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Dan Rehak: "SCORM is not for everyone"

One the 'chief architects' of ADL's SCORM, Dan Rehak of Carnegie Mellon's Learning Systems Architecture Lab, outlined the future of the widely used elearning specification at the IMS special briefing for implementers on Friday. SCORM is about to gain more flexibility in sequencing, and wider system capabilities further down the line. Strategically, he clarified which pedagogies the model supports well, and which not, and emphasised that ADL ultimately wants to hand over SCORM to the community.

SCORM 1.3, though still in draft, is by now a fairly well known quantity which has been implemented by a number of vendors. As the recently released developer's guide makes clear, the main change there is a more sophisticated means of aggregating and sequencing learning objects. Version 1.4 will add improved assessment capabilities, implement learner profiles and access or instantiate digital repositories of learning objects. As has been the custom so far, this will be achieved by 'profiling' (i.e. interpreting and narrowing) the existing IMS specifications in this area. Version 2.0, however, is a rather different beast. Due in 2004, it will be a complete rewrite of SCORM, and focus on task simulations and be highly adaptive. It will therefore have a new content model and new performance support.

The completely new architecture of 2.0 immediately raises the question of what happens to the present architecture. A clue, according to Dan Rehak, lies in ADL's acronym: it is the Advanced Distributed Learning consortium. It is therefore focussed on the leading edge, and is happy to give what it has developed back to the community that uses it. Exactly how this is to happen is still a matter of open debate, and subject to some intellectual property issues with regard to names, logos and so on.

Arguably the most remarkable part of Rehak's briefing, however, was his clarification of the pedagogic issue. He emphasised repeatedly that SCORM is not the right approach for higher and primary education. According to Rehak, "SCORM is essentially about a single-learner, self-paced and self-directed. It has a limited pedagogical model unsuited for some environments." This is mainly a consequence of the needs of the main initiators of SCORM: the US federal government in general, and the Department of Defence in particular. Their needs are mainly in the area of training for specific systems and situations by people who are not generally in full time education. This need is addressed very well by the spec, but "SCORM has nothing in it about collaboration. This makes it inappropriate for use in HE and K-12".

This seems rather at odds with the assertion in, for example, the SCORM Best Practices Guide that "...SCORM claims to be pedagogy neutral". From a strategic point of view this clarification makes more immediate sense. The purpose behind SCORM was to foster a lively market in interoperable learning objects, and given the amount of support by content and LMS vendors, this is market is developing well. In order to avoid confusion, and clarify the debate about support in elearning standards for a wide variety of pedagogic models, the backers of SCORM can do well by reminding the community about its primary focus: training for specific purposes.

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