SCORM in the SAP environment – or how to handle problems with the de facto standard

SCORM – how to handle problems with the de facto standard

Are you about to switch from an LMS such as Cornerstone or the SAP Learning Solution to SuccessFactors? Or is your new training course not uploading properly despite being SCORM-compliant? Users of SCORM-based learning content face many hidden pitfalls. This article tells you how to avoid some of them.

It could be so simple. Here’s a typical example: You provide new staff with the mandatory safety training in the form of web-based training (WBT). They access it on screen, work through the content, pass the test at the end and obtain the relevant qualification. The safety training disappears from the to-do list in their personal training plan and moves to their learning history. For this to work, the WBT must tell the learning management system (LMS) whether they have completed the training successfully – and that’s exactly what it normally does via SCORM. Yes, it could be that simple – unfortunately, however, it often isn’t. Because SCORM can be highly unpredictable.

What exactly is SCORM?

The abbreviation SCORM stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Model. SCORM was launched in 2000 by the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative, a U.S. government program led by the Department of Defense (DoD). There have been a number of later versions incorporating further developments and it has become the de facto standard. The version still used in the majority of cases is SCORM 1.2 from 2001. In these fast-moving times, it really is quite something that SCORM will soon be celebrating its 20th birthday! 

SCORM 1.2 was VERY widely adopted and is still the industry workhorse. Every eLearning vendor should make their products compatible with SCORM 1.2. SCORM 1.2 will  be around for a long time to come

Source: https://scorm.com/scorm-explained/business-of-scorm/scorm-versions/

It all depends on the LMS

However, it became apparent that all possible eventualities and further developments were not factored in when SCORM 1.2 was originally launched. A more complex version of SCORM was therefore released in 2004 to support sophisticated requirements such as sequencing content with different paths. Further editions of SCORM 2004 now exist, not all of which are supported by every LMS. Only the third edition of SCORM 2004 works with SAP’s on-premise Learning Solution (LSO), for example, while the cloud-based SAP SuccessFactors LMS supports the second and fourth editions. Making an LMS fully SCORM-compliant increases both programming requirements and development costs. That’s one reason why only a very small number of LMS (and content suppliers) currently support the latest SCORM version – Experience API, Tin Can API or simply xAPI from 2013.

SCORM compliance – a false sense of security ...

This can mean content claimed to be SCORM-compliant by suppliers turns out to be incompatible with your LMS, something that becomes apparent either when an error message is displayed at the upload stage or – if the upload succeeds – when the WBT fails to work as you’d expect it to. The error may also be lurking at the very end of the process, which prevents the course from being transferred to the learning history once successfully completed. Two proven tips based on experience are as follows:

  1. Be realistic about your capabilities. You can naturally investigate the problem yourself and, as someone with a good deal of IT experience, you might identify the error. However, you should bear in mind that SAP expertise won’t necessarily get you anywhere once you reach the specific point where the SCORM content communicates with the LMS. This is a whole new world and very different from the familiar SAP environment.
  2. Try out SCORM-based courses and learning content properly in a test system prior to the go-live. Putting something through its paces involves far more than a simple startup after uploading. Work your way through two or three scenarios – ideally, in different browsers and on one or more mobile devices. 

Understanding SCORM – factoring in conceptual issues

Getting SCORM training courses up and running is one challenge, but why is thorough testing so important? In addition to the matter of technical feasibility, working with SCORM also involves a conceptual issue: What exactly does “successfully completed” mean? There is no definition of the circumstances under which the SCO generates a particular status. In fact, it isn’t even a requirement for the SCO to use the status element. 

For WBT compliance, however, it’s necessary for

  • learners to be able to trace the completion of content and for
  • the content to tell the LMS whether learners have completed it successfully.

A practical example involving SCORM with three possibilities

The safety training mentioned earlier can take a number of different forms in practice:

  1. The WBT comprises 20 content pages. The condition for successful completion is visiting 18 of these and thus covering 90% of the content. 
  2. The WBT consists of 20 test questions. The condition for successful completion is answering 18 of these correctly and thus scoring 90% of the total points available.
  3. The WBT is made up of 20 content pages, with a 20-question test at the end. In this case, the condition for successful completion could be first visiting 18 of the content pages to gain access to the test and then answering 18 of the questions correctly.

The ADL Initiative’s relevant document – SCORM_1.2_RunTimeEnv – states the following:

„cmi.core.lesson_status: This is the current student status as determined by the LMS system. Six values are possible.

  • passed
  • completed
  • failed
  • incomplete
  • browsed
  • not attempted

Normally the SCO determines its own status and passes it to the LMS.“

(Source: https://scorm.com/scorm-explained/technical-scorm/run-time/run-time-reference/)

If you try to assign the correct value to the three possibilities, it quickly becomes apparent that this is anything but clear-cut. The example deals specifically with a SCORM 1.2 scenario, but similar cases can occur in the other versions. No version of SCORM is a standard in the sense that it defines specific elements as being compulsory and stipulates exactly which values must be used when and how. What it offers is, at best, roughly equivalent to recommendations for use.

Consequently, it isn’t sufficient for both the LMS and the content to be SCORM-compliant to the best of the supplier’s knowledge. They may still be incompatible. 

Avoiding problems with SCORM

If you wish to use SCORM WBT in your LMS, you should first clarify the key issues internally. The next step is to communicate with your manufacturer rather than simply trusting that something is SCORM-compatible just because it claims to be. Discuss the instructional design and ask how learners can successfully complete the WBT. If the WBT is to be made available in several languages, ask what form this can take. And if it’s desirable or necessary, also inquire what other assessable data the WBT can provide and how.

Once you’ve done all that, it’s still absolutely essential to carry out a comprehensive test in your LMS. After all, you want to know for sure whether the (partly implicit) requirements are met and not just assume this to be the case.