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New cmi5 e-Learning Standard: Features and Prospects

Many LMS vendors are jumping on the cmi5 bandwagon. Course authors and instructors are facing the dilemma of whether to continue with SCORM or Tin Can – or take it to the next level. Check out this blog posting for the new format’s features and differentiators!

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By Scott Winstead

The cmi5 project was conceived and nurtured by the AICC (Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee) before it was picked up and merged into Tin Can development by the ADL (Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative). The goal of both committees was to deliver a feature-packed and stable solution that would mitigate the deficiencies of SCORM and xAPI. This summer, ADL officially released the Quartz version of the cmi5 specification, now available to the general public.

cmi5 is an xAPI protocol that caters to content execution scenarios in a learning management system. It’s key to understand that xAPI as-is doesn’t replace SCORM, since it’s only responsible for matching the learning experience with an LRS (learning record score). cmi5 comes in handy as a greater extension of SCORM. The new spec stipulates how courses are processed, opened and tracked by an LMS using the LRS.

Some e-Learning software companies have already incorporated cmi5 support into their products: Trivantis, Zavango Corp., iSpring Solutions, Rustici Software and other celebrated and not so well known brands.

So what is the edge of cmi5 over SCORM and Tin Can (xAPI)?

Differentiators of the cmi5 standard

As we are still very much dependent on the SCORM format, it makes sense to use SCORM as the benchmark first and see what cmi5 xAPI brings along, instead of obsolete or missing functionality.

Mobile learning support

When cmi5 is in place, learners may take their courses in mobile apps, even if there’s no active Internet connection. Once online, their progress and performance will get stored and transmitted to the LMS no matter what.

Any action is tracked

SCORM only allows course authors to track the basics like course completion and pass/fail parameters. With the highly scalable cmi5, you can register just about any student activity, including but not limited to audio and video recordings, elaborate essays, pictures, simulations, PDFs and so on.

Learning beyond the LMS

A bunch of interactive learning tools, social techniques, games and mobile-enabled creative tasks just can’t fit into the LMS framework. Whereas SCORM would leave all of the non-LMS content behind, cmi5 captures this activity as if it happened inside the learning management system.

Hassle-free implementation

Unlike SCORM, the cmi5 spec is just several pages long. Plus it’s basically an add-on to the more familiar xAPI, which makes further deployment even easier.

Improved performance and interoperability

Remember the old rule of thumb, store the LMS and the course on the same server? No need to do so anymore. cmi5 allows distributed content to be placed pretty much anywhere without causing any performance issues. With the cmi5 standard, only course structure imports for remote use instead of actual content, enabling quicker loading and less downtime. Rest assured the course will open with equal success in any LMS.

Somebody might argue these perks sound just like xAPI. That’s true up to a point, but cmi5 adds much more value to Tin Can than is discernible at first glance.

cmi5 has been commonly dubbed ‘xAPI with rules’ or ‘xAPI for LMS’ – and these definitions grasp the essence of the new standard.

So what exactly is a cmi5 xAPI rule? Usually, it includes a few verbs: Launched, Initialized, Completed, Passed, Failed, Abandoned, Waived, Terminated. These statements are used to match assignable units (AU) with an LMS, and correlate its data with the learning record score. That said, you may add more statuses to the list without any hazard to cmi5’s integrity. Hence, instructional designers get hold of a more structured yet wide-open standard that lets them track whatever parameters are required.

How does cmi5 benefit LMS developers and course authors?

cmi5 comes with a plethora of nice features for e-Learning pros and power users. These include:

  • Flexible launch options. AUs may be launched in the same window as the LMS or in a separate window. Besides, as implied before, assignable units may trigger any custom criteria required for their execution.
  • Dual content entitlement. cmi5 supports two entitlement scenarios: a) a key in the content structure, and b) another key defined at runtime with an algorithm catering to both the LMS and AU. Apparently, some developers belong in the pay-per-use camp. In this case, b) works just great allowing for a separate entitlement.
  • Elaborate completion parameters. Does ‘completed’ always stand for ‘passed’? Many LMS experts have locked horns with one another over this issue. cmi5 withdraws the question from the agenda by introducing a ‘move on’ parameter which, in its turn, can be ‘completed’, ‘passed’ or ‘completed and passed’.

An external factor worth considering: rumors have it that the U.S. Government will set forward xAPI support as an essential procurement requirement. Feel like selling to federal institutions? It might be high time to bid adieu to SCORM. As a Tin Can-based standard, cmi5 is a soft option for ensuring your bright market prospects and reaping the benefits of cutting edge e-Learning technology.

Here’s a general overview of SCORM, xAPI and cmi5 characteristics:

Comparative chart
Features SCORM Tin Can (xAPI) CMI5
LMS-to-AU-communication + +
Rules-based operation + +
Easy format implementation +/ +
Course sequencing +(from ver. 2004) + +
Completion, pass/fail, duration tracking + + +
Enhanced tracking options + +
Multi-score reporting + +
Online and offline availability + +
Distributed content and full interoperability +/ +
Mobile device compatibility + +

Bottom line

As we can see from a quick juxtaposition, cmi5 is essentially bridging SCORM and xAPI. It borrows the best from the two standards and resolves some glaring issues from the past. The flexibility of Tin Can along with SCORM’s universal applicability – this next-gen standard represents a fusion of both. The future prospects of cmi5 seem to be as bright as ever, given the growing awareness of its close-to-infinite tracking options and scalability.

To learn more about cmi5, its origins and development goals, watch a YouTube video of ADL’s Andy Johnson unveiling the new format.


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2 thoughts on “New cmi5 e-Learning Standard: Features and Prospects”

  1. Just adding my five cents… I think the choice of an e-Learning standard greatly depends on your goals. Trust me: SCORM 1.2 works just fine for 99% of modern schools and courses. It’s an obtuse format, but it did outlive many other AICC and ADL attempts. I believe the talks of appointing xAPI as the U.S. procurements standard are just talks. No one in the industry is interested in the earthquake effect this might cause.

    • Thanks, Jerry! I have to agree SCORM is not going anywhere anytime soon. I just think it’s a shame that many course authors fail to meet their goals because they lack data. And the only way to get more data is advanced 360 degree tracking of user activity. From this standpoint, cmi5 is sure on the right track.


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