Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM)

Created in 2000 by the United States Department of Defense’s Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, SCORM — shareable content object reference model — is a framework that standardizes the development, management, and design of virtual training and e-learning. Today, SCORM standards are widely regarded as the best way to ensure e-learning interoperability. Let’s discuss how they achieve that and what it actually means to be SCORM certified.

How Does SCORM Work? 

SCORM is essentially a comprehensive set of guidelines and technical specifications intended to keep e-learning content reusable, accessible, and interoperable. It consists of two primary components.

  • Shareable Content Object (SCO). This is essentially an umbrella term for any content or asset that’s able to be reused across platforms and tools. The actual training materials, in other words.
  • Reference Model.  Establishes SCORM as a framework/standard for course designers and e-learning vendors to follow. 

There are currently three different versions of SCORM on the market, each focused on a different set of technologies. The oldest, SCORM 1.2, is still widely supported. 

The most recent release is SCORM 2004, which establishes a new set of standards for content object-to-runtime-environment communication and application programming interfaces (APIs). 

Regardless of the release version, SCORM specifications and standards always encompass the following categories: 

Content Packaging

SCORM requires that training content be stored in a ZIP archive. This content, collectively known as a Package Interchange File (PIF), must also include an XML file that can be read by a learning management system (LMS). Known as a manifest file, the XML divides content into Shareable Content Objects (SCOs) which can be reused across platforms and tools. 


This sub-specification of SCORM is largely concerned with how a learning management system launches content. It dictates that the LMS should launch training content in a web browser and may only do so with one SCO at a time.


The last sub-section lays out guidelines for multi-stage courses, specifying how learners can navigate between objects, how progress is tracked, and how course authors dictate prerequisites and apply weight to different pieces of content. 

What is a SCORM Course?

A SCORM course is, simply put, any digital learning content designed according to the SCORM standard. That standard is really the only thing different SCORM courses have in common with one another. SCORM is only concerned with ensuring that a particular course is compatible with any SCORM-certified LMS. 

Beyond that, it’s largely up to the designers how a course looks, what it teaches, and even how it teaches. 

The Benefits of SCORM

The advantages of adhering to SCORM when designing your training content include:

  • Compatibility. A SCORM course is compatible with any SCORM-compliant LMS. This means you’ve much greater freedom of choice, and don’t need to worry about being locked to a low-quality vendor. 
  • The gold standard. Speaking of SCORM compliance, nearly every LMS and authoring tool of note is SCORM compliant. This, in turn, means there’s a thriving ecosystem around the standard. 
  • Reduced training costs. Instead of designing training for one specific platform or system, SCORM allows you to reduce your overhead through standardization. 

The only real drawback of using SCORM aside from its learning curve is that, due to being an old standard, it can be somewhat cumbersome to adhere to. 

Alternatives to SCORM

While SCORM may be the accepted standard for most e-learning, that doesn’t mean it’s always the best choice for your organization. The Experience API (xAPI), also known as Tin Can, has been gaining significant traction, especially in corporate learning development. Technically as much an e-learning software solution as a standard, Tin Can is more flexible and agile, making it arguably better suited to the modern training landscape. 

The biggest advantage Tin Can has over SCORM, however, is its tracking and data collection capabilities. Unlike SCORM, Tin Can allows your organization to record, monitor, personalize, and optimize training both online and offline. It also features robust analytics functionality, allowing you to directly link training performance and workplace performance.

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