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Differences Between SCORM and AICC

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					        Differences Between SCORM and AICC

Many organizations considering the purchase of e-learning courseware today have
deployed, or are planning to deploy, a learning management system (LMS). The recent
popularity of LMSs has been driven in no small part by the AICC and SCORM standards.
Any LMS that adheres to the standards can launch and track any courseware that adheres
to the standards, regardless of which vendors have supplied the LMS and courseware.


So it's no surprise that, as a courseware developer, Midi receives many inquiries about
whether our web-based training is "AICC/SCORM-compliant." In some cases, the people
who are inquiring have been prompted to do so by someone else, and may not know
exactly what they're asking. In this month's issue of Interactive Insights, we'll make it
clear that AICC and SCORM are two distinct, although related, sets of standards, and
explore some of the important differences between them.


AICC


Technically, AICC is not a standard; it's a standards body, the Aviation Industry CBT
Committee. The committee has developed numerous standards over the years, some of
which have only a tangential relationship to e-learning. The AICC standard that bears most
directly on the ability of an LMS to launch and track web-based courseware is titled
"AICC/CMI Guidelines for Interoperability" (document #CM1001).


The initial release of this document in 1993 predated the mass adoption of the World Wide
Web and dealt with computer-based training, primarily delivered on CDROM. When the
document was revised in 1998, web-based training was addressed for the first time by
adding Appendix A to the document. Appendix A defines the "HTTP-based AICC/CMI
Protocol" (HACP), a set of rules that govern communication between an LMS and web-
based courseware.


In 1999, Appendix B was added, introducing a JavaScript application programming
interface as an alternative means of communication between an LMS and courseware on
the web. The JavaScript interface made it possible for developers to create AICC-compliant
courseware using familiar HTML and JavaScript, without resorting to more complicated --
and often proprietary -- programming languages.


SCORM


Another standards body, Advanced Distributed Learning or ADL, created the SCORM
(Sharable Content Object Reference Model). In ADL's words, the SCORM is "a collection of
specifications adapted from multiple sources to provide a comprehensive suite of e-
learning capabilities..." One of the specifications included in the SCORM is precisely the
JavaScript interface from Appendix B of the AICC standard. That is, among other
requirements, SCORM-compliant courseware must use the AICC JavaScript interface to
communicate with the LMS.



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        Differences Between SCORM and AICC


Given the way these standards have evolved, when LMS and courseware vendors say
"AICC," they tend to mean the HTTP protocol and when they say "SCORM," they tend to
mean the JavaScript interface. In particular, many AICC-compliant products do support the
HTTP protocol, but don?t support the JavaScript interface.


Differences Between the HTTP Protocol and the Javascript Interface


We now know enough to understand that -- from the perspective of launching and tracking
web-based courseware -- when comparing AICC vs. SCORM, we are really comparing the
HTTP protocol and the JavaScript interface.


The JavaScript interface has some strong advantages. Courseware developers familiar with
HTML and JavaScript do not need to learn other programming languages to implement
communication with an LMS. More important, since web browsers don't provide direct
access to HTTP commands, it is impossible (in most cases) to implement the HTTP protocol
without server-side programming. Server-side programming, using technologies such as
Active Server Pages (ASP), Java servlets or Perl, is specific to the type of server the
courseware will be deployed on. This can be a big obstacle when courseware is to be
installed on a customer's server. The developer must work with the customer's IT staff to
determine server capabilities and address security concerns, and must then develop
custom code to run on that server. This process is time-consuming and costly compared to
using the JavaScript interface.


Given these advantages, why doesn't everyone abandon the HTTP protocol and use the
JavaScript interface? There are two reasons. First, some LMSs and courseware do not yet
support the JavaScript interface, which, although well established, is newer than the HTTP
protocol. Second, the JavaScript interface suffers from a limitation that prevents its use in
certain cases: it cannot operate across different network domains. For example, if the LMS
is installed on a customer's server at http://corporate_u.bigcompany.com and the
courseware is installed on a vendor's server at http://www.course_developer.com, the
courseware and LMS will be unable to communicate. This is because, for security reasons,
modern web browsers prevent so-called "cross-domain scripting." That is, they prevent
JavaScript on one network domain from exchanging information with servers on another
network domain.


Conclusion


If you're thinking of purchasing courseware, your LMS vendor can tell you whether your
LMS supports AICC (that is, the HTTP protocol), SCORM (that is, the JavaScript interface)
or both. You can then ask courseware vendors more specific questions than "Is it
AICC/SCORM-compliant?"




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There can be legitimate reasons for choosing the HTTP protocol over the JavaScript
interface, but when you do so -- especially in the case where courseware will be hosted on
your own servers rather than the courseware vendor's -- be prepared for some added time
and expense.


For More Information


The AICC website can be viewed at http://www.aicc.org.


The ADL website, with extensive information about SCORM, can be viewed at
http://www.adlnet.org.


A detailed discussion of SCORM and cross-domain scripting for technical readers is
available at http://www.adlnet.org/index.cfm?
fuseaction=DownFile&libid=585&bc=false.




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