From the start of the e-learning industry (which some date to the mainframe, green screen days of the 1960s but which everyone agrees was in full swing by the late 1980s), e-learning producers fell, roughly, into two categories: those that produced what came to be called authoring tools (the software needed to develop e-learning content) and those that produced learning management systems (LMS) (the systems that monitored who accessed which bits of e-learning, how long they spent on them and their test scores having completed the learning materials).
The downside of being part of this new, leading edge, creative industry in those days was that each producer had its own way of writing these tools and systems. This meant that any tool or system that you bought was proprietary. In other words, once you had bought one producer’s software, you tended to have to keep buying that producer’s software because other people’s software wouldn’t ‘talk’ to the software you already had.
This was good news for the producers (because they had a small but ‘captive’ market) but bad news for the buyers, who could never adopt a ‘best of breed’ buying strategy.
Over the years, there have been a number of international standards developed. In the LMS and related products world (including learning content management systems and talent management systems, for example), there is now the SCORM standard – which was introduced in 1999. However, there are some ‘issues’ with this standard. For one thing, there have been two concurrent SCORM standards: SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004 – although ADL, which administers SCORM, is now concentrating on SCORM 2004.
For another thing, systems software (still) does not have to conform to either of these standards (it’s a case of ‘caveat emptor’). Then again, producers have started to call their software ‘SCORM compliant’. Some buyers take this to mean that the software meets the requirements of SCORM 1.2 and/or SCORM 2004. In reality, all it means is that the producer thinks that SCORM is a ‘good thing’, would like its software to conform to the standard and, indeed, it might do so if anyone tested it. Only software that is ‘SCORM conformant’ or ‘SCORM certified’ has been objectively tested and found to be truly interoperable – allowing the buyer to adopt a ‘best of breed’ strategy because any other SCORM conformant piece of software will operate with any other SCORM conformant software.
Unfortunately, there are relatively few producers who have been prepared to spend the money to get their products tested objectively – to enable them to be found to be SCORM conformant and, thus, become SCORM certified.
Since these systems – LMS, LCMS and talent management systems for example – are important for ‘housing’ e-learning content, delivering it, monitoring its use, measuring the e-learning materials’ effectiveness and so on, it is important for the future development of the e-learning industry that buyers should be able to buy these systems with confidence, knowing that what they’ve bought will ‘talk’ to other bits of software related to e-learning and, indeed, to other parts of their organisation’s IT. Without this degree of confidence in the market, the e-learning industry will not grow as far or as fast as it could.