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On October 5th, 2017, the Department of Defense announced that its eLearning curricula would adhere to xAPI standards rather than the more traditional SCORM standards of the eLearning industry. By “traditional”, I mean developed-in-the-year-2000-why-is-our-industry-still-using-17-year-old-technology traditional. Although I don’t expect instructional designers to leap from their desk chairs and start dancing in glee, the Department of Defense’s statement is an important symbol of change in the industry. If a large government body that used to require the use of SCORM standards in their eLearning is willing to take the plunge, the rest of us might take a moment to consider doing so ourselves.

I’m not going to delve deeply into the advantages and disadvantages of xAPI in this blog post. If you’re interested in reading that, you should check out the white paper I wrote on the subject here. If after reading that white paper you’ve become convinced that xAPI would be a good standard to switch to, the next question you’re probably going to ask yourself is: how do I transition from SCORM to xAPI?

I wish I could tell you that there’s an easy fix or a mere change in settings when you export your project from your favorite SCORM authoring tool. Some SCORM authoring tools promise to do just that. You know the phrase when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail? Changing the settings in a SCORM authoring tool would be like taking your sleek new screwdriver and bashing it against screws in order to keep using it like a hammer. It completely misses the point of adopting the xAPI standard.

I asked Andy Johnson of the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative for his take on the issue as a leading expert in xAPI. He explained that it would be quite difficult to obtain meaningful data from SCORM authoring tools that claim to be xAPI compliant because xAPI requires its users to use specific words for specific learning events. For example, you may want to send a statement for each five seconds of video a learner watches (or, at the very least, has playing on the screen.) There is no good way of defining this learner interaction in a SCORM authoring tool. It’s not something that’s easily preset; after all, you’re the one who’s determining which unit of measurement is important to you from a learning analytics perspective.

SCORM authoring tools are intended to create standardized curricula content that can easily be moved from one LMS to another. This means that SCORM authoring tools do not have the flexibility required to define your own vocabulary for your xAPI statements. They can’t predict what you’re going to care about with the exception of completion data. So, if you only care about completion data, that’s not a bad way to go, but for those of us who really want to grab the data that tells us how our learners are interacting with our systems, that’s extremely insufficient.

Content tutorial SCORMs weren’t a bad approach to eLearning—in the 2000s. But it’s nearing the end of 2017, and the future calls. How will you answer?

Don’t miss out on our November Thought Leaders Series Webinar with Mike Rustici from Watershed. He will be talking about the evolution of xAPI and its adoption in new technology and how xAPI has fueled learning analytics in large enterprise deployments, and the necessity of scalable learning.


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