The Waning Life of SCORM

As life unfolds, we see ideas germinate from informal discussions or societal and business needs. Over time with nurturing, these “seeds” sprout and blossom into a valued product, a service or a successful business. But life doesn’t stand still – “change arrives” and that business, solution or service that people valued is no longer front and central but sits to the side. This is what’s happened to SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model). The SCORM protocol that standardized LMS functionality and content interoperability around eLearning courses is no longer central in corporate learning. Why? Corporate learning has changed dramatically and is leaving SCORM behind. In this blog I discuss the reasons SCORM is no longer the revered de facto industry standard for today’s corporate learning.


A quick explanation of SCORM

For almost two decades SCORM has been used by instructional designers in corporate Learning and Development (L&D) departments to create content that will play seamlessly on any SCORM-compliant Learning Management System (LMS). SCORM is a set of technical standards for eLearning products. SCORM makes sure content is compatible with an LMS and that an LMS can import, launch, and track content. To learn more about SCORM, go to the blog written by Amy Rouse who has first-hand experience with SCORM. Amy’s comment, “SCORM is not dead but it’s past its prime.”


Research on the way people learn has contributed to the waning of SCORM

Research shows that most learning takes place outside of the traditional approaches to learning typically used by most organizations. Charles Jennings, a noted learning educator shows through his “70/20/10 model” that organizations have been investing heavily in learning that matters the least – the formal learning.[i]



·      Experiential Learning - 70% of learning comes from experiences doing our jobs, or taking on new tasks, and reflecting on challenges and what needs to be done.

·      Social Learning - 20% of our learning comes from conversations with others, sharing information, networking, getting feedback, and mentoring.

·      Formal Learning - 10% of learning comes from structured courses like classroom events, and eLearning courses. It’s called formal learning.


Our formal school experiences focus on structured learning and this is the direction corporate learning has followed for many years. How paradoxical – corporations spend most of their learning dollars on developing courses and managing the learners’ progress through the LMS when it accounts for only 10% of an employee’s learning. The 90% that comes from experience and social interactions has very limited corporate dollars devoted to it. 360Learning’s Engagement Learning Platform actually calls this the 90/10 model because experience and collaboration are central to its training.


Specific reasons SCORM doesn’t work well today

As more informal learning approaches take hold, SCORM, which only reports on the formal learning becomes less important for a number of reasons:

·      Formal eLearning courses are not the mainstay of corporate learning today. These courses provided through the LMS are hard to access, inflexible, too long, and not engaging to today’s learner. They are pushed to the learner with a required completion date. Seldom does a learner voluntarily access the LMS to find learning they want because it’s too hard to find.

·      Collaboration and user-generated content are not tracked by SCORM. Learners today share and collaborate around content they are learning. They even pull together videos, graphics, or short documents they have read and author content appropriate for others. This is user-generated content. (See my blog Welcome to Instagram of Learning for an example of user-generated content.)

·      Developing content that is SCORM compliant is a challenge. This requires learning creators to use expensive authoring tools like Adobe Captive and Articulate Storyline. These tools can be tedious with long course development time. The primary users are instructional designers.

·      Today’s learners are computer savvy and find content far beyond the corporate LMS. This includes outside sources like TedTalks, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), and even consumer content via YouTube. SCORM can’t track this informal learning.

·      Learning technology has advanced beyond formal learning with shorter microlearning content, simulations, collaboration around topics, and user-generated content. SCORM can’t track these learning interactions. The SCORM specifications were developed before these learning modalities were part of the corporate learning scene.

·      Learning happens more effectively in the flow of work. As employees do their work, they access learning to help them continue their task. This may be getting information from a colleague through a social network or accessing a three-minute microlearning piece. SCORM can’t track this informal learning

·      Learners want mobile access to learning content. Organizations are developing learning that plays well on mobile devices like short learning segments, podcasts and videos. Mobile learning is a growing delivery method that SCORM can’t track.

·      Offline learning is a large part of corporate learning. Offline interactions such as attending a conference, reading documents, or discussing content with others are a major part of employees’ learning. These are activities that SCORM can’t track.


What’s the future hold?

Since SCORM is so limited in ways that make it increasingly at odds with the current learning landscape, how will learning be tracked in the future? Welcome to xAPI! (Experience API) This specification can track any observable or recorded activity. This includes conference attendance, social media, job performance, books or articles read, and much more. (See Amy Rouse’s blog for more detail on xAPI.) xAPI is a powerful approach to tracking all the content that SCORM is unable to handle. But don’t forget SCORM completely. Many organizations have extensive libraries of SCORM-compliant content and they are not about to give that up. Also learning instances still exist that require a formal approach that fits the parameters of SCORM. But overtime SCORM will become less and less important.


[i] Click on 70:20:10 to learn more about this model.  Charles Jennings has authored a book entitled “70 20 10 Towards 100% Performance” available by email at