If you are looking for a platform to sell online courses, there is a a good chance you will come across the term “SCORM” at some point. But what is SCORM? And, when it comes right down to it, does SCORM matter for selling online courses?
First, What is SCORM?
SCORM, which is an acronym for the Shareable Content Object Reference Model, is the most widely recognized set of technical standards in the e-learning world. There are a number of issues it was created to address, but one of the most fundamental is providing a standard way for e-learning course content to “talk” to the software used to deliver it, and for the software to talk back.
If you think about your own online courses (or future courses, if you are still in the planning stages), it is not too difficult to see why this might be important. Chances are pretty good that you are going to want at least some information about what learners actually do in your courses. You may want to know, for example:
- Whether a learner has started a particular piece of content
- How much time she has spent in it
- Whether she has completed it and passed or failed
- What score she got on the assessment
Somehow all of this information has to be captured, and very often, information about one action – like passing an assessment – will lead to another action – like awarding completion status for a course. And, of course, at some point you will probably want to be able to run a report to help you see whether all of the right things seem to be happening.
SCORM provides a set of “packaging” and runtime guidelines for making all of this happen in a consistent way. If the e-learning content (e.g., a course) follows SCORM guidelines, and the software used to host and deliver the course also adhere SCORM packaging and runtime guidelines, then everything plays well together and life is good.*
But, Does SCORM Matter?
As the above section suggests, the information that SCORM handles is pretty important. But, it is also information that can be handled in other ways.
For example, many of the online course platforms most popular with subject matter entrepreneurs feature authoring tools that enable you to create course pages within their systems and import video clips and other content elements. These systems usually have proprietary ways of tracking what learners do in a course and providing you with reports. They don’t rely on SCORM packaging, and arguably they give you everything you need without SCORM.
But, here’s the rub – if you take your content out of these systems, it is highly unlikely you will be able to take it into another system and have it play and track in the same way – at least, not without a lot blood, sweat, and tears.
Additionally, if your aim is to sell your online courses to businesses or governmental organizations, a large percentage of them are going to have learning management systems (LMSes) that are designed to play and track SCORM-based content, not the stuff that you create in the average $0 to $99-a-month online course platform.
So, there are definitely situations in which the answer to “Does SCORM matter?” is emphatically “Yes!”
The trick, of course, is you have to decide whether any of these situations apply to you.
If you offer only a handful of courses and they are not particularly complicated – mainly video files and a handful of quizzes, for example – then the upside of using a low cost, user-friendly system now may far outweigh any future costs or pain associated with moving your content to a different system.
If, on the other hand, you intend to crank out a pretty high volume of courses and they rely on navigating through a significant number of HTML pages, think twice about ignoring SCORM. You don’t want to build out a ton of content now in a proprietary system only to figure out later that you should have built it in a tool that can easily create SCORM-compliant content (like IsEazy, Adobe Captivate, or any of the Articulate products).
Similarly, if you really have no plans to sell into corporate or government clients, then worrying about SCORM may add a level of complexity to your business that just doesn’t make sense. But if you see these kinds of clients as integral to your business model, then SCORM does matter.
I suspect most solopreneur subject matter experts do not really need to worry about SCORM – which is why most of the platforms that target this group ignore it – but make that assessment as early in your planning as possible.
Bottom line: SCORM does matter in certain situations. Be clear about whether it matters in yours.
*I’ve oversimplified my explanation a fair amount to stay focused on what I think matters most for my readers. If you want to dig into SCORM in more depth, though, I recommend starting with SCORM Explained.