Basically, the different versions of SCORM all govern the same two things: packaging content and exchanging data at run-time.
Packaging content determines how a piece of content should be delivered in a physical sense. At the core of SCORM packaging is a document entitled the “imsmanifest”. This file contains every piece of information required by the LMS to import and launch content without human intervention. This file contains XML that describes the structure of a course both from a learner’s perspective and from a physical file system perspective. Questions such as: “Which document should be launched?” and “What is the name of this content?” are answered by this document.
Run-time communication, or data exchange, specifies how the content “talks” to the LMS while the content is actually playing. This is the part of the equation we describe as delivery and tracking. There are two major components to this communication. First, the content has to “find” the LMS. Once the content has found it, it can then communicate through a series of “get” and “set” calls and an associated vocabulary. Conceptually, these are things like “request the learner’s name” and “tell the LMS that the learner scored 95% on this test.” Based on the available SCORM vocabulary, many rich interactive experiences can be communicated to the LMS.
Why should I use SCORM?
SCORM is a really powerful tool for anyone involved in online training. With a SCORM LMS, content can be created one time and used in many different systems and situations without modification. This plug-and-play functionality can be powerful within an organization but even more so across organizations. Content can be sold and delivered to the user more quickly, more efficiently, and at a lower price.
SCORM is widely adopted by huge organizations. It has the critical momentum and is the de facto industry standard. The US Department of Defense has specified that all of its content must be delivered via SCORM. All of it! Industry is following suit, and the standard appears in a vast majority of RFPs to procure both training content and Learning Management Systems.
What is xAPI?
SCORM was developed over a decade ago now. Times have changed and the requirements of educators have changed, and so xAPI was developed. xAPI (formerly known as Tin Can) is an open source API that adds some needed extra functionality to SCORM and lifts many restrictions of older specifications.
The extra features provided by xAPI include simplicity, extra security measures, the ability to run courses outside the LMS, better support for offline and mobile learning and (potentially) more detailed reporting.
The development of xAPI is an ongoing project so we should expect more from it in the future.