Learning technologies — a non technical introduction to SCORM, xAPI, Tin Can and LRS


Learning technology is the term used to cover the broad range of equipment and online services that can be used to support learning, continued professional development, personal development, teaching and assessment.

Learning technology might encompass anything including, but not limited to online learning platforms such as LMS’s and VLE’s, electronic whiteboards and mobile apps, games based simulations and more besides.

If you’re new to the world of e-learning and in particular online learning platforms such as LMS’s and VLE’s then you’ll be hearing terms such SCORM, Tin Can, xAPI and whether or not something or other is compliant or not. You may be wondering what this all means. You may also be contemplating if and why they are important to you.

This article explains SCORM, xAPI, Tin Can and LRS learning technologies in a completely non-technical way in order to help you understand what they mean for you and your organisation.


Setting the scene for learning technologies

Let’s start with a learning platform, usually referred to as an LMS, onto which you load your training content (e-learning resources). That content is then accessed by your users over the Internet by logging into the LMS.

An LMS helps your users access content via the internet

An LMS helps your users access content via the internet

Learning technologies like SCORM help ensure compatibility and interoperability

  • 'SCORM' stands for 'Sharable Content Object Reference Model'
  • 'Shareable Content Objects' (the 'SCO' of SCORM) are e-learning modules such as videos, reading materials, quizzes, etc
  • 'Reference Model' (the 'RM' of SCORM) means it’s a clearly defined set of rules (that’s become a de facto standard)

Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) is a collection of ‘standards’ and specifications for e-learning. In very simple terms SCORM defines how the actual e-learning content is packaged and also how it communicates with the LMS.

SCORM defines how your e-learning content is packaged

SCORM as a common interface

If you want to have a meaningful conversation with another human being then it’s a pre-requisite that you’re able to speak the same language and follow the same set of rules for interaction. Let’s call this sharing a common interface. Once you’ve conducted your conversation with the other person using this common interface (let’s say the English language) then you should be able to comprehend each other and report on the outcome of that dialogue to others.

Think of SCORM in a similar way — it’s a common interface that allows e-learning content to interact with a learning platform in a meaningful and standardised manner.

SCORM is a common interface that allows e-learning content to interact with a learning platform

SCORM compliance explained

SCORM compliance simply means that your e-learning content and/or your Learning Management System (LMS) adheres to the rules of the SCORM standard so that the e-learning content and the learning platform (LMS) can interact properly.

Most suppliers will refer to SCORM 1.1 or SCORM 1.2 or SCORM 2004 compliance. These are just different versions of the standard and nowadays its most common to see systems and content listed at SCORM 1.2 and 2004 compliant or SCORM1.2/2004 compliant.


Does your business need SCORM?

You may not actually need SCORM compliance to do what you’re looking to do. However, it is probably a good idea to investigate it before you start out because SCORM compliance provides you with interoperability across multiple vendors. SCORM is therefore likely to be an insurance policy for any investment you make in online learning.  

If you invest in creating online training content you may want to be able to deliver it on a number of different LMS platforms, either now or in the future. Alternatively, if you invest in creating an online learning and training environment you want to ensure that it can be used to deliver and track a multitude of different online training programmes from different vendors.

If an LMS is SCORM compliant, it can work with any training content that is SCORM compliant and any online training content that is SCORM compliant can be used in any SCORM compliant LMS.


Experience API (xAPI for short) formerly known as Tin Can

Think of this as the next generation of SCORM. Whereas SCORM really only takes care of interactions between the learning content and the LMS, xAPI takes care of a lot more.

  • The ‘x’ stands for 'Experience'
  • The ‘API’ stands for 'Application Program Interface' which is a generic term for an interface that allows different computer programs (applications) to communicate with each other

xAPI allows other ‘real world’ experiences (Experience API) and interactions to be recorded outside the confines of an e-learning course on an LMS. For example, this other ‘real life’ data might be the fact that someone has read a book, attended a meeting or a lecture, completed a training course, gained a certificate or won a medal.  

Basically, xAPI provides the ability to record and store all of this other 'real life' information. The repository for all of this information is called a Learning Record Store (LRS) and if a device, system or process supports the xAPI then it can write those experiences to the LRS using xAPI statements.


Comparing SCORM and xAPI

In the world of SCORM the ‘learning’ that is tracked relates mainly to activity undertaken on e-learning programmes within an LMS environment.

xAPI isn’t limited to this environment and it supports a more ‘real life’ approach to learning by capturing other learning activity or ‘Experiences’ from outside of the traditional LMS environment. This provides a better representation of ‘real life’ learning through the capturing of both online and offline experiences – for example, attending a lecture.


Learning Record Store (LRS)

This is a repository (think database) for statements that have been created and sent using the xAPI. In the world of xAPI and the LRS, any device, system or process that supports xAPI can send a statement to an LRS regarding these broader learning activities.

The LRS is principally a store for those learning records and experiences. The LRS can be accessed and interrogated by an LMS, by another LRS, or by other systems that support xAPI. The LRS can operate as a standalone records system or it can operate internally as part of an LMS.


How do these learning technologies apply to your business?

Established learning technologies

LMS – A learning platform that will enable you to deliver, manage and audit e-learning across your employees, your customers and your business partners.

SCORM – a standard that gives you a common interface between your LMS and your e-learning content. SCORM will provide you with a future insurance policy if you want to use different systems and content. As long as they’re all SCORM compliant you will have a ‘plug and play’ environment.

Emerging learning technologies

xAPI – A standard that allows you to capture and save 'real life' learning activity from beyond the confines of the LMS.  

LRS – A database store for learning records created using the xAPI interface.

what learning technologies help you achieve

By enabling the capture and storage of a huge array of experiences (via xAPI and LRS) that are not simply confined to e-learning in an LMS environment, we are able to capture a better picture of the workplace in general.

By adopting these learning technologies companies will be able to capture data on work experiences, classroom training, informal learning, workplace activities and accomplishments and much more.

Using these technologies your business will be able to analyse all of that data and make sense of it. The reason for doing so would be to help make your organisation become even better in the future. Learning technologies can help you better understand how your individual employees are performing and also how the organisation as a whole is performing and evolving. It also helps your business understand what methods, techniques and tools are providing the best return on investment in specific functional areas of the business in order to better plan for the future.

If you’re just beginning your e-learning journey this can all sound a little daunting. But with a little bit of help it really doesn't have to be.


Through an informal chat we can help you figure out what’s important, what's not so important and how to keep an eye on the future by using the appropriate learning technology building blocks.