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Micah Fairchild Top 5 Unseen Issues of Learning Management Software and SCORM

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 By Micah Fairchild

5 Little Known Issues of Learning Management System Standards

It's clear that the world of training and development has changed—in fact even the word "training" has been widely deemed as passé within just the past few years. Now, "learning" is king, and with the addition of new HR software and new delivery methods, all signs are pointing to the fact that Learning Management Systems are increasingly being looked to as the mechanism to achieve true results from these initiatives. Whether it be e-learning, m-learning, cloud-based, or open-source, organizations are gradually recognizing that in order for results to materialize, content must be effective, available, and deployable from anywhere and at any time—regardless of platform, system, or specification. In order for that to happen though, standards are needed so that content can move back and forth across any device or system.

Driven out of a late 1990s DOD (U.S. Department of Defense) need to consolidate learning efforts on multiple systems and platforms, the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) was created to handle the inefficiencies of managing multiple learning management software (LMS) vendors via the creation of accepted standards of XML and JavaScript. Today, SCORM is the most widely accepted collection of these specifications, and organizations that have adopted SCORM benefit from interoperability, increased accessibility, and constant reusability of online learning content. Yet, for all the positive press and benefits, few organizations truly understand the hidden dangers that lie with the SCORM moniker. In this report, we've outlined the top 5 unseen issues that need to be considered when selecting Learning Management System vendors and evaluating their SCORM offerings.

Unseen LMS Software Issue # 1: Backwards SCORM Compatibility

Just as you don't want to keep running out to buy the latest Smartphone due to obsolescence, you want to make sure that the HR software vendor you choose for your Learning Management System has the ability to communicate with each and every version of SCORM (as of print, there are 5 usable versions) on the market. Given the fact that mobile learning is moving at a blistering pace; that standards are being created and deployed in other countries as we speak; and that more HR software vendors set up shop every day for content creation, the ability to maintain compatibility across numerous SCORM incarnations is (and will continue to be) important for accessibility, consistency and security sakes.

Unseen LMS Software Issue # 2: SCORM Conformance Level

When it comes to SCORM, there can be a world of difference between software vendors that fully conform to SCORM standards and those that barely qualify. Even within the parameters of specific versions, varying levels of standards adherence is defined. For example, SCORM version 1.2 has three levels of interoperability ranging from fully-supporting the model to just paying "lip service" (LMS-RTE1; LMS-RTE2; and LMS-RTE3).

When it comes to querying prospective learning management software vendors on their respective conformance levels certain tools are at your disposal that you should avail yourself of if possible. One, the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL) offers certification audits for each of the active SCORM versions which (if passed) characterize a given vendor as fully supportive of the SCORM principles and standards (though certification only applies to one version at a time). However, given the time and money certification takes, and the other conformance avenues available, software vendor certification should not be seen as a make or break proposition. Instead, consider looking into ADL's conformance auditing practices (called test suite logs) which test within the same SCORM parameters, and offer a legitimate alternative to determining conformance outside of strict certification.

Unseen LMS Software Issue # 3: SCORM Scalability

An issue that can present itself as a problem in a number of learning management software implementation scenarios is that of scalability—that is to say, how well does the solution accommodate growth? Learning Management Systems are at particular risk of scalability problems due to the fact that a) several course types report back massive amounts of data, and b) many course types are simply comprised of massive files—especially those that require the use of interactive features. As such, for larger companies especially, full-scale demos should be set-up prior to software vendor selection. If learning management vendors don't want to acquiesce to this request then--at a minimum--documented "scaling" figures from similarly-situated organizations should be reviewed.

Unseen LMS Software Issue # 4: System Diagnostics

Few things draw as much ire from end-users and IT folks alike as delaying their ability to use the LMS system. Whether the reason is innocuous user error or something serious enough to require debugging, the truth is that immediate and swift action is often required. Because of this, having the ability to run timely and accurate system diagnostics is a must-have for any learning management system. Typically these problems revolve around content formatting, run-time exchanges, and sequencing rules, so software vendor reviews need to include a section to determine what (if any) diagnostic tools are included.

Unseen LMS Software Issue # 5: System Testing

Yes…we have both a Diagnostics section and a Testing section because these are two very different elements of determining whether a given LMS vendor's solution is right for you—of which "testing" is simply the checking and re-checking of your work prior to launch (also called "sandboxing"). For example, let's say you have a mobile-recruitment software solution that needs to have an approval process flow changed. Do you make the necessary changes to the system while it's still being used and work the kinks out as they come? Or, do you have an exact replica of the learning system partitioned somewhere that allows for making system changes outside of the "live" software before implementing back into the LMS system? Hopefully, your answer is the latter, because few tools are as great for software implementation as a separate (but precise) testing environment. However, it should be noted that problems can arise quickly if the testing environment is used for ulterior purposes (like learning and development or content creation).

Effectively Managing SCORM Learning Management Software Solutions

To be sure, given the fact that SCORM has been around for decades, no LMS software vendor worth listening to should even balk at discussing these issues with you. Even so, any one of these issues could slip under the radar when sizing up vendors. Likewise, conforming to the SCORM standards should not be seen as the be-all-end-all of your Learning Management System. Rather, SCORM is just one of many valuable pieces of the learning and development puzzle that each organization has to complete on their own. End

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ADL's conformance auditing practices (called test suite logs) test within the same SCORM parameters, and offer a legitimate alternative to determining conformance outside of strict certification."


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