The Tin-Can Calamity

The chatter on Tin-Can API has started to pick up, including the number of early adopters. I suppose this is a good thing and a step in the right direct. In fact, it was our intention to also be part of the early adopter list with our initial release as there are certainly some great benefits in the learning realm in regards to Tin-Can. That said, I have to say that LearnDash’s adventure into Tin-Can has been rather, well, frustrating… to the point where we might need to table it for a future release.

I took the liberty to jump on the phone with the good people over at Rustici Software some months back to discuss Tin-Can and various options for LearnDash. They were very kind and patient with my questions, and I was able to come away from that conversation with a better sense of my options – or lack thereof.

Essentially, we could either build our own LRS, or we could leverage Rustici Software’s SCORM Cloud product.

The problem is that Tin-Can is so new that building our own LRS is quite the challenge as there are dots that need to be connected that we struggled with mightily. Couple that with a limited project budget and it has been an uphill battle to say the least. So, we took a look at SCORMCloud (which is being pushed heavily by Rustici Software). While it is certainly a sleek offering, it isn’t optimally priced for what we need. That’s not a knock against Rustici, it’s just the truth of the situation.

And while we are optimistic that Tin-Can will forge its way to being a widely excepted protocol for learning, we couldn’t justify spending all our time and monetary resources trying to “make it work” for LearnDash, at least not in its infancy. There just isn’t enough documentation out there for Tin-Can at the moment. Perhaps down the road once it is more established (and more importantly, if our users demand it), then we will go that route.

So at this point we are looking at the option of incorporating the older SCORM standards into LearnDash, for nothing more than there is more documentation and examples to reference in this space. Not to mention these standards are still very much used today and will be for quite some time.

If you have any feedback or questions, please let us know. Personally, we’d be curious to know if anyone has been actively using Tin-Can.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

8 Comments
  1. Thanks for the update, Justin. Although I do understand your frustration to some level, and I have been very excited about a WordPress based learning system, I can’t see committing to the restrictive standards of SCORM and traditional LMS systems.

    I do understand your concerns about SCORMCloud (or licensing SCORMEngine) from a pricing standpoint (although I can put you in touch with several folks that use these options and the numbers work… I do understand it is a numbers/volume management equation).

    I also somewhat understand the challenges of the standard not being 100% completed at this point and the issues developing in this stage of its evolution. However, the community is very vibrant and excessively generous with how to address challenges to develop next generation tools and repositories, and there are working tools and LRSs out there.

    So, what you chose to see as a calamity, I see as an opportunity. Do you want to develop the first true WordPress based learning portal on restrictive legacy standards that has very little positive response from users and developers? Or is this an opportunity to take your limited resources to develop a new concept of a WP based learning system on the new standard for training assets so you have a first mover advantage in two areas of your endeavor?

    Best to do that now, or wait until someone else does it and try to catch up?

    To me, the choice is clear (I will not purchase or install any systems or tools that aren’t actively developing for TinCan right now)’ since TinCan can accept SCORM completion information, but SCORM cannot do the reverse, it seems committing to SCORM only is a half solution, using a legacy standard that may be sunsetting, that doesn’t address the needs of today’s workplace and users, with restrictive rules both on the development end and the user experience that there is no shortage of bad press about…

    Not what I want from a new system; even built on something as powerful and open as WordPress. It is the equivalent of buying a high end sportscar and driving it around with a trunk full of anvils for no apparent reason.

    • Justin

      HI David, thanks for the comment.

      I should be clear in that I am a fan of tin-can’s mission. An opportunity is there, absolutely. First release? Likely no, at least not for LearnDash.

      Truth be told, no one is banging down the doors for this project demanding Tin-Can be implemented – many (most?) feedback received indicate that they don’t care that SCORM is involved at all. There are probably many factors for this, right or wrong.

      I think this “lack” of demand speaks just as loudly as the other end of the spectrum.

      From a business standpoint, coming to market with something that is very much still relevant (and sought after) for an LMS enables us to sooner generate the R&D capital necessary to give Tin-Can a more thorough look for upcoming releases.

      For lack of a better term, this “lean startup” methodology helps us build something that users actually want – it’s win-win.

      In a year’s time (or more?) the message could be different: “give us tin-can” – in which case we’ll have more ample resources to do so, not to mention that the protocol will be further refined, which doesn’t hurt either.

      To keep with your car analogy, any time a new model is introduced to the market, there are always recalls/bugs that occur in the line, no matter how good the planning. At this point in time (for this project anyway), it’s probably better for all parties involved to hold out for the NEXT year’s model of this high end sports car.

      • “many (most?) feedback received indicate that they don’t care that SCORM is involved at ”

        Erm… than why pick SCORM over TinCan? If you are going to invest resources, why waste the $ on a seriously limited standard?

        I understand the “Lean” mentality and “minimum viable product” (SCORM certainly speaks to that), but it also does include progressive iteration (“there are always recalls/bugs that occur in the line, no matter how good the planning”). As long as core features and value proposition is there, it’s fine.

        “it’s probably better for all parties involved to hold out for the NEXT year’s model of this high end sports car”- that would be my perspective as a customer, and if other offerings come on market that address the TinCan need and ability to integrate with WordPress (the bar is much lower with TinCan), that equates to lost opportunity.

        Also, DevLearn not only was a launching pad for TinCan, but also the crowd was in an “ABC” mentality. SCORM traps us in courses. Folks are desperate to escape. We don’t need the tools of yesterday (many are available, and some for free), we need the tools of tomorrow.

  2. Ingo Dahn

    Justin, ADL has announced they will publish their LRS within a few weeks as open source. Perhaps it’s worth waiting a bit before making a decision. Anyhow, TinCan is still under development, so continuous development of the LRS and, even more, of the software processing TinCan statements will be needed.

  3. Justin,

    I believe I addressed this a little on the Tin Can Adopters mailing list, but let me add something that might benefit you and others. For the past month, and continuing through the end of the year, ADL has been hosting open office hours to help anyone — ANYONE — with adoption.

    The mailing list is the best resource available to ask the entire community questions in helping your implementation, but you can ask the ADL Technical Team directly on Tuesdays from 2:30-4:00pm Eastern.

    https://www2.gotomeeting.com/join/416857738

    Or, call in using your telephone.

    Dial +1 (510) 443-0604
    Access Code: 416-857-738

    Additionally, we have a working group focusing on the evolution of the specification itself that meets on Thursdays at the same time (and a different link/number) and the conversations there get very specific in terms of making sure at the most granular levels we know, that implementation needs are being considered, if not met.

    Ultimately, the choice is up to your own stakeholders and decision makers if now or anytime is the right time to adopt or not. I want to make it clear (if it’s not already) that there’s an abundance of help with a community that has proven more than willing to share what they are learning in going through this very same journey.

    One only needs to stay engaged to take all the knowledge they can with them.

  4. Hi Guys: we were at square one in the same situation. We had 1 call, with Tim at the Rustici team. They were great, very nice to us. Although our products may have some overlaps, they never pushed us heavily towards one way or another. They showed us the options and we could determine what we wanted to do, which we did pretty soon. Although our choice was to develop our own LRS, they kept on being very nice to us. Long story short, 2 of our great developers, coordinated by our CTO, got the specs(0.90) and one month later released a fully working LRS in beta. About 40M/D effort starting from scratch multiplied 2 resources. We then had a call with the ADL team to explain what we have done, and Aaron was fantastic to speak with as well.

    Overall, so far, TinCan and the people that have built it have been fantastic. We all hope that TinCan gets more and more support, both from the vendors and from ADL. The project has the basis to be a turnkey moment for E-Learning. Those who understood it will possibly chase the first wave. Those who haven’t will chase after the wave. My 2 cents – @alessioartuffo

  5. I use Litmos which is an early adopter of TinCan Api. They are very reasonably priced and the most easy to use LMS I have come across, in a LOT of looking. They may also be able to offer advice on how best to adopt it.

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