Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Are eLearning Standards Necessary?

By Jay Lambert

This question pops up now and again, particularly with those just starting to offer eLearning courses to their associates. As with most anything, arguments can potentially be made either way. But I typically argue that eLearning standards are necessary. Even the most cutting edge eLearning out there follows a standard, even if it's a totally new one.

By standard I mean a common template and/or a compliance specification such as SCORM or AICC.

Standards provide a logical framework for the learner.

But even though standards are often simply accepted as being necessary, asking the question is still a good exercise to follow during the Analysis phase of any new eLearning initiative (for more on phases, see the post ADDIE should have been DADDIE all along on this blog). You can gleam information that will prove useful as you develop your program.

As an example, the responses below are from a potential client that's just starting to explore eLearning.

Questions to ask

1. Do you need to control learner access to courseware, track learner progress, or monitor the effectiveness of your eLearning content?
'Yes. The company wants access to each topic limited to those who need to know it. Also, they want certain content available to everyone (employees and contractors) and other content available to one group or the other. The company does want the ability to track course completion and assessment scores.'
2. Do you want to be able to control the learner's path through the content in some way?
'Yes. The company doesn't want a learner to be able to quickly page through the course without taking all the learning paths available. Also, some topics will build upon others and these must be viewed sequentially.'  

3. Do you plan to develop content in house and also purchase content from one or more third-party content vendors?
'Minimal content will be developed in-house. Most will be outsourced for development. Some generic content can be purchased from vendors.'      

4. Do you plan to use the content for multiple new audiences in the future?
'Yes. The content will be used for new hires, contractors, and people moving into new roles. In addition, there is a good possibility that the content will be translated into additional languages.'      

5. Do you plan to reuse parts of the content in future courses?
'Yes, as much as possible. Some introductory materials in particular would be reusable.'      

6. Are you planning to redistribute or sell the content to another organization?
'No. The company plans to keep the content internal.'    

Their conclusion

Based on these reponses, what do you think the company should do?

I'd suggest that they define and follow eLearning standards for the following reasons:
  • Trackability of course completion and scoring
  • Ability to assign or not assign certain learning objects depending upon person's position
  • Consistent look and feel for wide audiences
  • Consistent design practice of making learners view contents on a page before advancing
  • Translation effort will be simpler because some objects will be translated only once and then reused in other courses
  • Standardization assists reusability of content

When are eLearning standards not necessary?

All of the above said, you might not need a standard if you are rolling out single courses that don't need to match a curriculum or be tracked. Perhaps you are creating more of a 'nice to know' learning initiative that will be launched from a website, not a learning management system or similar portal.

In your own initiatives, how do you determine if standards are necessary?

[Note: The six questions above are from Yonnie Chyung's eLearning Standards class in the Boise State Master's of Instructional and Performance Technology program.]


  1. We have some similar thoughts on when SCORM is a good fit and when it is not a good fit available at: http://www.scorm.com/scorm-explained/business-of-scorm/benefits-of-scorm/

    When is SCORM a Good Fit?

    SCORM is great in many contexts. You definitely want to be SCORM conformant if:

    -You want to integrate with other vendors.
    -You are creating a large library of learning objects
    -You are using an LMS to deliver and manage learning content
    -You are designing learning content that might be reused in other contexts
    -You are designing learning content that tracks learner performance
    -You are designing learning content that will monitor the learner and adapt according to the learner’s needs

    When is SCORM Not a Good Fit?

    SCORM is only useful in certain situations. Unfortunately there are occasionally requirements for SCORM where it doesn’t make sense, simply because it is a buzzword. SCORM is likely a poor fit or overkill if:

    -You are designing simple, static hyperlinked content (like a web page)
    -You just need to publish simple reference material
    -Your content is short lived and will only be used one time in one system
    -You are using a single internal system that will never change
    -You are using an LMS that is not designed to deliver and track online learning (classroom management systems are often termed “LMSs”)
    -You are developing non-traditional online learning. Traditional education is not always a good fit for SCORM. Advanced simulations and serious games are likewise difficult to do well using SCORM. SCORM can be applied to all of these scenarios, but it must be applied intelligently to provide benefit without being an obstacle.

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