Experience API (Part 3)

In our last blog, we further detailed the foundation for ADL and its areas of research.  One of these areas of research is Total Learning Architecture Structure, which provided the basis for interoperability between different systems. One of the results of this work was the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM). The initial edition of SCORM was released in January 2000 with a couple of SCORM iterations produced the following year in 2001. However, a new version of SCORM was introduced in January 2004, and DOD made SCORM use mandatory in 2006. In total, there have been four versions of SCORM 2004. The next generation of SCORM arose in 2010 with Project Tin Can, but we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves.

SCORM or What do you mean be a Sharable Content Object Reference Model?

To understand SCORM, let’s break it down into its constituent elements.

  • Sharable Content Object (SCO)—an object is the means of relating various pieces of data and their value.  For us, this refers to an element within a learning system, for example, a question or image. Each “object” is a part of the larger educational program. The desire and demand to make objects “sharable,” is linked back to our original quest for interoperability. In one sense, think of it as a specific lesson or module in an on-line course.
  • Reference Model—by reference, SCORM is referring to a computer term of art, that is, the means of finding specific data or datum located on a computer hard drive or, increasing, on a cloud-based server. In short, a reference provides the basis for discerning a physical location for information. Yes, there are all of these 0000s and 1111s out there in the digital world, so wouldn’t it be nice to be able to keep track of them. By reference model, SCORM is creating rules and protocols for references in the context of sharing that information with other Learning Management Systems (LMS).

To better understand let’s look how software designers create their programs. I remember writing programs in the defense industry. I already knew the languages of BASIC and easily learned FORTRAN in addition to LOCUS (an early spreadsheet proprietary program). My work was a mess, truly. LOL! I knew how to program, but insisted on writing my programs without a flowchart—breaking rule number 1. Anyway, you can imagine all of the problems I faced.

There are other rules in computer science that make it easier to write, track, and modify code. One of these approaches is object or class-based programming. Instead of lumping all the data together, in object-based programming, the programmer defines a group of fields or attributes, which then provides the basis for relating actual data values and associated operations and/or methods. This type of organization, then, provides the basis for generating a commonality that can be shared amongst different programs. That is, if data value, its characterization, and associated operations can be made uniform, then different programs can be capable of utilizing that same digital information. SCORM is about creating the basis for doing just that.

Now imagine trying to perform all of these functions while transmitting the information through the Internet in the context of a client-server relationship. Sharing information through a cycle of request and response from the client (you) to the server (the repository of data and generally the program) gets complicated enough. Imagine trying to force-feed your information into a different LMS. Whhhew! You get the picture. Yes the horror as it were. So, again, that’s the basis for creating SCORM.

SCORM Protocols

Let’s be clear. SCORM is neither a software program nor a programming language. Rather SCORM provides standards for data and programming that make it possible to have data sets that can be interchangeable amongst differing LMSs. So, software designers are extremely mindful to utilize SCORM when designing and coding their proprietary LMS. There have been numerous limitations to SCORM. Why? It’s simple: trial and error. Software designers within and without the government have found flaws or limitations to the SCORM protocols, which, of course, gave rise to successive iterations of SCORM. The SCORM protocols are the rules utilized by different Application Programming Interfaces (API). An API is the part of the programming language that facilitates a communication between different computer systems. API and software developers use SCORM to create the standard of interoperability for eLearning systems. Now there exists a SCORM API, but that is just one of many forms of an API.

A major SCORM component was adopted with the 2004 version. Researchers with the ADL created the notion of “sequencing.” The sequencing protocol specified that learners could only experience content objects in a specified order. Such can be valuable, but it also can be a limitation.

Next step: The movement away from SCORM toward Tin Can API and Experience API.

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., JAG Learning Strategist

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