SCORM and xAPI: Why Do They Matter?

In Learning Management System by Amber Traynor

Let’s look at one way of creating a course. We take various text and multimedia and place them on various web pages that are linked together. The learner consumes each piece of content and moves to the next. They could even interact with some content, clicking on hot spots, watch a video or answer questions. So far so good. Now, let’s say as a learning manager we want to track what that learner did, for example, how much time they spent on the course or what answers they selected in the quiz? In this case, we would not know unless we built custom software to track this. Let’s say we want to move that course to a new system or split it up as part of a wider learning program. In this case it would be a very manual process to move the various parts of the course. To solve for these issues SCORM and xAPI are used.

SCORM and xPI work in conjunction with a learning management system. The Learning Management systems accept SCORM or xAPI courses, provides access control to learners and allows the right people view learning reports and results.

Discovering the appropriate Learning Management Systems for your organisation is critical. There are lots of different features a learning management solutions can offer in addition to courses and reporting and it’s definitely not a case that they all do the same thing. It is reported that there are more than 700 learning management systems on market today so it is important to really know what your priorities are. In saying that, the vast majority of LMS’s support SCORM, but not all. 


A SCORM course also referred to as Sharable Content Object Reference Model is delivered to the LMS via a SCORM package. This is essentially a .zip file that contains all the files that make up your course. It consists of the html, xml, multimedia files and javascript or other programming language statements. Most organisations today don’t create SCORM packages manually but rather use an authoring tool to create them such as Articulate Storyline 360, Elucidat or Adobe Captivate. 

SCORM allows us to move content from one system to another, but it also allows Learning Management Systems to track the activities that happen within a course. Typically this is things like quiz’s and tests, how scenarios play out or how long the learner spent in the course. SCORM typically produces Interaction statements and Objectives statements which the LMS understands and shows on the reporting page. The beauty of SCORM is that, when a course is uploaded, everything should work nicely and the reports should be written too. These days this is often the case, but there is still some trial and error in testing that should be completed. This makes sure the reports are capturing everything you need, before rolling out that course to your entire company.

SCORM content can be created one time and used in many different systems and situations without modification. It is widely adopted by some of the world’s largest organisations, and has been the leading eLearning standard for the past two decades. This is generally as it is more stable working with almost all LMS systems on the market. 

However, the world has changed a lot in the past two decades and so has the way we consume content and how we learn. It’s kind of obvious that we learn more outside of the LMS than we do by accessing content within it, so while courses and online collaboration within an LMS are still hugely valuable, the reporting information within an LMS only partially paints the picture of how we are learning. We need to consider other activities such as working on the job, mentoring, practice, classroom training, self study and consuming online content such as youtube, blogs and articles.  xAPI looks to address this issue of providing visibility into the bigger picture.


xAPI, formerly known under the prototype name of Tincan, can now be considered as an advanced eLearning standard. It differs from SCORM in that it provides more flexibility in tracking activities occurring outside of the Learning Management System. xAPI enables applications to share data and can, therefore, allow viewers to gain insight into learning activities in general. 

xAPI enables users to collect data about the various experiences a person has with a range of online and offline training activities, note that these experiences do not have to be exclusively digital experiences. One of the main benefits of using xAPI is that it enables users to track experiences across multiple systems within the organisation,  giving a broad understanding of the effectiveness of the system.

The concept of an LRS or Learning Record Store is important to understand when discussing xAPI.  This is a database of learning activities that have taken place. xAPI itself is the standard that allows other systems or applications to track what is happening and write to this Learning Record Store. The LRS, can then produce reports that show the full learning picture. The LMS can be one of these applications that write to the LRS, so that information will be included too.

xAPI can also be utilised to track the things deemed to be most important to the business and enables the recording of all learning experiences that occur. This can give management a better idea of how the implementation of the learning system is working for their business. To take this a step further, imagine the possibilities of digging into this data and cross-referencing with other data within the system, comparing learning activities with new sales, or efficiency targets or safety incidents. Big data and Machine learning technologies are making this a reality. It might be slightly early for widespread adoption but this is the way it’s going.

When creating eLearning courses we can now decide to publish the course in SCORM or xAPI. If you have an LRS then use xAPI while if you have an LRS then use SCORM. Some LMS vendors are including or planning to include LRS databases as part of their LMS solution but for now most LRS systems are separate. A challenge for xAPI currently is that the applications that report to the LRS need to be compliant with xAPI which many are not there yet.


To learn more about the benefits of eLearning for your company click here.