On Oct. 5, 2017, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) announced some exciting news regarding the adoption of the Experience API (xAPI), publishing an instruction mandating xAPI implementation for its distance learning systems. That might not sound like a huge deal (especially if you don’t work with the U.S. military), but to understand why this is important for the L&D industry, let’s review SCORM's history and how a similar instruction published several years ago impacted its adoption across the e-learning industry.
The Evolution of SCORM
SCORM 1.0 was released in 2000, and, like xAPI, began to gain gradual adoption in its early years. It wasn’t until 2003 that authoring tools (such as RoboDemo 4, a precursor to Captivate) started adding SCORM publish capability and Mike Rustici created the first version of SCORM Driver. The following year, SCORM capability was added to Moodle LMS’s core code with this commit message:
But it wasn’t until the publication of DoD Instruction (DoDI) 1322.26 on June 16, 2006, that SCORM really took off. This instruction required that all DoD distance learning implement SCORM, creating a virtuous circle that led to the ubiquity of SCORM across the L&D industry that you see today. Here’s how it played out:
- Following the publication of the DoDI, all distance learning within the DoD is required to implement SCORM, meaning that vendors (such as LMS, authoring, and content tool providers) who want to bid for DoD work must implement SCORM in their products. The DoD services are huge clients in the distance learning space, setting hundreds of vendors scrambling to adopt SCORM and tap into this lucrative market.
- As a result, many vendors have SCORM functionality—which is also available to clients outside the DoD, including government, corporate, and academic organizations around the globe. These organizations become used to SCORM and start to require SCORM capability from other vendors they work with.
- The cycle perpetuates and, as more vendors offer SCORM, more clients require it.
- Within a few years, SCORM becomes completely ubiquitous.
"Record, analyze, measure, manage, and, as appropriate, exchange learning experience data among themselves. They also:
- Measure and evaluate learner performance.
- Implement the Experience Application Programming Interface (xAPI) and associated Learning Record Store capabilities, as practical, to enhance learning data security and interoperability."
We can expect vendors who’ve been slow to implement so far to take notice, and the same virtuous circle of SCORM adoption to now play out with xAPI.
If you are part of the DoD, the update of DoDI 1322.6 is especially important because, prior to the update, you were technically required to ensure all your distance learning was SCORM conformant. The updated DoDI enables you to purchase xAPI-conformant solutions, giving you the flexibility to modernize your learning technologies. (Read more here).
xAPI is more than just a checkbox.
xAPI implementation is not a yes/no checkbox, and there is huge variation in the quality and depth of xAPI implementations by different vendors. Be wary of vendors who will implement the bare minimum of xAPI in a way that adds no real value. When you go to market for new learning content or technologies, don’t ask for xAPI as a yes/no question. Instead, ask how products use xAPI as a way to differentiate vendors and their products. Equally, when you ask vendors to support xAPI, tell them why you want it and how you want to use it.
The DoDI attempts to ensure the requirement for xAPI support is not just a checkbox exercise by requiring that not only xAPI be implemented, but also that it’s implemented to “enable interoperable experience or performance tracking capabilities, learning analytics, or data integration with multiple applications or systems.” In other words, there has to be a purpose for implementing xAPI, and vendors must implement it in a way that supports that purpose.
SCORM’s not dead yet.
The DoDI still allows groups that are happy using SCORM to continue to so do. Organizations that want modern learning ecosystems—including insight into the effectiveness of their learning programs or anything else beyond the capabilities of SCORM—they’re mandated to use xAPI. It’s possible that some of the individual DoD services will produce stricter instructions that build on the DoDI (they did last time) and require robust learning evaluation and xAPI across their service.
About the author
As one of the authors of xAPI, Andrew Downes has years of expertise in data-driven learning design. With a background in instructional design and development, he’s well versed in creating learning experiences and platforms in corporate and academic environments.
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