xAPI is NOT the new SCORM

I was recently reviewing a tender for an LMS. In it, was a question that does not have an answer. Pity the poor vendors attempting to respond!

That question was premised on a complete misunderstanding of xAPI. – “Is the LMS  both SCORM and xAPI” compatible.

Well… no.

I have heard this a bit and it comes from people thinking “xAPI is all the rage, it’s a standard. SCORM is a standard too …..    so….  xAPI is probably a better SCORM?”

Nope. Chalk and cheese.

SCORM solves the problem of having eLearning courses work with any LMS. With SCORM, courses can send tracking data, results and more to your LMS. SCORM’s really good at this – in fact almost all courses use just a tiny fraction of what SCORM can do. It doesn’t need an update. If you want to deliver eLearning you will be doing it with SCORM well into the future whether or not you also have xAPI.

The reason for xAPI is an entirely different challenge that extends across an entire organisation (well beyond eLearning):

  1. How can we measure results from informal training – what people learn on the job
  2. How can we link training to actual real world changes in behaviour?

Any solution to these challenges needs to work wherever your team learn or work. On the shop floor, while operating equipment, while driving the company car. xAPI makes no assumptions and so it is not an eLearning standard like SCORM. It doesn’t attempt to improve on SCORM, or do what SCORM does and it doesn’t centre on an LMS.

But what if I want eLearning in my bit xAPI world?

Sure! eLearning can play a part in this big picture environment. To do that, we just do exactly what we do now. Our LMs uses SCORM to launch and track eLearning modules. The LMS doesn’t “talk xAPI” at all and SCORM keeps doing what SCORM does.

What will change is your courses.  Courses send results to LMSes in SCORM. That bit stays the same so you can keep using your favourite LMS. In addition, those courses will send information in xAPI to an entirely different system that is listening not only to eLearning outcomes, but everything else too (and hopefully making sense of it).

A system that does that is called a Learning Record Store (LRS) and despite having a similar name they are nothing like an LMS. It can’t deliver a course (for a start); it is too busy listening to what’s going on around the place and analysing it.

So keep your LMS. Keep your SCORM. MAke your courses xAPI ready and do the same for your equipment. Administer your eLearning and classrooms in your LMS, then go to your LRS to see how effective it was, what else people learned and how they applied it.

So after all that, what are better xAPI questions to ask in an eLearning or LMS tender?

Well it’s worth asking if any eLearning courses you buy are ready to send xAPI messages to Learning Record Stores.

Beyond that, not much.


Side note- You can actually buy an LMS that comes with a crude LRS. That’s simply because so many people make the mistake of thinking an LMS should “have xAPI” that some vendors got sick of correcting them and bundled an LRS in so they could simply say “yes”. It’s a bit like a fridge manufacturer despairing of saying “no” to people asking if it washes the dishes and bolting a dishwasher on the back. Probably not a great dishwasher. Probably not a great LRS.

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