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cmi5 Specification Matures to Support Online Learning Beyond SCORM®

July 20, 2021

The ADL Initiative, working with stakeholders from government, industry, and academia, has established a set of baseline requirements that will allow DoD e-learning content developers to design courses that are instrumented to collect greater amounts of learner performance data. These requirements are steering the development of an online course player prototype for accessing cmi5-enabled e-learning content, reusable course templates to facilitate content development, and a cmi5 conformance test suite to ensure the content and associated software meet functionality and interoperability specifications.

CATAPULT application screen capture showing a list of training courses
cmi5 Conformance Test user interface.

The cmi5 player, templates, and test suite will be ready for testing in DoD learning environments early this summer, and for broader release in September of this year. These tools will allow courseware developers to migrate their content beyond the data collection limitations imposed by the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM®), a standard established in the early 2000s to enable the interoperability of e-learning content among Learning Management Systems (LMS) now used in academia, industry, and government.

“SCORM remains an important standard for e-learning data, but the new cmi5 specification and Experience Application Programming Interface (xAPI) standard are far more capable and are quickly becoming the preferred technologies for learning data collection,” said Brian Miller of Rustici Software, a vendor supporting the ADL Initiative’s cmi5 project. “cmi5 bridges the gap between SCORM and xAPI, to ease the transition to e-learning courses and LMS’s that support greater data collection and more sophisticated data analysis.”

cmi5 applies many of SCORM’s familiar rules for interoperability, authentication, content launch, reporting, and other elements, while also enabling the functionality of xAPI to allow broader metadata collection and analytics. The availability of more detailed information on learning activities, including individual and group performance, engagement, and other data points, will enable data-driven decisions for improved education and training, which will save time and money while increasing force readiness.

Stakeholder Collaboration and Outreach for New Requirements

The ADL Initiative has been working with designated stakeholders at the Army Reserve Readiness Training Command (ARRTC), the Army University, the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division, the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, and Defense Acquisition University (DAU) to support their transition to cmi5 (and xAPI) and identify use cases that should be factored into the software design for the cmi5 player and test suite.

The cmi5 player and test suite are being developed and tested in sandbox environments hosted by the ADL Initiative, on stakeholder-hosted installations, and with standalone desktop versions. This multi-environment approach allows the identification of compatibility and interoperability issues, as well as functionality problems for host-specific use cases. The player will initially serve as a reference implementation for prototyping and demonstrating cmi5-instrumented e-learning courses. The test suite will enable the testing of cmi5 content and software systems that implement the cmi5 data specification, potentially serving as a predecessor to certification.

The ADL Initiative supports weekly cmi5 working group meetings to identify user challenges, including the approvals required by various DoD organizations for deploying the software on their networks and other secure environments. The ADL Initiative is also working to identify potential cmi5 modifications and extensions that will allow the player and test suite to meet identified DoD use cases. This involves outreach to third-party testers who can help identify new requirements.

In addition to the delivery of software, course templates and best practice guidance will be available in the same timeframe. These templates will ease the creation of cmi5 content from existing learning resources and from existing SCORM courses. These templates will serve as exemplars—both as editable code for course programmers and as models for commercial authoring tools to follow. By rapidly maturing the product landscape of cmi5, accelerated adoption will be enabled for both cmi5 and xAPI.

Background on SCORM and cmi5

The early days of e-learning were a “wild west” of online courseware innovation. Growing access to the internet spurred the development of thousands of hours of e-content, but without standards for interoperability among the growing number of competing LMSs being developed.

SCORM, an early product of the ADL Initiative, brought order to the chaos by garnering industry-wide approval for standards to allow content to be shared across different LMS platforms. Fifteen years later, SCORM remains a key standard for e-learning interoperability, but it is showing its age. Unlike the early 2000s, today’s e-learning content is delivered both online and offline, using an ever-growing variety of devices and mix of media types…many of which are beyond SCORM’s limited metadata repertoire.

To address SCORM’s limitations in modern learning environments, the ADL Initiative supported development of xAPI. It enables more robust and diverse data collection of learners’ behaviors and performance, informing a more comprehensive record of learning accomplishments. However, xAPI focuses on the data outputs of a learning session, not addressing courseware (inputs) interoperability. Additionally, for e-learning developers seeking to implement xAPI for the first time, its seemingly limitless capacity for data capture can be intimidating.

cmi5 bridges the gap between SCORM and xAPI, applying many of SCORM’s familiar rules for courseware interoperability, authentication, content launch, reporting, and other elements, while also supporting a pre-defined implementation of xAPI for more granular data on learner performance.

Webinar and Open Call for Requirements

The ADL Initiative hosted a webinar on 17 March 2021 featuring an overview of the cmi5 effort. The webinar provided technical and nontechnical users, with an update on the tools being developed and details on the cmi5 specification and its uses. Visit the ADL Initiative website to access the cmi5 webinar recording.

For more information on cmi5, and to participate in the working group as a third-party partner to test the software and propose new requirements, contact the ADL Initiative.

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