September 16th, 2014 E-Learning

tincanimageFor a very long time, SCORM was the go-to protocol for tracking and recording elearning. All the major elearning development platforms made it possible to publish to a version of SCORM so that the courses could be uploaded to the learning management system of your choice.

SCORM dominated the landscape for over a decade, used by private organizations, non-profits, and government agencies alike.

As technology became leaner, the learning industry began to realize that the SCORM specification that we used was falling behind. Eventually, Advanced Distributive Learning (a division of the U.S. government), commissioned a new specification to be created that would be in line with today’s technology.

You see, instead of retrofitting a dated way of doing things, we decided to move forward with Tin Can API (also known as Experience API, or xAPI).

Yet, it still amazes me how many people still talk about (and ask for) SCORM support. Every week we reply to potential customers who ask if LearnDash supports SCORM (we don’t).

It’s a sad reality that we are faced with today, but we have to ask ourselves “why is this happening”?

Personally, I believe that Tin Can API has a marketing problem. A big one. The first of which being that it goes by three different names. But names are just names. The real problem is that us working in this industry are not properly educating our employers, our clients, and co-workers about the latest industry updates. The thing is, Tin Can API can do what SCORM did, and more.

When I speak to potential LearnDash customers about this, it’s often the first time they have heard of the new API. I explain what it can do and how to use it specifically for their organization. Sometimes they choose us and sometimes they don’t. The bigger picture here though is that they now know that there is a better way of doing things than what we did in 2004.

If you work in the elearning industry, look to see where you have the opportunity to educate people about Tin Can API. If you need to learn a bit more on the subject, check out this infographic for a good overview.

Justin Ferriman photo

About Justin Ferriman

Justin Ferriman started LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Justin's Homepage | Twitter

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Justin raises a fair point, Tin Can is what the industry needs but very few seem to have migrated. However, Rome wasn’t built in a day and I think it will take a while before SCORM isn’t the dominant player. Progressive organizations are adapting but some organizations will continue to use the SCORM for the years ahead, considering, in some cases, the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands spent in SCORM development in recent years. Beyond that, when speaking to LMS vendors, many don’t see the market as demanding TinCan as of yet. Again, I think it’s a timing game…,

Avatar Paul L

I suggest that marketing is not the only current problem with the tincan specification. In my view the biggest problem is that, the specification is only part of the solution. You actually need a good deal more computing/programming knowledge to use tincan as currently constituted. As an instructional designer, I have to fcous much more on graphics, interactions, and course design. The last thing I want is to worry about tracking and reporting. I build a program, package it in SCORM and it is good to go with just about any LMS.

Now there are many LMS vendors that don’t support tincan yet, plus you need the addition of an LRS to really see any differences beyond basic course tracking. That is just for a course. I have yet to see a good real-world example of tincan use for either standalone mobile devices or offline application.

I am as excited as anyone else at the possibilities tincan will bring, but at this point adoption is moving slowly because it is just too complicated for many users.

Avatar Scott Kaye

Hi Justin,
I have software, like Engage, that generates both Scorm and Tin Can. As someone seriously looking at Learndash as my new LMS platform, I will give my perspective.

First, older versions of software only had Scorm, so until people slowly upgrade – which can be costly and painful in tems of relearning – you will probably keep getting those requests.

Second, honestly I am finding the Tin Can system a bit difficult to understand. As a computer engineer, the api part is coo, but it looks to me that I have to pay for an external data store to keep my tracking data in? They all seem so expensive. I even started looking into installing an open source one on my own web server, but then I kerp having the little voice in my head say ‘stop playing with the tech and focus 100% on my course material development’.

So as someone who could build a WP website in my sleep and even program my own CMS in php, I am intimidated by seemingly complex Tin Can implementation. So I had decided yesterday to probably save my interactions as Scorm and use your LMS to launch them, with no tracking. Maybe Tin Can later…

I do havea question for you. If I did save them as Tin Can, could I still use them on LD without the tracking part? Or am I competely wrong?

Thanks for the timely post 🙂

I agree with Scott’s position, and as someone who has been within the DoD e-learning development community and involved with both SCORM and xAPI from their beginnings, change is always a double-edged sword, but I do also agree that xAPI does suffer from a bit of identity crisis since you have the company that created it for ADL still referring to it as Tin Can and the ADL camp referring to it by its official rightful name of the experience API – this fact is definitely hurting its adoption, and something the ADL Initiative should have put a stop to or addressed in the original effort to create the new standard, but it is now what it is. But, the slow adoption, I don’t really think is that slow, just metered to the faster paced, mobile organizations who can best make use of xAPI’s better attributes immediately. As others pointed out, xAPI isn’t quite as independent as SCORM was if tied to the LMS paradigm. But, the concept and implementation of an LRS is much more flexible and can be incorporated into a variety of differing HR/Training Management applications. It’s going to take time, SCORM took some years to come to wide adoption and utilization, and at the 2004 edition, it kind of “Jumped the Shark” by making the Sequencing & Navigation standard so complicated, and not forcing vendors to implement it consistently. As more working examples of simple, mobile-friendly LRS implementations hit the streets I believe adoption will speed up, but this will parallel the overall change taking place in both corporate and academic learning cultures and how people access, consume and share learning in this highly mobile, highly social workforce – but, some large companies are still living within a cloistered network environment, largely due to security concerns, something that the xAPI has not adequately addressed yet, so it is definitely a work in progress still. Case in point, the entire DoD uses PKI authentication using Common Access Cards (CAC) issued to each military member, DoD civilian or onsite contractor – xAPI has not yet developed a way to address this authentication method, so it will be quite some time before it’s implemented for the US Military, the same entity that was the original driving force behind SCORM.

Avatar Kurt Melander

L&D is slow to adapt. Many systems aren’t even SCORM 2004 compliant and only offer SCORM1.2.

2004- some folks haven’t even implemented a decade-old standard. From a tech outlook, that is ancient and very out-of-date.

Most systems took a LONG time to be mobile compatible, and many are still not.

I agree that Rome wasn’t built in a day, but for a function that promotes and supports change in the business, L&D sure seems resistant to any change to their own practices (don’t get me going on how many L&D groups still use practices shown to be very ineffective to support learning just out of tradition/habit).

Here is why I think xAPI (they dropped TinCanAPI and standardized on xAPI) will eventually hit a tipping point.

1. SCORM is no longer being developed- what we’ve got is all we are ever going to get- and it has some serious constraints, esp. when it comes to mobile. xAPI will continue to evolve as tech evolves. It will be more expensive to try to get SCORM to work than converting in many environments.

2. SCORM requires VERY specific rules and an LMS (or service like SCORMCloud) to run. xAPI just needs “object” (once you understand the programming behind it, it is much more open) and an LRS to catch data- that is liberating. As more organizations become comfortable with big data, I suspect the nudge will come to get xAPI data right FROM the work for better analysis and performance support. SCORM can’t do this. Oh- and the whole “LRS can share out data” thing is going to be huge as Internet of Things takes foot.

(note: the fact that most L&D departments do a horrendous job with analyzing very structured SCORM data and have few skills to handle larger volumes of unstructured data is also an issue fueling ignorance and resistance)

3. Most SCORM packages can be converted to xAPI and report to an LRS without tremendous effort.

4. iPad gaining a foothold into corporate as a business device. iPad isn’t in love with that SCORM handshake which seems like that uncomfortable situation where a person holds the hand too tight and shakes too long. I’ve seen a lot of problems SCORM/iPad that xAPI handles much better.

My suspicion- Moodle core going xAPI will be THE tipping point. Just a hunch.

Thanks Justin for this comment on eLearning. I liked it.

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