More reasons to mistrust SCORM

SCORM – the Shareable Courseware Object Reference Model is a standard for interchange of web-based learning materials. It is strongly promoted by Becta and Curriculum Online as the enabler of a golden age of e-learning in which teachers will have access to an inexhaustible supply wonderful interactive multimedia thingies that that will bring joy, light, good behaviour and quick learning to every classroom.

I, on the other hand, am a little sceptical.

I have long distrusted SCORM for two reasons. First, it was invented by and for the US Navy. The Navy invents new ways to kill people so frequently that classroom instruction just can’t keep up. The big problem is that what the military wants to teach is nearly all procedures. Remember Kipling’s “Today we have Naming of Parts”? It’s a great poem for anyone whose life depends on being able to assemble his rifle in the correct order, but you have to admit it’s not very strong on evaluation. SCORM, as a standard, has a strong bias towards learning procedure – and hence a bias against more complex learning styles.

The second reason is the SCORM objects I see at shows like BETT. At first glance, they look great. They are typically written in Flash. They are colourful, animated and have lots of drag-and-drop animation. This in itself is a good thing – but it’s achieved at the cost of shallowness. Research, empathy, debate, higher-order learning of all kinds are squeezed out, because the standard won’t support them. To add insult to injury, the graphics that so impress a middle-aged man like me cut very little ice with a teenager raised on the complex 3-D gameplay of Sega and Nintendo. The hoped-for engagement very quickly wears off.

Now it turns out there’s some academic thinking to back up my skepticism. In a paper called Three Objections to Learning Objects, Norm Friesen of Athabasca University cites a growing body of research that suggests SCORM is not the panacea it was once cracked up to be. Most tellingly he says

Dan Rehak, one of the “chief architects” behind SCORM, has stated that this framework, has “a limited pedagogical model unsuited for some environments” (as cited in Kraan & Wilson, 2002). “SCORM,” Rehak says, “is essentially about a single-learner [whose learning is] self-paced and self-directed. This makes it inappropriate for use in [higher education] and K-12” (Kraan & Wilson, 2002).

SCORM isn’t necessary to making elearning work in schools. I argued two years ago that much greater richness could be achieved if we simply put the interoperability at a different point in the process, in a white paper called Enabling e-learning success through a richer mix of learning processes (PDF) The principles I laid out are now enshrined in a thing called the “Schools Interoperability Framework”, though I can’t claim anything more than an indirect influence on SIF’s creators.

But that’s for another post.


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3 responses to “More reasons to mistrust SCORM”

  1. “Today we have Naming of Parts”
    Is a poem by Henry Reed. Not Kipling. It is a second world war poem, a time by which time Kipling was dead.


  2. This is a pretty old page now, but I’ve just come across it. Have to agree that there’s a built-in pedagogy to SCORM that’s pretty depressing – and there’s a distinct absence of any kind of collaborative elements. The reason I think you’re going to see more of it is that developers, desperate to find a common standard to write to now that they have at least 10 different environments to work with, are forced into using SCORM as some baseline of compatibility.

    That said – you can use it as simply that: a way to make your package compatible with a system. Basically, SCORM can be just a wrapper for anything we want to do and I think you’ll find that there will be at least some packages out there that use SCORM as a way in under the wire ;o)

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