SCORM vs TinCan (xAPI): What You Need To Know?


Packaging, reporting results and tracking students in your training content is an important part of eLearning.  SCORM and TinCan (xAPI) allow you to do this and it is important to know what each of the international specifications do for you with your eLearning deployment.

What you need to know about SCORM and TinCan (xAPI):

  • SCORM
    • Main Purpose
    • Available Versions
    • Trackable Content
    • How To Use
  • TinCan
    • Main Purpose
    • Tracking Capabilities
    • How Does It Work
    • How To Use
  • Compliant LMS
  • Side-By-Side Comparison
    • Trackable Content
    • Requirements
    • Reporting Capabilities
  • Conclusion

Let’s take a look at each section to determine what exactly each tool does and what you need to know about the two specifications. 

SCORM

Shareable Content Object Reference Model (commonly referred to as SCORM) is a set of technical standards. It allows teachers to package their training content and use them on multiple learning management systems (LMS). 

SCORM is composed of smaller sections called SCO (Shareable Content Object). These can be anything from one specific piece of training content (pdf, a video, an image etc.) to complete lessons. 

Main Purpose

The main purpose of this technical standard is to allow teachers to create once and deploy anywhere. It means that after you create eLearning you can use it on any LMS you want to. 

This function is especially useful when you have to migrate your course from one system to another (e.g. Moodle to Blackboard).  It also means if you are selling the training content it is able to be packaged in a way it will work for whoever buys it on their LMS.

Besides increasing the interoperability of the learning management systems, SCORM packages allow any user to enjoy an optimized experience. Regardless of the device the prepacked training content will adapt to the appropriate hardware specifications. 

For example, if your students are using a mobile device (Android or iOS) then the training content will automatically adapt to their screen resolution. 

Available Versions

There are three versions of SCORM packaging standard available on the market:

  • SCORM 1.1
  • SCORM 1.2
  • SCORM 2004

With each new version the features have been enhanced and the reporting and tracking capabilities that integrate with the LMS have improved.

SCORM 2004, where the number is the year of release is the most current version. Of the new features the important one is related to navigation between SCOs. It allows educators to configure a set of actions that are taken when students pass from one object to another.  For example the tracking of the completion of the eLearning and assessment of results.

To learn more about the previous versions of SCORM and what exactly has improved over the years I suggest taking a look at the following article:

ARTICLE:  SCORM Versions: the Evolution of eLearning Standards 

Trackable Content

SCORM eLearning packages allow for student progress to be tracked.  It also contains the ability to mark off the eLearning if over a certain percentage of the eLearning has been completed by the student if you are not marking the module.

The tracking capabilities include:

  • Students’ Answers in Quizzes
  • Final Scores of Exams
  • Lesson Completion Rate
  • Time Spent on Each Task
  • And more. 

How To Use

To turn your training content into a SCORM package you need to use an authoring or packaging tool. These tools come with plenty of features that allow you to create, edit, and optimize the eLearning content you deliver to your students. 

If you want to see my recommendations in terms of authoring tools I suggest taking a look at the Recommended Tools page.

One of the most popular authoring tools available on the market is Articulate Storyline 3. Besides its powerful functions, you can export your content to SCORM and use it as a training package. 

Other publishing options available when using Storyline 3 are:

  • Web Distribution
  • Articulate Online 
  • LMS Distribution
    • TinCan
    • SCORM
    • AICC
  • Other Local Media
    • CD/DVD
    • USB/Network Drive
    • Kiosk
    • Email

To learn more about how to publish and/or share your training content using Articulate Storyline 3, I suggest reading the following article:

ARTICLE: Articulate Storyline 3: How to Publish and Share your Content 

If you think that this tool lacks certain functions I recommend taking a look at the software suite called Articulate 360. To find out which are the differences between the two above-mentioned tools you might want to read the following article.

ARTICLE: Articulate 360 vs Storyline 3: Which Is Better For You?

Other SCORM-compliant authoring tools are:

TinCan

As times change so does the eLearning. Considering the fast development of the current learning management systems and content creation tools, educators felt the need of an improved packaging solution. 

Ever since 2002, SCORM 1.2 could not keep up with the changes that took place in the learning industry. A new version was released in 2004. SCORM 1.3 received a name. It was called Project Tin Can, a reference to the way of communicating using tin cans and wires. 

It included plenty of improvements compared to its older brothers. All the issues that users have been pointing out during the latest years were resolved before the release of Tin Can. Since 2004 Tin Can is commonly used for packaging training content for online courses. 

SCORM 1.3 is commonly referred to as:

  • Project Tin Can
  • ExperienceAPI (API stands for Application Programming Interface)
  • Tin Can
  • xAPI

Main Purpose

Tin Can was the working name title and it has since been changed to the Experience API or shortened to xAPI.  This is essentially the next version of SCORM but a lot more advanced.  It still allows for the same features as SCORM but was upgraded.  Keep in mind that without a compliant LMS you can not take advantage of these features.

Tracking Capabilities

The tracking capabilities of xAPI are way better compared to SCORM (1.1 and 1.2). Online teachers can take advantage of an advanced reporting function that provides them with heaps of possibilities in terms of activity tracking. 

The most commonly tracked activities using ExperienceAPI are:

  • Games
  • Simulations
  • Informal Learning
  • Real-World Performance
  • Offline Learning
  • Interactive Learning
  • Blended Learning
  • Team-Based Education

How Does It Work

Tin Can uses a simple syntax that includes 3 components. This way, it is able to track any type of content using a set of predetermined assets and actions. 

The xAPI components are:

  • Noun (Person)
  • Verb (Action)
  • Object (Subject)

I have listed a few examples so you can get a better understanding of how Tin Can syntax works.

NounVerbObject
GlenCompleted Chapter 1
BrownPassedFinal Exam
Glen BrownWatched Introduction in History video

Now you should be able to understand why xAPI is capable of tracking basically any type of content or activity. These three variables allow for you to track any type of interaction by the student.

You can easily convert the old SCORM training content (1st and 2nd version) into ExperienceAPI compliant content. Please note that the conversion can only be made one way. Therefore, you can not convert xAPI content into SCORM 1.2.  This is often referred to in software as only forward compatible. 

To learn more about how to convert your previously created training content into Tin Can compliant packages I suggest taking a look at the following article. It also contains useful information if you are interested in the CMi5 packaging tool. 

ARTICLE: How to Convert SCORM to xAPI or CMI5 (Complete Guide) 

How To Use

When it comes to creating Tin Can packaged content you can take advantage of one of the above-mentioned authoring tools. These eLearning development and packaging tools will speed up your content creation and leave the resulting content in a compliant format.

After creating your content you will have to export it using xAPI feature integrated into most of the authoring tools. Say you are using Storyline 3 or Articulate 360. Both of these tools allow users to export their training content directly to the LMS they are working with. To do so you will have to select Export > LMS Distribution > Tin Can

To learn more about how to integrate Tin Can into your learning management system I recommend taking a look at the following article.

ARTICLE: How Do You Use Tin Can with Your LMS?

Compliant LMS 

There are plenty of SCORM compliant LMS available on the market and if the LMS is not compliant you can upload your training content to the SCORM Cloud and link to it from your website or LMS.  The same goes for TinCan (xAPI) and we will discuss them below.

The most popular Tin Can compliant LMS are:

Each LMS features certain advantages and disadvantages. Let’s find out which one works best for your online course. 

Canvas

https://www.instructure.com/canvas/

Canvas hosted learning management systems. This way you will not have to worry about getting your own hosting provider or paying for a customized domain. This subscription-type service is generally intended for institutions. However, you can successfully use it for your individual course. Its subscription fee reflects the exact features that you are going to benefit from. 

The features it includes are similar to Moodle. The support they provide for their customers is a major difference. It allows you to get personalized solutions for any technical issue you encounter.

If you can not make up your mind between Canvas and Moodle I strongly suggest taking a look at the following article. It contains a comparison between the two LMS revealing the most relevant aspects that will guide your decision. 

ARTICLE: Canvas Vs Moodle: Which is better for online teachers?

TalentLMS

https://www.talentlms.com/

TalentLMS is a quite popular corporate learning management system available worldwide. It is compatible with both SCORM 1.2 and xAPI. The complete list of features TalentLMS provides can be found in the Features section on the official website.

It offers a free subscription plan that allows educators to run up to 10 courses with 5 users associated with each one. Depending on the exact requirements you state for your desired LMS, TalentLMS offers a wide variety of pricing plans. To find out which one works best for you I suggest taking a look at the Pricing section on the website.

Moodle

http://moodle.org

Moodle is one of the most popular learning management systems. It is an open-source tool, meaning that anyone can download, install, and use it without paying for a subscription. The only cost that an online educator may have to consider is related to hosting. 

This LMS comes allows its users to choose between two different hosting options:

  • Self-Hosted
  • Cloud-based

The first option requires you to have a custom hosting provider. It is very useful if you are planning on running a website in parallel with your course. This website can be used to advertise your course and recruit online students. I suggest taking a look at the Recommended Tools page to find out my recommendations in terms of hosting providers. 

The second option is called cloud-based and it allows users to take advantage of Moodle without worrying about owning a custom domain. This method involves paying a monthly subscription fee that is calculated in accordance with the number of users you are planning on adding to your course. 

Its functions include but are not limited to:

  • Assessment and Grading Methods
  • User Security Management
  • Live Conferencing (using BigBlueButtonBN)
  • Mobile app (both for students and teachers)
  • Payment Handling Methods

To learn more about its functions and to see the complete list of included features you should take a look at the Moodle complete list of features.

To learn more about how to use Moodle to host your Tin Can packaged training content, you can take a look at the following articles: All Moodle Articles

Blackboard

https://www.blackboard.com

Blackboard is another great learning management system you can use for your online course. This LMS requires a paid subscription. Compared to Moodle and other free LMS Blackboard provides built-in technical support.

When it comes to the available resource, Blackboard performs way better than Moodle. The most important resources that can be uploaded to the Blackboard LMS are:

  • File – you can upload any file format with supporting files (for example an HTML page embedded images)
  • Books – series of HTML pages with a table of contents and navigation button 
  • Lessons – set of content pages or instructional activities with a navigation button
  • Certificates – provide recognition for students’ achievements 
  • URL – direct link to a website or an external file
  • Sections – similar to Folders, it helps to organize your course resources and activities

Its price is not shown on the official website. To receive an offer for your necessities, you have to get in touch with the Blackboard team. When asking for a quote, you should be ready to define the number of students that will enroll in your course, your domain of activity, and your purposes.

According to users’ posts on different forums, the total cost of Blackboard for every student is 1,200 per year. The average price for a class (20 students and 1 teacher) is about 24,000 USD. 

If you can not decide between Moodle and Blackboard I suggest carefully reading the following article. It contains all the information you could possibly need to make up your mind and make a well-researched decision.

ARTICLE: Blackboard vs. Moodle: How To Choose What Works For You?

Side-By-Side Comparison

Now you know the most important aspects about both of the above mentioned packaging solutions. Let’s figure out which one is suitable for your online course.

Trackable Content

ContentSCORM (1.1 & 1.2)Tin Can (xAPI)
TimeYesYes
CompletionYesYes
GamesNoYes
SimulationsNoYes
Offline ActivitiesNoYes

Requirements

RequirementSCORM (1.1 & 1.2)Tin Can (xAPI)
Internet BrowserYesNo
LMSYesNo
Internet ConnectionYesNo

Reporting Capabilities

CapabilitySCORM (1.1 & 1.2)Tin Can (xAPI)
Maximum Reported Scores1Multiple
Pass / Fail ExamYesYes
Detailed ReportingNoYes
StatisticsNoYes

Conclusion

So now you understand that TinCan or the Experience API (xAPI) is just the next generation of the SCORM eLearning packaging, reporting and tracking standards.  While not all LMS are xAPI compliant yet they will be and all the eLearning Bundling and Packaging tools will already allow you to make xAPI files.

If you are using your own custom Learning Management System you may want to build in the xAPI compatibility to future proof your training website.  Or if you are using one of the off the shelf LMS above make sure you have the appropriate plugin or add on loaded to do this for you.

Glen Brown

I am a Technical Trainer and Manager with over 20 years experience in IT, Education and Business. I have multiple qualifications on each topic including post graduate qualifications. I have a passion for sharing knowledge and using technology to do this. If you would like to know more about me please see the about page of the website.

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