8 Working with SCORM

What is SCORM?

Founded in 2001, SCORM is a set of standards that has been widely adopted by eLearning facilities to standardize code for Learning Management Systems, ensuring compatibility and ease of use. SCORM stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Model, referencing its usage as a cloud-based object with interactive content. SCORM packages themselves are stored inside zipped archives for transfer and uploading, which the LMS will unzip and deploy.

SCORM packages consist of several pieces, all listed and kept to spec by a manifest file. This consists of Resources (made up of Assets and SCOs), Organizations, Metadata, and Sequencing.

 

Resources is the collection of your Assets and SCOs (Sharable Content Object). Assets are normally more static items, such as images, text boxes, and other standard content. SCOs are defined by their ability to interact with their LMS environment, consisting of items such as tests, quizzes, surveys, etc. that when completed will return information to the LMS for storage.

Organizations refer to the groupings of a package’s contents into a logical, hierarchical structure. Manifests can cover more than one organization per package, but normally it is constrained to a single organization. Think of SCORM packages being built like a tree, with different sections in a hierarchy, and built up with nodes. These nodes are broken into smaller groups, namely activities and items, which is appropriate when referencing them either in the context of sequencing or content packaging respectively.

Metadata is the portion of a manifest that describes in detail each piece making up the package. This is normally recorded into a format known as LOM (Learning Object Metadata) and contains defined fields for describing learning content to ensure accessibility and accuracy of said content. Metadata is very flexible, as it is applicable to almost any section of a manifest, applying to an entire package, or set to define individual items, depending on the course’s needs. It is worth noting that metadata is entirely optional in SCORM, but does allow for greater application of resources if available.

Finally, sequencing is defined in the XML manifest and is in essence the scripting of how a package should operate in use. It will determine which items are used and when, as well as calling actions when requested by the user.

Why should I use a SCORM?

SCORM packages require no extra software to function, as popular web browsers such as Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and Apple Safari have support for SCORM by default. SCORM packages can be placed inside of an LMS and will not need any further installation of other tools or software to function properly. This offers massive flexibility to a project as it will allow students to access the content from any networked device, whether it be a phone, tablet, or computer.

Given the inherent flexibility of SCORM projects this makes it a prime target for innovation in the learning space. Its uses run the gambit between simple, straightforward quizzes, interactive PowerPoints, and text strung together cohesively with 3rd party sources (such as integrating a YouTube video between slides to act as a buffer), all the way to immersive experiences with technology such as AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) allowing learners an entirely different means to approaching learning. This is all backed by years of work, reaching 20 years of service as of now, ensuring that there is a rich base to build off of.

How does SCORM work?

SCORM as a format consists of three major components:

  • Content Packaging – This is all of the package’s contents put together, complete with information that an LMS will need for handling the file, such as names and locations, as detailed above.
  • Run-time Communication – This portion is what handles the interaction between the user and program. The content will begin pulling in necessary information for giving and receiving data as to push scores, records, etc. back to the LMS for storage.
  • Sequencing – Differing from the previously mentioned sequencing, the sequencing phase of a SCORM course refers to how a student is directed through a course. This can be either a quiz submission, clicking a “Next” button, or reviewing required materials – all are scripted sequences that direct a learner from one point to the next.

Benefits of SCORM

Compatibility – SCORM functionality only relies on an active Internet connection, rather than 3rd party programs or applications. Given its adoption by many LMS developers it ensures that saved content may be reused in the future, even if there is an entire switch from one LMS to another, you can be sure that your content will transfer.

Saving progress – SCORM allows for integration within an LMS and is thus capable of saving a user’s progress for grading or review purposes with their instructor. This allows for packages to be more than a simple power point, quiz, or reading section. This can be used to great effect to combine multiple assignments into one singular, directed experience.

Feedback – Given the interactive nature of a SCORM package it allows for direct, accurate feedback depending on the user’s interaction. Feedback is important to learners, and allows them to learn from their prior mistakes and successes. It encourages learners to pay attention to the content they are completing, rather than simply going through the motions.

Clear course structure – Course contents delivered via a SCORM package allows for a more organic, guided structure to ensure that all students are given a proper path to follow through. Directed sequencing allows even complex subjects to follow a linear, logical path to make sure that students are always headed in the right direction.

Modularity – As mentioned, all that is required for using a SCORM package will be an internet connection, and as such the course delivery will be extremely flexible and modular. Learners will be able to access content on a wide variety of devices with no additional charges. While many SCORM courses are delivered via an LMS, this is not always the case and as such allows for greater control from an instructor’s perspective and accessibility from a student’s perspective.

How do I create a SCORM package?

Creating a SCORM package is one of the trickier aspects of the process, as there are many ways of going about it. Users have the option of creating one themselves, or perhaps going through a 3rd party company specializing in the creation of SCORM courses.

If you have experience in coding in HTML and XML this can be a cost-efficient way of creating content yourself, but does require time and prior knowledge. It is worth remembering that like with any coding project a single mistake can set you back and require troubleshooting.

A popular option is to use a 3rd party tool, often referred to as an authoring tool. These normally integrate into another program, such as MS PowerPoint, and allows transferring existing content into an exported, SCORM package that is ready for upload. These options, however, normally come at a price tag and will be inherently limited as to how far the format can be pushed.

Another 3rd party solution is to go through businesses specialized in offering products or services to convert content into SCORM packages. These are not normally used on a per-person basis but rather as a whole, but are still an option worth considering regarding the institution’s situation and requirements. These also come at a price, but do offer their own support team and services to rely on.

The option we chose for Southeastern’s development process was using Adobe Captivate, which allows for really pushing the abilities of SCORM to its fullest. It is a standalone product offered by Adobe that can be used to integrate a wide variety of sources and content, whilst still allowing for deep customization to fit a course’s needs. Captivate also conveniently allows for the packaging and exporting of SCORM content from directly inside the program, keeping coding slip ups to a minimum. The drawback would be that it is a subscription based program from Adobe, which includes the standard caveats that intense projects can be demanding on many systems. 

Concerns with SCORM

When using SCORM there are some things to take into consideration. Despite the opportunities that arise when using SCORM packages they can come at a cost, and these can vary depending on the organization, technology available, and level of expertise with the appropriate software.

First is the concern of time, which can scale greatly depending on the scope of an intended project. Simply put – a more complex project will take more time. The more complex a project the more assets, designing, and testing need to be completed, as well as the time taken to transfer packages. This goes in hand with available storage solutions, as larger projects can easily take up gigabytes (1 gigabyte equals 1024 megabytes) of space. This is important when working as a group as a high-speed internet connection will be required to quickly upload/download files to be shared amongst the group. Networked drives and other remote storage options will also need to have permissions set up and in some cases specific software to aid in this. In our experience we have tested and use WinSCP on Windows machines for remotely accessing our OneNet storage, and Cyberduck for Mac systems. “These programs are free but do require setting up, however they offer minimal delay and intuitive interfaces for moving and managing files”. Other networking solutions are available such as Google Drive and DropBox, but care must be taken when using these in a browser as many web browsers will throttle download speeds. Dedicated file transfer programs using SFTP/FTP/SCP etc. can avoid this issue at the cost of greater overall complexity.

When groups are working together in person, media can be transferred using devices such as flash drives and external hard drives. This offers a very flexible convenience but is best used when storage devices and the computers available to the group have USB 3.0 support, as a minimum. Again, complex projects can reach gigabytes in size so it’s important to transfer data quickly so that resources aren’t tied up for extended periods.

That leads into the second concern, which is the size of storage available itself. Hard drives and other storage solutions with terabytes (1 terabyte equals 1024 gigabytes) of storage are common and easily accessible but can still find themselves full of data. Keeping an eye on storage usage is integral to an organization’s success with project management, especially when using solutions that are restrictive on data. Products like Google Drive are free for anyone to use but come with a standard data capacity of 15gb, which is entirely usable, but can very quickly become crowded for space. Other products such as Dropbox, and OneDrive are also available. Their free plans come in sizes of 2gb and 5gb respectively. Larger sizes are available for these services but come at a cost, and it will ultimately come down to what best matches your organization’s needs.

The third concern would be the method for developing SCORM content, as most means of exporting files into a SCORM package require paid software or services to handle this. Again, the choice on which to use would vary depending on the organization. The extent of projects these can handle will rely on which choice is desired, as simpler solutions involving PowerPoint plugins will suffice for simpler projects involving slides, embedded video, images, and quizzes, but complex projects such as VR enabled modules will require products such as Adobe Captivate. This will be reflected in the cost as well as overhead of these programs, with Captivate listing its minimum requirements as a 1.5 GHz processor and 4GB of RAM these are likely to turn very poor performance. Quad core CPUs running closer to 3 GHz with 8GB of RAM and dedicated graphics will, in turn, deliver faster performance.

Extra Resources

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Oklahoma Online Teaching Toolkit by Online Consortium of Oklahoma is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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