AICC: Still a Viable Course Standard?
By Stuart Campbell,Director of Software Development, SyberWorks, Inc.
Is the AICC standard still viable in today’s e-Learning world? The answer is a big YES! But to
explain why, we need to delve into its technical aspects a bit.
A Peek Into the Standard
Many in the e-Learning industry know that “AICC” is not only a standard… but also the
committee that defines it. The AICC, Aviation Industry Computer-based training (CBT)
Committee, was formed in 1988 by aviation manufacturers such as Boeing, Airbus, and
McDonnell-Douglas to standardize the delivery of CBT at a time when multimedia training was
becoming increasingly popular. And over the years, AICC implementations have spread to many
AICC originally focused on local file-based operations. But in 1998, it expanded to include an
HTTP/web-based interface known as HACP (pronounced “hack-P,” and which stands for
HTTP-based AICC/CMI Protocol). Soon after, the standard was again updated to include a
Learning projects that operated across the web. Today, HACP is the most common type of AICC
course in LMS e-Learning systems.
Technically, AICC courses are defined using several files, which describe their content and
structure. The files are generally known by their file extensions:
CRS—This file contains information about the course as whole, such as its creator, title,
description, and total number of lessons.
AU—This file describes the course’s Assignable Units, which correspond to lessons in a non-
AICC course. This data includes the names of the files that launch the lessons, each lesson’s
mastery score, and the maximum time that students are allowed to take and pass the lessons. This
file includes a file_name item that is actually a URL. See AICC Strengths for Today (below) for
more about that.
CST—This Course Structure file holds basic structural data, including a list of all AUs. And this
list usually determines the order in which lessons are given to students.
DES—This Descriptor file contains information about all course elements.
The AICC standard defines three additional file types, but they aren’t used as often as the above.
They are: Objectives Relationships (ORT), Prerequisites (PRE), and Completion Requirements
Installing an AICC Course
Before students can take an AICC course through an LMS, the course must be installed on the
LMS. The method differs between LMS systems, but typically goes like this:
(1) The CRS course file is located and parsed.
(2) A definition or shell is created in the LMS database for the course that’s listed in the CRS
file. Any required course properties are also populated with values from the CRS file.
(3) Similarly, course lessons are created in the LMS and the lesson properties are populated from
the AU file. These lesson properties include the path to the lesson file, the lesson’s passing
grade, and so on.
It’s very important that the LMS system be able to overwrite an existing AICC course. Then,
whenever the course is updated, simply re-installing it will deploy those changes on the LMS.
AICC Strengths for Today
Perhaps the AICC standard’s strongest feature for today’s e-Learning applications is its
implementation of “Cross Domain Course Content.” This allows a course definition to exist on
an LMS server, while the course content sits on a different (often remote) machine… even one
located outside the LMS home network. This lets content providers keep their content on their
servers, content that a remote LMS can call-up and display when students take the AICC course.
The AICC standard accomplishes this by using a signed Java applet. Signing is critical because
the web domain the course is launched from (the domain of the LMS) usually differs from the
domain that the course content comes from. And an unsigned Java applet would see this
difference as cross-site scripting, and reject it as a web attack.
Here’s how Cross Domain Course Content works:
(1) When a student launches an AICC lesson, the filename/URL in its AU file points to another
internet (content) server.
(2) Call-back information is sent to that remote content server, so that it knows which LMS
server needs to communicate with it during the AICC course.
(3) The remote content server then attempts to open a communication channel back to the LMS
server that launched the lesson.
(4) And once two-way communications are established, course content is can be pulled from the
content provider’s location, through the LMS server, to the student PC.
A Tool for Our Times and You
The AICC standard has taken a number of years to reach today’s robust state. And Cross
Domain Course Content makes it an ideal tool for distributed, global, training applications. But
there have been so many revisions to the standard, that it’s still hard to know what an AICC-
compliant LMS really is. LMS products can claim to be AICC-compliant, even when they
support only the standard’s core features. As a result, it’s wise to delve into details when
acquiring an AICC-compliant LMS!
Another industry standard (SCORM) has also experienced strong growth. [See my article
“SCORM and the Learning Management System (LMS)” (at
http://www.syberworks.com/articles/scorm-and-the-lms-article.htm.] And as a result, AICC
actually went out of vogue for a while. But it’s enjoying a resurgence, and its ability to support
Cross Domain Course Content is largely responsible. So if you don’t need or want your LMS
vendor to also host your course content, AICC may be just the tool for you.
About the Author:
Stuart Campbell is Director of Software Development for SyberWorks, Inc., a privately-held
supplier of e-Learning software and training. A native of the United Kingdom, he had previously
served as a Principle Software Engineer, Senior Consultant, Senior Software Engineer, and
Development Specialist for companies such as Brooks Automation Inc., Digital Equipment, and
Honeywell Control Systems. His areas of expertise include Visual Studio.NET, C#, VB.NET,
VB6, VBScript, XML, COBOL, WindowsXP, Windows2000, WindowsNT, VAX/VMS, UNIX,
Oracle, SQLServer, Oracle Rdb, Oracle DBMS, and Agile Modeling Methodology.
About SyberWorks, Inc.
SyberWorks, Inc. is a leader in the custom e-Learning Solutions and Learning Management
System/Learning Content Management System (LMS/LCMS) industries for Fortune 1000
corporations, law enforcement, healthcare, and other industries. Located in Waltham,
Massachusetts, the company serves the multi-billion-dollar e-Learning market. Since 1995,
SyberWorks has developed and delivered unique and economical solutions to create, manage,
measure, and improve e-Learning programs at companies and organizations in the United States,
Canada, Europe, and around the world.