Demystifying elearning standards

SCORM vs xAPI vs CMI5 (and AICC)

Ryan O'Connell Chief Operating Officer


For almost 30 years (ouch) we have needed (or wanted, depending on your point of view) to track elearning course completions and other associated data in a learning platform of some description. In order to do that, you need a set of standards to tell the elearning course how to communicate various activities to an associated learning platform. These standards help an LMS understand that, say, James McGill has completed his Understanding Law Fundamentals elearning course on 3/5/2021 in 23 minutes achieving a score in the assessment of 93%.

While many people are still relying on SCORM as their go-to e-learning standard, a better alternative called CMI5 is now widely available and offers a range of improvements., It is a standard that combines the best of all the other standards and has no notable downsides - as long as your learning platform supports it. In this article, we’ll explain the difference between the elearning standards.


SCORM 1.2 is one of the most widely used standards - it’s still supported by most authoring tools and most learning platforms. Great. This October, SCORM 1.2 would celebrate its 20th birthday if it was self aware, which it thankfully isn’t. In technology terms, it’s a geriatric, fast approaching what we call the “IE6 zone” - a time when a technology has long since outstayed its welcome and despite near ubiquity is going to be put out to pasture.

Authoring tools, such as Captivate, Storyline, Rise, Gomo, etc, all make creating elearning courses super easy and because nearly all learning platforms still support SCORM 1.2 as the lowest common denominator, a lot of elearning is still developed to this standard.

But SCORM is notoriously flaky, and relies on a consistent connection to a learning management system in order to track progress and completions, so it’s not uncommon for users to find that their completion hasn't been tracked. Luckily, most users don’t mind retaking their 45 minute SCORM elearning course in order to track the completion they achieved originally. 😬

The analytics you can get out of SCORM courses are fairly limited as well - you can report on the status, scores achieved in tests and duration, but not a whole lot else. It's almost like putting a number into a generic "interactions" postbox and then trying to work out what it all meant when you pull the postbag out!

SCORM courses

xAPI and TinCan

What is xAPI? 

xAPI (experience API) is an elearning specification that makes it possible to collect data about the wide range of experiences a learner has within online and offline training activities. 

It was designed to supersede SCORM and do away with many of the rules of the SCORM standard. As such it’s a relatively unrestricted standard that allows an almost unlimited number of activities to be tracked and recorded through xAPI statements.

xAPI statements can be sent from many devices, from laptops to smartphones to an Xbox to VR consoles. And you don’t need a constant internet connection. Or even an LMS! Statements can be sent to something called a Learning Record Store (LRS) which allows learning metrics to be shared among multiple platforms and not just stored on one learning platform.

The downside of all this flexibility is that there can be a huge variance in how learning activities are reported which limits how useful any data collected might be. And while the THRIVE Learning & Skills Platform supports xAPI, and TinCan launched courses, many learning platforms still don’t offer xAPI support.


What is CMI5? 

The golden child of elearning standards, it combines the restrictive but highly structured nature of SCORM with the extremely flexible but very loosely defined nature of xAPI to create the goldilocks version. CMI5 is in many ways a simplified version of xAPI -or xAPI constrained to a set of rules - and brings with it many other advantages.

Unsurprisingly for a format which can trace its origins back to an AICC working group, it combines the two selling points for AICC into its format: it is very secure, and it allows flexible packaging of content, where content assets can be hosted separately to the learning platform.

In addition, it can support same-window launch, paving the way to do away with pop-up windows which have been the bane of many an IT administrator’s life since the launch of any LMS that relies on pop-ups to display SCORM elearning. In fact CMI5 allows its courses to be launched easily from apps, browsers and other hardware and simulators. It also defines more structure for useful things like language options, launch behaviour (embedded or new tab) and completion behaviours.

CMI5 statements are less flexible than xAPI statements, which means you have a more defined model for collecting information.


Coming straight outta the eighties, AICC is an old, largely defunct elearning format. It was originally created to support the enormous training requirements of the aviation industry (AICC stands for Aviation Industry CBT Committee - how long has it been since you heard the acronym CBT??) and it still has some advantages, but a whole host of disadvantages.

First, the good: it is very secure and supports HTTPS transfers between the package and the learning platform. It can also be hosted separately from the learning platform, which gives content owners more control over who uses their software.

On the downside we should start with the fact that the AICC group doesn’t exist anymore - they disbanded in 2014, so there will be no more updates. But the biggest downside is that there is no significant course progress tracking with AICC.

Which format is best?

CMI5. It is a brilliant blend of SCORM and xAPI and provides a more precise specification. Newest does not always equal best, but in this case the newest elearning format offers many more advantages over the other standards.

The THRIVE Learning & Skills Platform supports CMI5, SCORM1.2, xAPI courses, Rustici TinCan launcher - as well as the ability to upload HTML packages for extremely rich content - to find out more, book yourself a free personalised demo of THRIVE Learning & Skills Platform now.

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