SCORM – Sharable Content Object Reference Model

You say tom/ɑː/to and I say tom/eɪ/to (or your content says SCORM 1.2 and my platform says SCORM 2004v2), let’s call the whole thing off.


If the bit in brackets of the title of this post means anything to you, then I feel for you as you must be stuck in the same compatibility nightmare as I have been.

As no one should know, SCORM stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model, and it is supposed to be a compatibility standard that allows digital content to communicate with online platforms such as Learning Management Systems or Virtual Learning Environments. But the very fact that there is more than one version of SCORM, betrays the reality that no one universal standard of compatibility has been agreed upon. When working properly with the same version of SCORM applied to the content as to the platform, it means that the platform can interpret how to arrange, sequence and score the content just as the author of the content intended. Unfortunately, SCORM is not the end of it. There is a veritable alphabet soup of standards, LTI, AICC… The latest even has a real language title: Tin-can.

Tin-can is supposed to be the great white hope of the future in the way that it uses a more semantic expression of subject-verb-object to communicate between content and platform, which sounds wonderfully attractive to any of us involved in language learning technology. So we don’t just have something along the lines of “Student X = Activity Y = 72%” but rather a more poetic sounding “Luke performed an activity” or “Luke watched the video”. But what happens if my content uses the verb “viewed” but your platform prefers “watched”? Is “performed” even the right verb to collocate with the object “an activity”? Aren’t we right back at the tomato/tomato misunderstanding that has plagued SCORM?

I will very rapidly get out of my technical depth trying to make sense of this all and probably lose the attention of most of the readers of this blog if I go any further and to be honest, I am boring myself. So I will leave it there.

But my real worry about all of this is that by having to focus so much on the technical details of compatibility, we are losing sight of the content.

It feels as if the central question around digital content for education is not pedagogy or quality but compatibility. Resources and effort are being focused so much on getting content to work that it has become a distraction from the content itself. Usability, user-experience and, crucially, learnability are all being sacrificed on the altar of compatibility. It feels like the people taking charge of creating content come from a technical background and their priority is to make content that works on a number of different platforms, which is, of course, important. But will this highly-compatible content convince teachers that digital will help their students learn a language? Personally, I don´t think there will be many teachers who will be excited to hear that the digital content that accompanies their course is Tin-can compatible and LTI compliant.



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Luke Baxter

Luke Baxter is the Digital Publisher at Richmond in Oxford. He taught English in Argentina and then Madrid, where he founded a Business English academy. He joined OUP as an Editor before going to Richmond in 2010. Luke has an MA in Latin American Literature from Warwick University.

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