Views on the History of SCORM

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The history of the Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), spans the last 22 years of the learning industry, from its initial creation, through widespread and continued adoption, and lastly the realization of SCORM’s limitations and the creation of a successor.  In this paper SCORM is viewed at several points in the model’s timeline and through the lenses of different use cases, with the goal to provide a diverse overview on the history of SCORM.

SCORM began its journey in 1997 through the United States presidential Executive Order 13111 (Papazoglakis, 2013, p. 3).  The White House Office of Science and Technology and Department of Defense created the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative to work together to create standards for eLearning.  Part of this initiative included the creation the Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM), which released its 1.0 version in 1999.  The goal of which was to create a single adoptable reference model for learning content objects that any Learning Management System (LMS) could understand.  This would have the result of reducing costs and improving efficiency by making learning content objects reusable and sharable.  The ADL team worked with academic groups and the eLearning industry to create this protocol.

This standardization was a great step forward, however the methodologies chosen within SCORM were not entirely new ideas.  Several authors note that the protocols within SCORM were largely based on the aviation industries’ 1989 AICC runtime environment.

The creation of SCORM was welcomed enthusiastically.  Authors writing within the first 5 years of SCORM’s existence expressed excitement about what the adoption of a standardized model means for the reusability of eLearning content.   With Shackelford going as far as to say that “SCORM promises to bring together the best of current standards and provide common ground for eLearning in the future” (Shackelford, 2002, p. 3).  The possibilities for diverse learning activities and the future of eLearning seem obtainable now that SCORM has created a method for learning and performance tracking.  The excitement was shared beyond a single industry; Shackelford speaking to the application for academia and Curda, S. & Curda, L. speaking to the military application.

Throughout the mid-2000s SCORM compliant LMSs were incorporated into industry on a grand scale.  With major universities, corporations and government entities moving more learning into distributed learning models.  SCORM was incredibly successful in meeting the goals of its creation, making eLearning content objects accessible, durable, interoperable and reusable. (Papazoglakis, 2013, p. 17).

However, even as SCORM-compliant learning was dominating the landscape, learning designers were noting limitations.  Authors viewing SCORM in the early 2000s could not have known that ten years later mobile applications would dominate most industries, learning included.  SCORM could not compete in this new playing field.  Murray, K., & Silvers, Papazoglakis and Lanjuan all noting that the run-time environment which SCORM is based is not conducive to mobile or web-based learning environments.

In addition to the technical limitations and despite that viewpoint that “Advanced Distributed Learning is by its nature inherently learner-centered.” (Curda, S. & Curda, L., 2003, p. 10) SCORM did not fulfil this ideal, because SCORM in practice, was centred on the content, not the learner.  (Murray, K. & Silvers, A., 2013, p. 50).  Authors writing a decade later agree that learning is not a linear process that happens in one place, or that can be tracked simply with test scores and completion status’.  The complexity of learner experience could not be captured within the confines of the SCORM protocol, as only limited interactions are trackable, and the learning objects must be placed in an LMS and assigned to a learner.

As mentioned previously, consensus was that SCORMs runtime environment, was not going to be able to grow to adapt to the known limitations, the final official version of SCORM, 2004 4th edition was released in 2009.  Research into the successor to SCORM began in 2011.

The new protocol needed to be able to track interactions outside of a web-package or an LMS, it also needed to be flexible and able to track many different types of activities in a customizable way.  Experience API or xAPI launched its first version in 2013 after two years of versioning under the title of Tin Can API.  Unlike the LMS bound SCORM, “the xAPI helps systems express streams of activity information related to what people are doing, very specifically, with all manner of technologies.” (Murray, K. & Silvers, A., 2013, p. 51).  This essentially allows for the learners experience to be tracked from wherever they are interacting, be that interaction with a formal learning object, or a website help page, or a video.  These items and others no longer need to be confined within a learning management system.  In alignment with adult learning theory, xAPI gives learners control over how they learn and provides feedback to learners on their achievements across the complete spectrum of their learning.   Learner data is tracked using Actor-Verb-Object statements, “I(actor) did(verb) that(object)” (Papazoglakis, 2013, p. 23).  These statements can be added to anything a learner may interact with, and the data is collected in a Learning Record Store (LRS) which can then report that information to a LMS for inclusion on a learners profile.

Today, SCORM’s functionality is limited but it’s adoption remains wide.  Large corporations, universities and the military continue to use SCORM as the standard method for tracking learner completion of distributed learning items.  While SCORM only allows for limited data points, it performs that limited functions well and without any complication.  These facts may see SCORM live to see future use in new and existing markets.  Lanjuan proposes to introduce SCORM compliance into eLearning in China, a market thatPhoto credit did not adopt the protocol in the 2000s.  With the understanding that SCORM is not ideal for mobile learning an eLearning standard is still needed in China and SCORM has the greatest documented support.  However, as another author points out “SCORMifying content is a costly process that demands effort and time” (Papazoglakis, 2013, p. 20).  China may realize that adopting this protocol is not cost effective in mobile applications.

The views synthesized here shows that SCORM continues to meet the mandate of its creation.  It’s future use case may be limited in the progressively mobile world, however SCORM is still widely in use today.  It should be noted that none of the papers reviewed in this synthesis looked at the state of SCORM or xAPI in 2019.  This is an item that requires additional research for inclusion.  SCORM was developed as a collaboration between the US military, academic and eLearning industries. While SCORM and xAPI are currently in use, the future of eLearning standards continues to evolve with the same parties working together for advancement.



Curda, S., & Curda, L. (2003). Advanced distributed learning: A paradigm shift for military education. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 4(1), 1-14.

Lanjuan, R. (2017). The realization and test research of standardized mobile learning courseware based on SCORM. Matec Web of Conferences, 139. doi:10.1051/matecconf/201713900113

Murray, K., & Silvers, A. (2013). A SCORM evolution. Training & Development, 67(4), 48-53. Retrieved from

Papazoglakis, P. P. (2013). The past, present and future of SCORM. Academy of Economic Studies. Economy Informatics, 13(1), 16-26.

Shackelford, B. (2002). A SCORM odyssey. Training & Development, 56(8), 30-35.


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