Sharable Content Object Reference Model

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Sharable Content Object
Reference Model

by Faulkner Staff

Docid: 00018335

Publication Date: 2002

Report Type: STANDARD


The Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) enables Web-based
e-learning systems to interoperate and share content. SCORM has
significantly driven the adoption of learning management systems by
enterprises and government agencies. For organizations in the
e-learning market, SCORM creates both an opportunity to develop new
services and an obligation to work within the framework of established

Report Contents:

Executive Summary

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The Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) brings together
several specifications designed to create a unified content model for
learning management systems. The model makes it possible to use and re-use
content from multiple providers across multiple environments, overcoming
interoperability barriers among disparate learning platforms. SCORM is
part of an effort started by the US Department of Defense,
which established the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative
to develop a Department-wide strategy for using learning and information
technologies to modernize education and training.

SCORM is now applied widely outside the Department of Defense in both the
public and private sectors. It is mature and well-developed, with the
ability to meet the needs of today’s e-learning systems. Future
advancements in e-learning technology will create demand for SCORM
expansions, particularly in the area of dynamically adapting course
content to students’ personal skills and learning styles.


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The Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) is a set of
technical specifications designed to create a unified content model for
learning systems, making it possible to reuse Web-based content across
multiple environments and products. It was developed through the
Department of Defense Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative with
the support of IMS, a consortium of public and private sector
organizations, and other standards groups such as the IEEE and the
Aviation Industry CBT Committee (AICC).

The motivating factor was to reach a point where learning content could
be developed and deployed on a large scale to meet Department of Defense
training needs. This requires standardization of learning content. The
long term expectation is to encourage technologies that enable dynamic
learning, with content custom assembled and delivered to learners
according to their own personal pace and need, in accordance with
principles developed in studies of Computer Based Instruction and
Intelligent Tutoring Systems.

The functional requirements for SCORM are:

  • Accessibility – Instructional components can be located and accessed
    from multiple locations and then delivered to other locations.
  • Interoperability – Instructional components developed in one system
    can be used in another system.
  • Durability – Evolving technology should have no impact on cost.
  • Reusability – The flexibility to incorporate instructional components
    in multiple applications and contexts.

SCORM includes the Content Aggregation Model and the Run Time

Content Aggregation Model – The Content Aggregation
Model is used to provide a common means for composing learning content
from discoverable, reusable, sharable, and interoperable sources. It
defines how learning content can be identified, described, and aggregated
into a course or portion of a course and moved between LMSs. It includes
specifications for a Content Structure Format (CSF) and meta-data and a
description of the SCORM Content Aggregation Model. 

The Content Structure Format (CSF), is an XML-based representation of a
course structure that can be used to define all of the course elements,
structure and external references necessary to move a course from one
Learning Management System (LMS) environment to another. Learning
Management Systems are function suites designed to deliver, track, report
on and administer learning content, student progress and student
interactions. For meta-data, SCORM references the IMS Learning Resource
Meta-data Information Model, which is itself based on the IEEE Learning
Technology Committee (LTSC) Learning Objects Meta-data (LOM)

Run Time Environment – The SCORM Run-time Environment
provides a means for interoperability between Sharable Content
Object-based learning content and Learning Management Systems. The three
components of the SCORM Run-time Environment are defined as Launch,
Application Program Interface (API), and Data Model. In the Run-time
Environment, the Launch mechanism defines a common way for LMSs to start
Web-base learning content. The API is the communications mechanism for
informing the LMS of the state of the content, and is used for getting and
setting data between the LMS and the learning content (e.g., score, time
limit). The Data Module is a standard list of data elements used to define
the information being communicated.

Competing Standards and Protocols

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One of the original reasons for developing SCORM was the presence of an
extremely wide range of projects that were underway to develop standards
for various components of learning systems and their delivery mechanisms.
SCORM is now providing a centralizing influence.

Metadata, or data for defining learning objects, has been an important
part of the development effort. The World Wide Web Consortium supports
metadata with the Resource Description Framework (RDF) specification,
which provides a means to support the exchange of knowledge on the Web,
based on XML. The Dublin Core Metadata Initiative was begun in 1995 to
develop a simple content description model for electronic resources. In
December 2000, the Learning Technology Standards Committee Learning
Objects Metadata (LTSC-LOM) working group of the IEEE and the Dublin Core
Metadata Initiative announced that they would develop mutual interoperable
metadata for technology-supported learning. This is supported by
representatives from concurring projects sponsored by the Alliance of
Remote Instructional Authoring and Distribution Networks for Europe
(ARIADNE), Education Network Australia (EdNA), Gateway to Educational
Materials (GEM), and the IMS Global Learning Consortium. 

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Learning
Technology Standards Committee (LTSC) incorporates the Learning Object
Metadata (LOM) working group, which is developing a standard that
specifies the syntax and semantics of Learning Object Metadata. The
proposed standard originated in the work of the IMS Project and ARIADNE,
and is based on the metadata work conducted by the Dublin Core Metadata
Initiative. The IMS (Instructional Management System) Global Learning
Consortium (IMS) has developed a set of six specifications for content
packaging, enterprises, questions and tests, learner information, reusable
competencies definition information model, and metadata. All
specifications, with the exception of the competency definitions, are
provided with XML bindings to help developers create IMS conforming online
distributed learning activities. Under the auspice of the European Union
and the Swiss government, the IEEE LOM specification has been implemented

Most of these metadata standards incorporate some degree of
interoperability, and SCORM includes the strongest elements. 

A variety of other standards and projects exist, focusing on other areas
of course delivery. The National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST) has an ongoing project on learning technologies, focusing on the
development, evaluation, and demonstration of distributed object
technology and learning object metadata. The Aviation Industry CBT
Committee has established a set of guidelines and recommendations to
ensure the interoperability of learning activities for both standalone and
Web-based computer-managed instructions. The Computer Education Management
Association has established the Learning Architecture, Learning Objects
(LALO) Task Force to enable the creation of new and existing learning
content as independent learning objects. The Advanced Learning
Infrastructure Consortium (ALIC) in Japan is also developing
specifications for content reuse and interoperability of learning

SCORM is designed to provide a unifying standard and is currently
accepted by most vendors and organizations in this field. While there are
many organizations working on specifications related to e-learning, the
following are of particular importance to SCORM: the Alliance of Remote
Instructional Authoring & Distribution Networks for Europe (ARIADNE);
the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC); and the IMS
Global Learning Consortium.

Current Version

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SCORM is built upon the work of the AICC, IMS, and IEEE, which it
integrates to create one unified content model. SCORM began as the
Sharable Courseware Object Reference Model, but this has been changed to
the Sharable Content Object Reference Model, reflecting the fact that the
specifications related to SCORM apply to various level of courseware
components as well as to entire courses. It is a critical part of the
Department of Defense ADL initiative, which focuses on running learning
technologies on top of emerging Internet standards.

ADL found years ago that several organizations were developing a variety
of draft standards for various areas of Web-based learning. These efforts
lacked a common framework. SCORM, incorporating many of the emerging
standards in one content model, was designed to remedy this situation.
SCORM defines a Web-based learning “Content Aggregation Model” and
“Run-time Environment” for learning objects. In its simplest form, it is a
model that references a set of interrelated technical specifications and
guidelines designed to meet high level requirements for Web-based learning
content. Requirements include reusability, accessibility, durability, and
interoperability. The specification has already been widely tested,
updated, and clarified. It is now stable. Key aspects are likely to evolve
over time based on industry-wide developments.

The ADL initiative is designed to accelerate large-scale development of
dynamic and cost-effective learning software and to stimulate demand for
these products to meet the education and training needs of the Department
of Defense, secondary schools, and the private e-learning market.

The ADL mandate is to:

  • Pursue existing network based technologies
  • Create platform-neutral, reusable courseware and content to lower
  • Promote widespread collaboration that satisfies common needs
  • Enhance performance with next-generation learning technologies
  • Develop a common framework that drives COTS product cycles
  • Establish a coordinated implementation process
  • Develop common standards and guidelines
  • Release ADL specifications

SCORM 2004 was released in February 2004. The most significant change in
the update, according to ADL, is the addition of learning content
sequencing capabilities as defined by the IMS Simple Sequencing
specifications to address the need for dynamic presentation of learning
content based on prescribed sequencing strategies and learner performance.
The specification and standards that underlie SCORM 2004 are:

  • IEEE Data Model for Content Object Communication
  • IEEE ECMAScript Application Programming Interface for Content to
    Runtime Services Communication
  • IEEE Learning Object Metadata (LOM)
  • IEEE eXtensible Markup Language (XML) Schema Binding for LOM Data
  • IMS Content Packaging

With the release of SCORM 2004, ADL changed the version numbering of
SCORM. SCORM 2004 will be referenced as Version 1.3 for historical
purposes. What was formally known as SCORM Version 2.x will now be known
as the SCORM Vision. It will focus on next generation learning

In December of 2004, ADL released updates to the SCORM 2004 documentation
and software. The documentation includes information on newly-reported
bugs and a new revision of the Conformance Requirements document. The
software includes updated testing tools and a utility that enables users
to convert one type of XML document into another using XML Transformations

Eventually, ADL envisions creation of learning knowledge libraries where
learning objects may be accumulated and cataloged for broad distribution
and use. These objects must be readily accessible across the Web or
whatever form our global information network takes in the future.

ADL now updates SCORM through edition releases. The 3rd Edition was
released in January 2006 and was designed to make SCORM more stable and

The 3rd Edition made a number of changes to specifications that affect
LMSs and content packages, which are the two product areas that can be
certified by the ADL. Many of the changes were to metadata definitions and
could impact other areas of SCORM.

The 4th Edition – and newest version of SCORM – was released in March
2009 and added changes that the ADL describes as providing “increased
interoperability across learning management systems (LMSs) and more
flexible persistence of data during sequencing experiences.”

SCORM Cloud API v2 was released from beta in September 2019. It features SCORM Cloud & Rustici Engine compatibility; a more compact and
flexible data format with JSON; enhanced security when using single-page
applications; asynchronous course imports; embedded course, registration,
and learner tagging; and the ability to automatically generate API client

The overall goal is to understand how to fully utilize the
next-generation technology infrastructure for learning anytime, anywhere
and to promote standards capable of meeting that goal. A wide range of
advantages are expected to accrue from SCORM and other ADL standardization
efforts. These advantages include improvement of the underlying
technology, market expansion, and the capability to deploy effective
Web-based training programs across large organizations. This is expected
to lead to improvements in training and to reduced costs.


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SCORM will play an important part in the future development of the
e-learning market by promoting interoperability and making e-learning
solutions more acceptable to large organizations requiring multiple
training providers. Meanwhile, researchers from the computer-based
instruction and intelligent tutoring systems communities are focusing
attention on the following issues:

  • Defining reusable learning objects
  • Developing new content models
  • Developing learner assessment models
  • Creating new models for sequencing content
  • Creating learning knowledge repositories

Each of these drives requirements for new standards work that will build
on the SCORM framework. 

SCORM is mature, and it is capable of meeting the needs of today’s
e-learning programs. It is accepted as an unofficial standard for the
field. E-learning is growing quickly, however, and development in its
applications and technologies will require similar development in SCORM.
ADL recognizes the need for a SCORM that matches today’s technological
environment. This realization has spurred the development of the “Tin Can”
API – which is variously referred to as Experience API, xAPI, or Next
Generation SCORM. Through Tin Can and future efforts, the Training and
Learning Architecture (TLA) capability will include:

  • Prototypes of web services and learning experiences.
  • Open source code libraries, design models and specifications to enable
    continuous innovation in content.
  • Systems and networks that enable accelerated learning and human

According to analyst Alex Mackman, Tin Can offers five principal
benefits. Tin Can:

  • “Completely decouples content from host LMS. Content
    can be launched and consumed from anywhere and the content can use any
    form factor.
  • “Enables content authors to build content in any way they
    . There is no more reliance on the browser and associated
    browser based technologies like JavaScript.
  • “Supports disconnected scenarios. The content
    doesn’t need a continual connection to the server.
  • “Supports platform transition. This refers to the
    fact that you can start consuming some content on your computer at work,
    continue with it on your mobile phone while traveling home, and then
    finish it later perhaps on your home computer.
  • “Will help to unify the worlds of eLearning with the wider
    world of learning in general
    . Learning events and
    achievements can be recorded based on … [“learning”] as
    opposed to your completion of a piece of ‘eLearning’. So classroom based
    training, experiential training, game-based training, recording the fact
    you’ve read a new book or attended a seminar and learned something – all
    of this is accommodated.”1

The current edition of Tin Can, which is now referred to as Experience
API, is Version 1.0.2, which was released in October 2014. Tin Can uses
“semantic versioning.” The first figure in the version number is the major
version; the second is the minor version; and the third is the patch

Importantly, as the world transitions from SCORM to Tin Can, or
Expereience API, existing SCORM content and courses will be usable within
a Tin Can environment. When discussing if Tin Can will replace SCORM,
Andrew Winner notes that, “Tin Can would add additional functionality and
reporting capabilities that SCORM cannot handle. At present, Experience
can be a great complement to SCORM and traditional LMS setups. In the
future, though, it could potentially replace the SCORM compliance


1 Alex Mackman. “Thoughts on Tin Can and the Future of
eLearning.” CM-Group Ltd. April 20, 2012.

2 Andrew Winner. “An Introduction To Tin Can API.”
August 28, 2014.

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