Sunday, July 12, 2009

Is it important to know instructional design to create SCORM compliant courses?

The set of questions below were raised by a friend that triggered of the post that follows:

If SCORM is a technical specification, does it interest, content providers, Instruction Designers, Project Managers ?

Content providers will quickly see how SCORM helps implement reusable learning objects.

Instructional designers will identify reusable content and content sequencing strategies that can be successfully implemented with SCORM.

Project Managers will realize development, time, and cost savings when a strategic plan for implementing reusable content is identified and carried out.

SCORM is a set of technical standards. Very true. However, there is Instructional Design involved that forms the backbone for a SCORM compliant course.

I'll try to summarize my perspective.

SCORM is based on the Learning Object (LO) model--not to be confused with learning objectives that stem from Bloom. Learning objects can be defined as the smallest unit of learning that makes contextual sense. Learning Objects are any digital resource that can be reused to support learning. According to David Wiley, in Connecting Learning Objects to Instructional Design Theory: The main idea of 'learning objects' is to break educational content down into small chunks that can be reused in various learning environments, in the spirit of object-oriented programming.

This means, if I create a learning object on the basics of behavioral psychology, it should be applicable to a course on psychology, on education, on behaviour, etc. This means analyzing and chunking content in a manner that leads to the creation of such "self standing" learning objects that can be used across/permuted and combined in multiple courses to form new "packages".

Once these LOs are put together to form a course and course made technically SCORM compliant, these become searchable and can be picked up by a course administrator/content manager/course designer to form new programs.

Here's an example: An LO on each of the following from different programs and even from different LMSs can create a whole new program:
~a module on the basics of behavioral psychology (from a psychology course)
~a module on adult learning theory (from learning theories)
~a module on short term and lon term memory (from workings of memory)

Can be combined to create a program on how to design courses for adult learners.

To aid designing of content in this manner (i.e., ensure that each Module or Topic is an LO and can be understood within the context of the course it is in as well as outside of it), it is imperative for an ID to understand the workings of SCORM. The technical aspect is related to the LMS and searchabilty and tracking; however, without a sound design in the creation, the searchability will only remain a function and not serve the purpose it is designed to serve.

The purpose of SCORM is to enable repeatability, durability, accessibility and shareability and thus reduce the cost of training for an organization over a period of time.

Once an organization has a sufficient number of SCORM compliant courses, they can use these in different permutations and combinations for different employees depending on the training need. Thus, each component of a SCORM compliant course must be absolutely self standing and capable of delivering learning value.

There is debate about the ideal length of an LO. There are proponents who suggest that an LO should not be more than 10 mins in length. However, the criteria should not be just the time, which could lead to the creation of LOs that are so short as to have lost the contextual meaning.

I will elaborate on the concept of LO that is based on the principles derived from Software Engineering: cohesion and decoupling.


  1. Sahana,

    This is great stuff! SCORM is a buzzword that although I have seen in my contract descriptions, I have not given a deep thought to. Why? Because most of the software that I use has the ability to publish directly to SCORM. But this definitely drives home the point that it is important to know SCORM and what it is in a bit more detail.


  2. Hi Robert,
    Thank you so much for the feedback. I would love to be able to discuss such topics/issues and learn from all of you.

    Thanks a lot for the encouraging comment once again...



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