Virtual education has changed the way we learn, both in the classroom and on the job. And its prevalence is growing rapidly: in 2012, the percentage of U.S. higher education students taking online courses doubled to reach 6.7 million, amounting to 32 percent of all college students.
As a software developer working for a global company, I’ve run into my fair share of issues while building Learning Management Systems (LMS). Overcoming these roadblocks with new technology and innovation means that e-learning will continue to provide growing access to education for millions of people around the world.
Five years ago, e-learning consisted of little more than electronic versions of standard curriculum. But that has changed with the arrival of new web-based platforms, video sharing capabilities, “social” learning, and collaboration tools. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have begun being offered by Ivy League professors to millions of students around the world. Over 275,000 K-12 students nationwide are now enrolled in publically funded virtual schools. And, more and more corporations are using web-based systems to create and administer training courses for employees.
SCORM—The Great Common Language
In the world of software development, this boom in e-learning translates to a need for more sophisticated software that enhances communication between online course content and learning management systems (LMS), which record things like grades and completion rates. The more advanced this communication/technology/software is, the more successful online education will be.
Right now, the standard communication between these systems comes from SCORM, or “Sharable Content Object Reference Model.” SCORM is a programming language/software tool created by Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL), a government body that was setup during the Clinton Administration to further online learning. SCORM is the de facto industry standard for e-learning interoperability and tells programmers how to write code so that it can “play well” with other e-learning software.
The Trouble with SCORM
When it comes to issues with online course content, users blame the LMS as the root of the problem, regardless of all other potential issues (SCORM, java, web browsers, flash, etc.) involved. While SCORM is a great resource, it unfortunately relies on both web browsers and java to communicate between course content and the LMS. With all the different web browsers out there and the multiple versions that exist for each browser, this has been somewhat of a technical support nightmare.
There are a lot of cases that I have seen where SCORM will fail to record an online completion on Internet Explorer under Windows. This often leads to students and users becoming extremely frustrated, especially if the particular course that they were taking had a large quiz at the end.
What's on the Horizon for SCORM?
ADL knows that SCORM is flawed, but rather than attempt any quick fixes, they’ve chosen to create a completely new specification for how course content should talk to an LMS. This specification is currently known as an Experience API, and will eventually replace the current browser-based SCORM system with the following:
- Customizable "Statements" that can be used to accurately record learning results.
- The introduction of a Learning Record Store (LRS) to store these statements.
The LRS is a new concept, and its primary purpose is to store Experience API statements. These statements are generated by course content and can be encoded with much more detailed information than before. For example, a student could take an exam on a flight simulator that records altitude, direction, velocity etc. All of these attributes can be encoded into Experience API statements and then stored in the LRS.
In addition, the Experience API is no longer reliant on web browser frames for communication. Instead, communication occurs directly between the course content and the LMS server, using RESTFUL Web Serverices via standard HTTP GET and POST commands. This should ensure greater compatibility across multiple Web Browsers, and will also allow learning events to be recorded on Mobile Learning applications without the need for a constant internet connection. Since content can be stored on a local LRS, it can then be completely uploaded to the LRS residing on the server once an internet connection has been established.
New Kid on the Block - Tin Can
ADL awarded the contract for developing Experience API to a company called Rustici Software, who implemented the Experience API standard by creating a project known as “Tin Can.” The Tin Can Project is currently ongoing and is open to the community. On the Web, you will see references to “The Experience API,” “The Tin Can Project,” and “Tin Can API.” All of these are one in the same. The Tin Can API is the realization of the ADL concept and is being adopted by many LMS and content vendors. Adobe recently updated Articulate to support Tin Can and other companies are starting to follow suit.
Should I invest in an Experience API?
There is no doubt that the future of SCORM is the Experience API (or Tin Can). How quickly that future gets here depends on the e-learning community. The main question on most people’s minds will be “Why should I spend the money on something like this? SCORM works for me.” Well, that may be true for now, but web browsers and operating systems are being upgraded all the time. By not investing in a good Experience API solution now, be prepared to see your support costs rise in the near future. Going forward, issues relating to missed/failed completions are only going to get worse.
For content creators, by not supporting the Experience API, you face the possibility of losing out to your competition. Right now, ADL is in the process of finalizing version 1.0 of the Experience API specification, making this a good time to jump in and see what this new learning architecture can do for you.
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