SCORM: The Pros and Cons


With e-learning becoming more widely adopted by schools, universities, governments and private companies for their educational and training needs, SCORM has become the de facto format. But should we really be adopting it?

What is SCORM?

SCORM, or the Sharable Content Object Reference Model, is a widely used web standard for e-learning interactions. It promises cross-platform compatibility and a homogenised approach to deploying e-learning resources but at what cost?

What are the advantages of SCORM?

  • A wide range of 3rd party support
  • You can buy ready made e-learning interactions
  • Supported by most Learning Management Systems or Virtual Learning Environments
  • Learning interactions can, in theory at least, be transferred from one LMS/VLE to another

Since SCORM was adopted by the US military in 2004, a number of agencies, consultancies and organisations have sprung up to offer SCORM resources and support, including software packages for authoring and packaging learning interactions.  Additionally, most Learning Management Systems or Virtual Learning Environments can deploy SCORM compliant learning interaction packages and if, at some point in the future, you decide to change to another Learning Management System, you can transfer them… well, in theory (see disadvantages).

What are the disadvantages of SCORM?

  • Limited selection of types of activities
  • Inherently insecure
  • Difficult to edit and correct ‘typos’
  • Very complicated format
  • ‘Compliance’ doesn’t guarantee that learning interactions will function correctly on your LMS/VLE
  • Learning interactions use a lot of Internet bandwidth and server storage space
  • Learning interactions take a long time to download

Firstly, I consider the main drawback to SCORM being it’s limited selection of types of activities. They are true or false, multiple choice, fill in the gap and multiple matching and a few variations of these types. As a teacher, I don’t expect my students to learn a great deal from such activities and I don’t think that they’re a very effective way of testing learners’ abilities or knowledge either.

Secondly, SCORM is inherently insecure. It requires the learner’s computer to store all the data related to a particular learning interaction, including the answers, usually in the web browser cache. It’s pretty easy to go and find the directory where those files are stored and look at them. On a Windows 2000 or Windows XP operating system, using Internet Explorer, you can change Tools… > Folder Options > View > Hidden files and folders > Show hidden files and folders and you’ll find the browser cache at C:Documents and SettingsusernameLocal SettingsTemporary Internet Files, and  Firefox provides a direct link to its browser cache.

Another security concern is that Adobe Flash abandoned support for SCORM after Flash MX 2004, also known as Flash (version) 6. It’s possible to author SCORM compliant e-learning applications in subsequent versions of Flash but they must be published in the MX 2004 legacy format. Likewise, the majority of software packages for authoring Flash e-learning applications for SCORM publish them in older, pre-Flash 9, formats. In the last few years, a number of high-level security threats have been identified in pre-Flash 9 files, allowing attackers to inject malicious software into users’ computers among other things. Read this article at for more details.

Another thing is, we’re all human beings and we all make mistakes. It’s frustrating when you think you’ve finished authoring a learning interaction and deploy it on a Learning Management System or Virtual Learning Environment and test it only to find that you’ve misspelled a few words, made a few typos or something similar (or your proofreaders have missed something). Most web-authoring tools allow you to easily go back and correct those inevitable mistakes by simply typing in the correct spelling, punctuation, etc. This isn’t so with SCORM. You’re required to re-author the learning interaction package and re-deploy it.

It also isn’t possible for SCORM packages, despite the word ‘sharable’ in the name (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) , to share resources. If you have images, audio recordings or videos that are used by all or several learning interactions, SCORM requires you to deploy copies of those media files in each and every package. This can result in a Learning Management System or Virtual Learning Environment using up many times more Internet bandwidth and server storage space than is necessary and also make updating those resources and long and tedious process. Basically, someone has to re-author every single learning interaction package. Perhaps that would be a job reserved for the “new employee” in the department?

In terms of how cost effective SCORM can be, I conducted an informal survey with administrators and teachers who use SCORM and I discovered that it was quite normal to deploy learning interaction packages of around 80MB – 100MB, the smallest being 15MB,  giving download times of anywhere up to 4 minutes before the learner can start the learning interaction (The average video is around 10MB and, of course, runs on Google’s impressive global data infrastructure – Watch the progress bar to see how long it takes to download). Additionally, Internet bandwidth and storage space on servers are expensive and should be kept as low as possible. If you multiply 80MB by the number packages on a course and by the number of students downloading them, you can see that bandwidth usage, in particular, can get pretty high. Such large file sizes and high bandwidth usage are, in my opinion, unnecessary and wasteful.

Finally, SCORM is incredibly complicated and difficult to understand. Here’s an extract from a user’s post on Moodle SCORM support forums:

“Right now I’m trying to figure out how to do basic SCORM compliancy (e.g. I have an authorware file with pictures of my cats and their names, buttons are there, one even has a quiz question)  How do I go from there to saying “Haha!  This is SCORM Compliant!  These are the steps to follow to ensure our product complies and we get paid!”  I’ve downloaded the tools off of adlnet, and I’m driving myself crazy at this point.”

And the reply:

“I feel your pain. I spent the last two years hoping for such a solution, and the bottom line is that the solution only exists by pouring over the documentation on the site. Here’s the nutshell, but if you do a project for the navy with only this information, you will run into trouble. The best I can do for you is point you to ADLs “SCORM 2004 Conformance Requirements” pdf file and offer my consulting services. I lived on the ADL product downloads page while I was learning to develop for the SCORM.”

I think that with the amount of time and resources an organisation could spend on adopting SCORM and providing IT support, it might in some cases, be more cost effective to develop proprietry frameworks for authoring and deploying e-learning interactions. It would certainly be less time-consuming to use one of the many alternatives available.

To sum up…

So initially, SCORM seems to offer a great deal in terms of interoperability and support but there are less than obvious drawbacks that can increase costs in terms of bandwidth and IT support. Furthermore it can present serious security risks to your Internet/Intranet servers and users’ computers.

There are better technologies available which are more secure, cheaper to install and maintain and more efficient. For example, it’s possible to deploy all the activities specified by SCORM with Moodle’s native Quiz module which is database driven, which means it’s relatively easy to edit and update,  and relatively efficient. There are also faster, smarter, more efficient technologies on the horizon with Flash, the Flex Framework and Adobe AIR (all version 9 or above) being the platforms of choice for the e-learning applications of the future.