Beginners Guide to e-Learning Standards

by | May 7, 2008 | Articles

e-learning standards –  why are they important?

There are two main components to e-learning: the content and the tracking/reporting tool. The latter is often known as the Learning Management System (MLE) or a Managed Learning Environment (MLE). Information has to be passed between these two components; here are a few typical examples of data tracked:

• who the learner is
• the time they spent
• their scores
• whether the learner achieved enough to pass

The e-learning buyer has a choice to buy either:

1. Content and tracking tool from one vender or
2. Remain flexible so that the content can be sourced from a variety of places

In the first situation the e-learning standards for interoperability are not important. In the second the standards are key and a buyer ought to know the right questions to ask at supplier because it can turn out to be a bit of a mine-field.

What are the standards and who develops them?

E-learning standards are an internationally agreed protocol that allows specific information or data from the e-learning courseware to be transmitted to the Learning Management system and vice versa. The data elements that can be transmitted are defined and the way in which they are transmitted is also defined.

These interoperability standards come from two sources:

• AICC: Aviation Industry CBT Committee and
• SCORM: Shareable Content Object Reference Model (from ADL).

The aviation industry (and AICC) has taken the lead on the e-learning standards because they have had the need for consistent training available globally and have been involved in e-learning sourced from various vendors a lot longer than the rest of us. Their experience continues to inform the body’s involved in standards development.

ADL (Advanced Distributed Learning) was the organisation set up in November 1997 by the United States Department of Defence and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. ADL came up with SCORM to try to ensure that there was the opportunity for reusing ‘learning objects’ in any conformant Learning Management System (LMS). To do this they drew on the expertise of a number of organisations and existing standards: AICC, ARIADNE, IEEE and IMS. They started with SCORM 1.0, then upgraded to 1.1 and 1.2 however SCORM 1.3 was renamed SCORM 2004.

The most popular version is SCORM1.2 however SCORM2004 is the most upto date.
FAQ’s
Here are a few frequently asked questions that many people wish they’d known the answers to before they encountered the issues!
1. If I buy an LMS which is standards (AICC/SCORM) conformant does that mean  that it will always work with any future content I may add?

Not quite but it is a good start. You also need to know:

  • To which standard is it conformant, i.e. AICC, SCORM1.1, SCORM 1.2, SCORM 2004. So that past, current and future content will be compatible you would need all of them.
  • Is the LMS supplier committed to upgrading the product to support new standards as they are developed?
  • Does the LMS have a ‘debug’ mode so that if conformant content doesn’t track there is a way to find out why?
  • Would the LMS supplier provide the ongoing support to ensure the content and the LMS will track. Is that support extra or included in the annual maintenance fees?

2. Will all SCORM compliant content track in a SCORM compliant LMS?

Unfortunately this is not always the case; sometimes some tweaking will be required. However it will be minimal compared to a total re-write if the content is not standard compliant.
3. Why is tweaking often involved even when both products are SCORM compliant?

As this is still early days for the e-learning industry the standards are not ‘water-tight’ yet and there are still places where they are open to interpretation.
4. Book marking is one of the defined data elements for an LMS to be SCORM compliant, Can all of our courses be bookmarked in this enironment?

Even if the LMS supports book marking or any other data element, if the content has not been written in such a way to be able to send the book marking data to the LMS it can not track it.

You may have many more questions on the e-learning standards; if you want some answers please do not hesitate to contact me .

This article has been published with permission of Fiona Leteney.

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