We recently had a conversation with an e-learning provider, who was hesitant whether to choose a standard or custom data format. Variability of available standards may be somewhat confusing; besides, each standard has its own limitations for content design, functionalities, etc. From this point of view, creating a proprietary content format can look quite attractive, as gives the creator full control over the content. Still, you should always keep in mind that the latter option has serious drawbacks, while good understanding of the existing standards allows choosing a suitable solution with minimal compromise.
This conversation inspired us to write the post. We will take a brief glance at a few widely recognized industry standards for online learning. We will then proceed to compare these standards to gain a clearer understanding of their intended use and evaluate their respective pros and cons without diving deep into technical specifications. Finally, we shall consider the option of creating your own format to package your content.
SCORM, which stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model, comprises a collection of technical standards applied to e-learning platforms and tools. In essence, it functions as a container that enables the bundling of training materials into a unified package that can be utilized across various learning management systems (LMS).
SCORM is beneficial when you need to package and deliver structured e-learning content, particularly in formal educational or corporate training settings. It's suitable for scenarios where you require standardized tracking of learner progress, completion status, and assessment scores within a Learning Management System (LMS). SCORM is a well-established standard that works effectively for traditional e-learning courses and modules.
xAPI (or Experience API) is a specification that was designed to replace SCORM and overcome its downsides. xAPI stores all information about the learners’ activities in the Learning Record Store (LRS). This allows gathering data on all learners’ interactions with learning materials, and to play the course without LMS, on mobile platforms and even in offline mode (syncing data as soon as the device goes online).
xAPI is beneficial when you require more advanced and comprehensive tracking of learner experiences and interactions in courses and learning environments. It is especially good when you need to track things that SCORM cannot quite catch, e.g., informal learning or when people learn offline. Plus, it works well on all sorts of devices and platforms.
CMI5, which stands for Computer Managed Instruction, 5th attempt, bridges the gap between SCORM and xAPI. CMI5 is an xAPI profile, i.e., a set of rules upon xAPI, that establishes guidelines for the import, initiation, and monitoring of online courses through a Learning Management System (LMS) using the xAPI standard. Its purpose is to facilitate the shift from SCORM-based content and systems to the more contemporary xAPI specification. This specification employs a streamlined tracking framework, defining essential elements like scores, status, and time to ensure interoperability in various learning scenarios, while also having the capability to capture and report a more extensive range of data.
A CMI5 package can be an XML file with the course structure. This file can stand by itself or be inside a ZIP file with extra resources, such as images, audio, videos, etc.
CMI5 is a better fit when you want to combine the packaging and launch mechanisms of SCORM with the more comprehensive data tracking capabilities of xAPI. It is ideal for scenarios where you need detailed tracking of learner interactions and experiences within e-learning content, including offline learning support. CMI5 is a suitable choice when you aim to gather more data on learners while maintaining compatibility with traditional LMS environments.
It is a relatively new standard that is being developed and maintained and addresses many issues that SCORM had. However, due to the relative immaturity of the standard in comparison with SCORM, the share of LMS platforms supporting it is less.
LTI, which stands for Learning Tools Interoperability, is a standard in educational technology. LTI is primarily about seamlessly integrating external learning tools, resources, or content into learning management systems (LMS) and other educational platforms. It provides a framework for educational institutions and organizations to connect and use third-party tools and content within their digital learning environments. To employ LTI integration, the content must be added to a learning application, which is a third-party application that communicates with the LMS using the LTI standard. LTI integration enables a launch from the LMS, which provides user interface integration, single sign-on to the learning application, and the transfer of important contextual information such as course and user information.
It is important to mention that although LTI allows to add your content into LMS by embedding it, this technology is not fully comparable with SCORM/CMI5 because, unlike the latter, LTI is primarily focused not on content packaging but on tool integration.
LTI is typically a better choice when you need to support dynamic content, enable single sign-on, provide personalized learning experiences, or work with rich media and interactive content within your learning environment. It offers greater flexibility and adaptability in modern e-learning ecosystems.
Compare SCORM, xAPI, CMI5, and LTI
Let us now briefly review the above-mentioned standards and compare them according to the criteria that may influence the choice. This table provides an overview of the key features and characteristics of SCORM, xAPI, CMI5, and LTI in terms of their purpose, data tracking, content packaging, launch mechanisms, data exchange, offline learning support, user experience, etc.
|Aspect||SCORM||xAPI||CMI5||LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability)|
|Purpose||Packaging and tracking structured e-learning content within LMS.||Tracking diverse learning experiences, both online and offline.||Extending SCORM to incorporate Experience API capabilities.||Integrating external tools and content into LMS platforms.|
|Relevance||Last minor updates to SCORM 1.2 and 2004 published in 2009.||Latest version 1.0.3 published in 2016.||Initially released in 2016.||LTI 1.3, the latest version of the standard was published in 2019.|
|LMS support||Supported by most LMS platforms.||Supported by many LMS platforms.||Supported by some LMS platforms.||Supported by many LMS platforms.|
|Content Packaging||SCORM package outputs the course in a ZIP file.||xAPI package is an XML file with a course structure that can be standalone or in a ZIP file.||CMI5 package is an XML file with a course structure that can be standalone or in a ZIP file.||Embeds external tools and content within LMS environments.|
|Launch Mechanism||Content is launched from an LMS in a web-browser.||Content is launched from an LMS in a web-browser.||Content is launched from an LMS, similar to SCORM. CMI5 has the capability to support both traditional web-browser content but also more modern scenarios, such as simulations, virtual reality, augmented reality, and mobile applications, that are being launched from an LMS.||External tools are launched within LMS.|
|Data Tracking||Basic completion status, pass/fail, and scores within courses. The number of metrics is limited.||Extensive and flexible data tracking, capturing diverse interactions.||Comprehensive data tracking using xAPI.||Primarily focused on tool integration and basic data tracking.|
|User Experience||Focuses on delivering structured e-learning content.||Enables tracking of real-world learning experiences and can support adaptive learning scenarios by capturing and analyzing user interactions, allowing for personalized content delivery.||Combines SCORM's launch experience with xAPI's tracking capabilities.||Enhances the user experience by seamlessly integrating external tools.|
|Offline Learning||Typically requires an internet connection.||Supports offline learning tracking.||Supports offline learning tracking and data syncing using xAPI.||Requires an Internet connection for tool access.|
In summary, SCORM, CMI5, and LTI are not mutually exclusive and excel in different areas of e-learning and educational technology. SCORM is best for packaging traditional e-learning courses, CMI5 for packaging and launch mechanisms of SCORM with the robust data tracking capabilities of xAPI, and LTI for seamless tool integration within LMS platforms. The choice between them depends on educational objectives and technical requirements, and in some cases, organizations may use a combination of these standards to leverage their respective strengths.
In Software Country, we successfully accomplished multiple projects related to adoption of SCORM, xAPI and LTI. Some bits of our expertise in the technologies described above can be found here:
Custom content format
Like our client inspiring us to write this post, you may be considering creating your own format to package your content.
Developing a proprietary content format allows content vendors to have full control over the design, functionality, and features of their educational content. This can be particularly beneficial when they want to offer unique, innovative, or highly customized learning experiences that existing standards may not fully support. Content vendors can use their unique format to offer features or capabilities that set them apart from competitors and attract customers looking for something distinctive. Some content vendors have very specific educational objectives or pedagogical approaches that may not align well with existing standards. In such cases, creating a custom format allows them to tailor the content to their exact needs. Also, a proprietary format can be used to protect their content from unauthorized distribution if monetization strategy implies licensing the content exclusively through their platform.
While there are advantages to creating a proprietary content format, content vendors should also consider potential drawbacks, such as the need for users to adopt new formats, potential interoperability challenges, required maintenance and support. Additionally, content vendors should carefully assess whether their custom format truly provides added value to their target audience and justifies the development effort. Lastly, if you want to bring your content into existing LMS platforms, you will eventually have to support one of the above standards, as leading LMSs are unlikely to adopt formats that are not widely popular.
When creating digital education content for a broad audience, it is a good practice to make it compatible with major learning management systems (LMS) by using one of the widely used e-learning standards. The choice depends on your target audience, distribution platforms, and specific use cases.
Several educational standards exist to standardize the format and interoperability of educational content. In this article, we have discussed SCORM, xAPI, CMI5, and LTI, which are either widely used or highly promising. However, there are other standards available. Each of the above-mentioned standards has its own unique purposes, advantages, and disadvantages, and they cannot be substituted for one another. The choice to support specific formats is complex and among other factors depends on content type, data tracking requirements, offline learning capabilities, and LMS integration.
Content vendors may create their own content format instead of using existing standards like SCORM, CMI5, and LTI for reasons such as customization, competitive advantage, alignment with educational goals, monetization, etc. However, they should also consider potential drawbacks and assess whether their custom format truly adds value.