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SCORM 1.2 vs 2004: Pros and Cons of e-Learning Old-timers

Greatly overshadowed by xAPI and cmi5, the battle-hardened SCORM standard still bears the palm. This article unveils the key differences between SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004 and explains how the later version benefits course authors. Read on for details!

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By Scott Winstead

What is SCORM anyway? In fact, it’s a means of communication between learning content and an LMS, and submitting students’ results for further analysis. With all frankness, SCORM is not that great at tracking learner performance – anything aside from course completion, duration and fail/pass status is beyond its scope. However, the advent of the much more advanced formats, Tin Can (xAPI) and the brand-new cmi5, doesn’t seem to shatter SCORM’s current market position. Introduced over a decade ago, SCORM remains the most popular e-Learning standard, like it or not.

The point of this article is to provide a brief overview of SCORM 1.2 vs. 2004, and deduce how one version beats the other. Ver. 1.2 is probably the most widespread standard in the industry, and for a reason. With 1.2, uploading a course to an LMS is merely uploading a ZIP archive; what could be simpler? Back in 2001, it was a real breakthrough and a death sentence to the AICC format. Sadly, ver. 1.2 misses out on some essential modern features that SCORM 2004 takes care of, such as sequencing and navigation improvements.

Let’s get our feet wet in this debate and see which party we side with at the end of the day.

Which one wins the field?

To start off, we might speculate on the character length of suspend data: 1.2 supports 4096 characters, as opposed to 4000 in the initial 2004 editions, although the 3rd iteration of SCORM 2004 (released in 2006) waived the limitation by allowing 64,000 characters (a 15x increase!).

Other petty issues might come up if we do a little hairsplitting, however the substantial differentiators between the two editions are few. Simply put, SCORM 2004 delivers three crucial advantages over 1.2: content sequencing, status separation and read-write interactions.

What is this all about?

  • Sequencing. Once incorporated in the SCORM 2004 spec, it sounded like rocket science to many, yet the principle behind this is easy as pie. Ver. 2004 provides a number of rules that define the order in which students access content. The rules restrict the learner experience to predefined paths and allow students to save their results and resume later. Plus, content developers can limit access to specific course units based on previous material-flow and learner performance.
  • Status separation, or the Completed or Passed Conundrum. SCORM 1.2 offers a single value to store course statuses (complete, incomplete, failed, attempted, browsed). There is no way to discern if a learner who completed the course passed the final quiz or not. SCORM 2004 fixes this issue by separating completion and success statuses.
  • Read-write interactions. For some obscure reason, interaction details in SCORM 1.2 have been made write-only. In SCORM 2004, all interactions are specified as read/write so you can look through the status of past interactions, pull the results and avoid confusion in the future.

On the plus side, SCORM 1.2 is easy to implement for LMS developers. There is no problem with server-side support or building hosts, it works on virtually any platform and covers the essential needs of many instructional designers and organizations.

The downside of SCORM 1.2 is the lack of details. In our age, it’s crucial to get as much information and feedback as possible to see if you can make improvements on the fly or adjust the course to your audience.

SCORM 2004 did address a good deal of 1.2’s deficiencies, yet it’s considered a more complicated solution to implement, so part of our conservative industry still neglects the value of metadata and content sequencing and sticks to the completed/passed/failed paradigm.

Here is a chart that unveils all the key SCORM features in a single place. Take a good look and judge for yourself.

Comparative chart
Features SCORM 1.2 SCORM 2004
Easy to implement + /+
Content Sequencing +
Separate statuses for completion and success +
Restricted access to select units +
Read/write interactions +
Universal compatibility + /+

In conclusion

The SCORM 1.2/2004 dilemma is best resolved based on developers’ and instructional designers’ actual needs. Ver. 1.2 does fall behind in terms of metadata and tracking options, yet ver. 2004 is, in its turn, inferior to the latest developments of xAPI. SCORM 1.2 simply does its job and may suffice within most use cases. Obviously, we are not talking e-Learning 4.0 here, but it’s a nice starting point for beginners or conservatives who do not require redundant information.

In my opinion, SCORM is here to stay as long as you can click the “Convert PowerPoint to SCORM” button in your authoring tool of choice and sit back in your chair. How long will it take to eradicate SCORM from the industry landscape? Well, it might be in my lifetime but I wouldn’t count on it…


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Many thanks!

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