to maneuver.

Master 1: The Boss, er, the Pentagon

From Day 1, ADL has existed to better prepare the warfighter. Give credit to the folks at the Pentagon, they take a broad view of preparing the warfighter, and the eLearning community has benefited from that in the shape of SCORM as it is today. Rightly so, the Pentagon leadership doesn’t want to support a static standard, so they’ve asked for what comes next.

ADL has laid out the “Future Learning Experience Project”, and it will build upon the platform laid by SCORM to further the support of the warfighter as we move toward 2025. I have no doubt that “FLEX” will also support learners around the world effectively.

Our work with Project Tin Can gives us an early look at this work. FLEX builds upon the core concepts that led to the creation of SCORM 10 years ago, while adjusting for the inevitable changes in technology. This is good news of the highest order for those who care about SCORM. SCORM, “the name”, may or may not move forward, but the concepts and the platform inevitably will. And it will do so with ADL’s financial and technical support.

Master 2: The Financiers

Government agencies can’t just spend their budgets however they deem appropriate; they have to spend money on exactly what it was allocated for. People refer to this financial allocation as the “color of money”. ADL is funded using dollars allocated for “research” purposes. Maintaining an existing specification is classified as “sustainment”. You can’t spend “research” dollars on “sustainment”.

If you wonder why the SCORM brand may or may not survive, please consider the phrases research and sustainment. (Trust us, we benefit as much as anyone from the continued use of the word “SCORM”. It may or may not make it, but that doesn’t mean that the standard or work has been lost. It’s continuing.)

Master 3: The Lawyers

There are a lot of us, reasonable, plainspoken people, who really wish that ADL were able to pass SCORM off to an open group like LETSI. There are many people within ADL who wish this. SCORM would likely flourish if set free.

Put simply, the lawyers won’t let it happen. Well, the lawyers and the good folks at IMS. IMS, didn’t like the fact that ADL was handing over SCORM (with embedded IMS IP) to yet another standards organization so they brought lawyers into the equation. There are two sides to every story, but the relevant outcome is once lawyers got involved it turned into a very messy divorce.

Unfortunately, this means that SCORM stewardship remains locked up within ADL. And further, it means that any evolution of SCORM is further complicated, particularly as it relates to anything originally contributed by IMS.

Again, we reasonable, plainspoken people (including learning tech people from both IMS and elsewhere) would be best served by reconciliation and collaboration. For now, though, it seems that we’ll have to do without. As long as the relationship between IMS and ADL remains dysfunctional, the two significant parts of SCORM contributed by IMS (packaging and sequencing) are effectively frozen. ADL can’t evolve them without more legal sword-fighting.

What Next?

Well, check back here tomorrow for a line-by-line interpretation of ADL-SCORM-Evolution Speak.

Highlights to include:

  • AICC-CMI-Evolution
  • ISO-FLEXification

These words are my own. These opinions are my own. There is no official ADL opinion, fact or history included herein.

Part 2: SCORM Ain’t Dead: Where We Will Head

Mike is the Founder and was President of Rustici Software until 2016. Most recently he was the CEO of Watershed Systems. He helped guide the first draft of the Tin Can API (xAPI) and believes ice cream is the "elixir of life."