Course Standards: Where R We Heading?

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There has been a lot of information out there , okay, I’m kidding there hasn’t been much of anything when it comes to course standards.  At least not in a long time.

Rather the focus has been on course development and frankly, courses.  I’ll readily admit that regardless of the course standard you use, if you create click-click-click courses, than no course standard will make it engaging.  Bad is bad. Boring is boring.

Yet here we are wondering where the course standard industry is heading or at least presumed to be heading.

Will xAPI be the one standard that is “the” standard?  What about pesky SCORM?  Future Tech? Uses what? 

Something to Ponder

I wouldn’t call it pondering rather I would call it a huge misnomer in the entire authoring tool industry, course development industry – with vendors here – when it comes to course standards.

I’ve even seen it with LMS vendors.   Not everyone is in this boat, many are not, but let me say it loud and clear, ahem.. “They are not Compliance Standards.”  I see this with marketing pitches, “course compliance standard, or compliance standard,” – no, no it is not.

The industry does not have one standard that everyone uses and thus makes the entire e-learning world’s content/courses compliant. 

At one time, you could be “certified” with AICC and yes certified with SCORM, but why would you want to be?  I’ve never heard someone say, “Sheesh, I need an LMS that is SCORM certified, or what your authoring tool is not AICC certified? That’s it, I’m out of here.”

The funny thing or sad depending on your take, was the number of authoring tool vendors back in the early days, that said they were AICC certified, but when you went to the AICC web site, they weren’t.  

What’s In, What’s Out

Here is my take. I’m confident people out there will disagree, and okay, I’ll be very honest on this part – I won’t have a problem sleeping at  night, knowing that.


Past its due date. I still see course libraries that are only AICC.  The surprise? 

There are LMS vendors who no longer accept AICC.  This is why it is always a great idea to see what course standard(s) work with your LMS, prior to buying an authoring tool or any 3rd party courses.

Another whammy? More than a few LMS vendors adding AICC as their latest standard.  Here’s a novel idea, go with CMI-5 as your latest standard and remove AICC pronto!

AICC was a wonderful standard back in the good ol’ days, when there wasn’t any climate changes, the oceans were clean and unpolluted and the sky, oh the sky was a bright beautiful blue in LA.

Since the sky here in LA shows an often nice orange in the summer, to go with that blue, I think you know where I am going with this —

AICC – a good friend.  Time to retire.  And time for vendors to help this once big time standard to move on.


A few weeks back I was in London meeting with a course provider vendor who let me know that in their eyes, SCORM is dead.  CMI-5 is the new player in town (I’ll get to that in a bit).

I have mixed feelings on SCORM.  It’s pitch on interoperability never really came to pass – plenty of us back in the day and some in today’s world – know all about that.  

But SCORM is still a dominant player out there and to assume that it is resting in a nice funeral plot or will be, I think is jumping way ahead.

To me, for SCORM to move on, and for me, it is time as well, a few things have to happen:

  • Customer buy-in. This is not something that is going to happen over night or over a few weeks.  Plenty, plenty of people who go SCORM and nothing else. 

To make an assumption that they will just drop it and move to something else is foolish.  Look at how many people haven’t jumped over to xAPI – and that has been around for a few years.  

  • Vendor buy-in.  Egad!  How many vendors do you know that haven’t yet implemented xAPI?  What about SCORM 2004 3rd edition?  I hear it all the time from vendors who are in “wait mode” for xAPI.  Wait mode?  For what?  The Titanic to raise from its watery grave and give them a ride to St. Lucia?

I’m not just referring to LMS vendors, I’m referring to the e-learning industry – authoring tools, digital tools, etc. to add xAPI. 

  • Industry buy-in. How about those course development shops or 3rd party course party shops? What if you have $$$$$ invested in SCORM courses?  Hope you have a kickstarter campaign!

SCORM 1.2, 2004 3rd edition

If SCORM ends up going bye bye in the next couple of years, you have to ask yourself, where will 1.2 and 2004 (3rd edition) go? 

I think they will survive – but for how long?  Three years? Four? Five?  Part of the “unknown” factor is adoption rates to CMI-5 and specifically to future technology.

If VR takes off or say Microsoft HaloLens, then courses or content that can be utilized won’t need SCORM 1.2 or 2004 (3rd or 4th edition), at least in my opinion.  There will need to be another course standard, and neither of those are them. 

SCORM 2004 4th edition

Who still has it?  I know of a couple of vendors.   And they should get a party – you buy!


Sorry Cross you are not included. Ha, ha made a really bad funny. Seriously though, I’m a huge fan of PENS and while it has been tied to SCORM, in theory it could be an optional add-on (if you will) for CMI-5. 

PENS for those unaware was created by AICC in 2005, and in just the last two years has started to appear with a some LMS vendors and a small few of authoring tool vendors.

It offers a lot of wonderful capabilities, one of which is the auto push (PENS to PENS) of your course when you want to include it in your LMS (from your authoring tool) or update it in your authoring tool and push it to your LMS – without having to download and then upload it.

But PENS faces those same challenges as the demise of SCORM as related to buy-in.  My experience has been that very few vendors, let alone consumers are aware of PENS.  If you are not aware, then it is very likely that you won’t seek it out, nor inquire about it. 


Aka Experience API or its project name Tin Can.   xAPI is another standard that has been out for a few years, and goes in a swing in the sense that one minute it is hot, the next it is cold and now it is back to being hot.

But xAPI is facing some challenges as well.  Let’s take a gander at why!

  • Vendors who had bad experiences with other course standards (2004, 2004) are in a wait and see mode.  Shockingly they are worried that xAPI is not a finished product and as such, if they offer it, they may have to deal with issues with their solution or with an e-learning product using it (with mobile for example) and it not working correctly.

Sadly, they would be right – or at least in some cases. It seems like every month, I hear of at least one vendor or a consumer who built their course and outputted to xAPI and it isn’t working with the LMS on a mobile device.  OR it is not working correctly due to something with the authoring tool itself – being pushed out on mobile.

If the issue is mentioned to me, it always comes in twos:  data not being pushed back from the course to the LMS; and it is not working on their mobile device.

I can’t say why it works for some folks and not for others – best to ask your LMS vendor and authoring tool vendor if you are having problems, but I can say it is a work in progress.

Mount Rushmore took a few decades to get built. And in the end, you never got to see the full bodies of the folks, err, shoulders at least (money and time, squashed that).

While xAPI won’t take decades to get it right, it will take at least another year in my opinion.

And as noted, for some people there isn’t any type of issue.  But, we all want there to be no issues for anyone, nor any product – and just right now – at least from the feedback I get, this is not a universal standard that works 100%.


  • Already mentioned the issues that some consumers are reporting to me, and I strongly surmise there are others out there, who are not (letting me know)
  • Vendors who feel that “everything was tossed in” when the standard rolled out, and thus are holding back. 
  • Time.  Those vendors who are embracing it – either have rolled it out, or have it on their roadmap.  But it takes time.. oh and money, but let’s not mention that dirty word.
  • Customer knowledge –  If you know of it, you may not know of it – just as with any standard there are plenty of folks who are unsure how it works, what it can do – but they hear it mentioned, told they need it and thus tell the vendor they want it. 

Gets back to the “don’t know, won’t ask”.  The other issue, vendors who cannot explain it, beyond just something they read on the net.  Great, thanks for that.  Guess what? Many others can as well.


The future is here. Well, depending on whom you speak to. The new standard coming soon, but as noted with everything else, how quick it will be adopted by the vendors will play a monumental role in usage.

Then we are talking about each one of you – buying in to the capabilities of CMI-5, after all, it will be superior in so many ways (at least it is being pitched that way). 

I don’t doubt that it will be everything it is supposed to be, just like when SCORM came out and was marveled to be the wonder of the e-learning course world.

Call me cynical – No, not to my face or social media – but sadly, nothing in the course standard world rolls out without any hiccups or issues. 

On the positive note, with so many vendors out there, you can expect to see some jumping on the CMI-5 train early on, but equally expect to see many more waiting and watching. 

To get a better understanding of what CMI-5 is (using layman rather than technical jargon) I have asked my good friend and course standard expert, Paul Schneider, to explain it:

“CMI-5 is the next generation “standard” for communication between a Learning System (typically LMS) and content (your courses).

The standard makes sure everyone (the content/your LMS) agrees on how content is launched, authenticated, and the type of information tracked so you, the consumer, can count on your content/courses working with XYZ training/learning/LMS system and getting consistent results/tracking.”

But where does xAPI fit in?  According to Paul, “It takes the xAPI base and says okay, you can do anything, but here is what you can do and here are the guidelines for how it will be done.”

Bottom Line

I have to believe that some other course standard (at least one more) will roll out and tie effectively to stuff like VR content or who knows IoT (Internet of Things) course content.  I’m not seeing xAPI doing it.  I mean I’m sure someone will make it work, but how good will it be, especially with data?

That’s the question that just isn’t available right now. 


let’s see where CMI-5 goes.

I am confident, that it will be the next generation of what I hope will be multiple course standards.

Because as I see it,

Out with the old (SCORM, AICC) and in with the new.

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    1. LTI is totally education, I don’t know of one pure focused corporate LMS having it. I know of ones who target HE and Corporate that do. There just isn’t a demand for it on the business side.

  1. Going to leave a couple of things here.

    First, xAPI is part of the CMI5 spec. So when you mention CMI5, you’re really saying a stack of things that includes xAPI.

    Second, citing the reasons behind why things will / won’t / are still around is helpful to understanding why they are still around. One example: the primary reason AICC content continues to hang on? Cross-domain comms. The one thing that SCORM doesn’t do well that AICC does do well is cross-domain communication. CMI5 and xAPI both conquer this limitation, opening up the door for legacy AICC content to begin the long slow ride into the sunset.

    ** By the way, CMI5 was started by the AICC committee before it disbanded not long ago. So CMI5 is 21st century AICC more than anything else.

    Third, none of these specifications guarantee anything. You allude to this, but it’s critical to point out that these specifications merely increase the probability that things will play well together. And for the most part, they do. In some cases, the specs have increased the probability to 100% as long as stuff is interpreted well, technology hiccups notwithstanding. Over time, these probabilities have increased for both content generation tools and LMS products.

    SCORM and AICC will be around for awhile. CMI5 may pick up steam. xAPI is useful in many contexts and has already been employed in SCORM profiles for publishing from many of the market leading EZ button content generators. Initial releases reflected problems with statement compatibility. Most of these have been resolved and most of the available tools (Captivate, Storyline, Lectora) can be extended with libraries and a little bit of know-how and elbow grease to accomplish some pretty helpful stuff.

    Finally, this paragraph smacks of a poor understanding of what the spec is capable of and the purpose for which it was intended.

    “I have to believe that some other course standard (at least one more) will roll out and tie effectively to stuff like VR content or who knows IoT (Internet of Things) course content. I’m not seeing xAPI doing it. I mean I’m sure someone will make it work, but how good will it be, especially with data?”

    You could be right that some specification will likely emerge to support experiences atypical of those represented by content generation tools available today. Likewise for IoT. However, this doesn’t mean that xAPI couldn’t operate alongside or on top of these specifications. If you do not see xAPI in action, you’re not looking very hard:) Put some time in experimenting before attempting to pass judgment on one specification or another.

    1. I understand your take, but my sense is still the same – xAPI is a work in progress. We don’t know what VR content will look like, etc. – but based on what I know now and what I see – forecast, xAPI is likely not the answer. As for AICC I still think it should be kicked to the curb. There are LMSs today that do not support it. That should tell you something. Why keep a course standard that has been around since the early days? Do you still use a 2400 baud modem? What about 56.6Kbs? Are you surfing with Alta Vista? Netscape your choice? The point is everything changes and staying with a course standard that has outlived its usefulness is no longer needed. I mean I get the SCORM folks who want to kabash it as being dated.

      Just as I get and do believe that ADDIE is outdated. Kirkpatrick? How many authoring tools support that? Better yet, how many consumers know what it is?

      As for my explanation, the point of this blog is to provide details in layman terms, not to dive into a deep ID and technical info – plenty of sites do that.

      Oh and PENS was also started by AICC in 2005 – it is just now (ok, starting last year) being added to solutions.

      My info regarding CMI-5 came from two different ID sources, and thus I appreciate your additional insight on it. – TY.

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