The proliferation of copying machines sounded the death knell for the purpley scented handouts and exams still smudgy from their birth on a mimeograph. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Google “mimeograph.” Pages run through a mimeograph had a distinctive color, odor and a wet texture that sometimes distracted from the content. Despite its shortcomings, the mimeograph holds an important place in the evolution of educational processes, allowing instructors improved capabilities in getting course content into the hands of students. Just as the day of the mimeograph ended, the twilight of photocopied content is upon us.
Modern Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Moodle, Sakai and Canvas give students access to curricular content, exams, quizzes and a variety of other tools. This content can be configured manually by the instructor, allowing course customization that meets specific instructor needs and teaching styles. These highly flexible systems have become powerful tools in delivering content and classroom management, taking the place of reams of handouts and tedious pen-and-paper assignment recording.
What happens when the instructor needs to begin a new course based on a course they have already taught? Or when the instructor is teaching multiple sections of the same course? Or the instructor wants to make their course material available to instructors at other universities? Or the underlying LMS vendor is changed? Unfortunately, the model of all content existing within the LMS comes up short.
Enter SCORM and LTI
SCORM, or the Sharable Content Object Reference Model, is a widely adopted standard for bundling and delivering educational content. Under SCORM, all of the content needed for a block of educational content is bundled in a package that can be deployed into a large number of modern LMS's. SCORM packages can contain pure HTML, images and media objects, along with other content formats. The content within a SCORM package can be curricular material, quizzes and exams.
Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) is a very different approach to SCORM. LTI is a framework for connecting LMS's, called Tool Consumers, with external tools, called Tool Producers. In this model, a trust relationship is established between the tool consumer and tool producer using OAuth. Once this trust relationship is established, the tool consumer can access functionality exposed by the tool producer. This functionality can be something as simple as providing exams and curricular content to more complex expansions of functionality such as access to blogging engines and lab software.
While providing more flexibility than SCORM packages, one of the primary drawbacks of LTI is the manual configuration required to add individual LTI links to a course. Where SCORM content can often be made available by a straight import-add approach, LTI content requires the definition of an external tool, addition of a link to a course, and then configuration of the link. Though the external tool definitions are reusable, the individual links are not. This often results in the instructor needing to manually define links for each course.
Another specification helps to bridge the gap: Common Cartridge (CC). CC allows the bundling of LTI links into distributable packages with the caveat that the base external tool definitions must be mapped in the tool consumer. Additionally, other content such as quizzes and curricular content can be bundled into a CC package. Using CC in combination with LTI can allow an instructor to reuse content between classes and can allow for the authoring of rich learning experiences.
The choice of whether to use SCORM or LTI-CC comes down to LMS capabilities and instructor need. More LMSs support SCORM than support the combination of LTI and CC, though this gap is shrinking. SCORM provides a simpler solution to content creation and delivery, mitigating a strong reliance on external systems. LTI-CC requires external systems and more of an investment on the administration side. However, the model provides powerful tools for extending LMS functionality and can be used to deliver richer content than pure SCORM.
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