SCORM, the reference standard for e-learning content

SCORM is the acronym of “Shareable Content Object Reference Model” and is a widely-used reference model for e-learning content. SCORM is a set of standards and protocols that make sure that a given training content is classifiable, traceable and reusable in various LMS training environments or platforms. A SCORM training object includes META information which describes its content and its functions in such a way that the platform or environment that hosts it is able to index and catalogue it within a training library or a search system. Moreover, this object must implement a communication protocol (in Javascript) in order to communicate with the host platform so that it can send it traceable information (for example, whether the content has been viewed, for how long, etc…) and receive from it data such as the name of the person who is using the course or their ID in the system. These characteristics must be abstract and functional regardless of the LMS platform that is hosting the content.

Brief history

SCORM was created in 2000 in its 1.0 version by ADL (Advanced Distributed Learning), a department of the American Ministry of Defence. It was mainly used in military training and was then adopted by almost all of the sectors that use e-learning technology. In October 2001, the SCORM 1.2 version was released, which is still the most widespread today. There is also the SCORM 2004 version in its 4 editions and the latest standard, TIN-CAN, renamed “Experience API” or “xAPI”. This last version has been developed in collaboration with Rustici software, which is definitely a reference point in the field of SCORM.

What’s inside

SCORM content technically consists of a package.ZIP which contains within it, as well as the training content to be delivered, a file (imsmanifest.xml) which describes its structure, content and any requirements, prerequisites and roll-up logics. A SCORM package can in fact be made up of various training objects (multi-SCO packages) which are connected to each other and can be linked by any propedeutical logics. For example, it could be that I don’t want the students of my SCORM package to access object 2 before they have completed object 1. These objects are grouped into courses called organisations. Even though the SCORM foresees that the packages can contain more than one “organisation”, only a few LMS platforms support multi-organisation content. There could also be present optional resources which do not contribute to the completion of the course, these resources are referred to in the manifest as assets.

What can I know?

From the SCORM 1.2 version onwards, e-learning content is able to communicate numerous parameters to the environment that hosts it, such as:

  • whether the course has been completely viewed or not
  • the time taken during the various sessions of access
  • the number of accesses or attempts
  • a bookmark of progress within the course, etc.

Moreover, if the course contains a quiz, the SCORM can communicate to the platform whether or not the test has been passed, with what grade, the number of attempts, the answers given to the questions and any comments added by the user. It is also possible to register some environmental details, such as the volume of the audio, the language chosen, the presence of subtitles or the speed of films or slides. In more complex SCORMs, it is possible to work through objectives by structuring more articulated courses and measuring the value of content based on the goals they allow us to reach or on which percentage they contribute to reaching a given objective (Roll-up strategies).


Even though SCORM is a reference model, it is still a long way from being a true standard as there are numerous differences between the interpretations that the different LMS platforms give to the various protocols of which SCORM is composed. Some of these discrepancies have been overcome (or it has been attempted to do so) with the various editions of the 2004 version, but a lot of them are still quite widespread. This makes it difficult that a given SCORM content, even if it is structured and well-organised, is fully functional and traceable on every platform that claims to be SCORM compatible, especially if the content is articulated and complex.

The Future

With the Tin-Can project, new possibilities are opening in the field of e-learning. New features are introduced which are specifically geared to meeting the needs of mobile devices. In fact, with Tin-Can the e-learning content doesn’t communicate directly with the LMS platform but with a physical intermediate level called LRS (Learning Record Store). This allows us to use content even with an irregular connection, such as when we are on a train or a bus, which is then fully updated when the connection with the platform is re-established. Lucio Monterubbiano

written by: Lucio Monterubbiano , 1 April 2014

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