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Fosway 20

E-learning Standards

This final article in the ‘Recipes for E-learning Success’ series serves as an introduction to the various e-learning standards that were available as the market for online content grew rapidly in the early 2000s. This paper provides useful background reading as standards including xAPI continue to evolve.

January 2001

E-learning, like almost every other technology-related issue these days, has a number of evolving standards relevant to any organisation looking to adhere to accepted practice. As the learning practices and technical environment are evolving at a very rapid pace, the standards are appearing and being updated on a continual basis. A summary of some of the key players is below.

Key Standards Bodies


AICC, Aviation Industry CBT (Computer-Based Training) Committee, has been the most commonly referenced standard. The term “AICC compliant” referred to in many vendors’ material implies that the organisation meets one or more of the nine separate guidelines and recommendations, known as AGRs (AICC Guidelines and Recommendations) defined by AICC. Specific information on the individual AGRs can be found on www.aicc.org


ADL, Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative is a program from the US Department of Defense and the White House Office of Science and Technology, to develop guidelines needed for large-scale development and implementation of efficient and effective distributed learning. It is a forum which provides requirements input into the IMS specification process and is responsible for initiating the SCORM reference model (see details on SCORM further down this article). For more information on ADL see www.adlnet.org


This is a European Union project focusing on the development of tools and methodologies for producing, managing, and reusing computer-based pedagogical elements and telematics supported training curricula. To this end, they are involved in related technical specifications efforts, most notably in the area of meta-data. As part of a memorandum of understanding, ARIADNE and IMS have jointly developed a meta-data specification for submission to the IEEE. See ariadne.unil.ch

IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee

The IEEE is a worldwide professional association responsible for the publication of a large percentage of the literature in the electrical engineering, computer and control technology. The mission of the IEEE LTSC (Learning Technology Standards Committee) working groups is to develop technical standards, practices, and guides for software components, tools, technologies and design methods that facilitate the development, deployment, maintenance and interoperation of computer implementations of education and training components and systems. LTSC has been chartered by the IEEE Computer Society Standards Activity Board. For more information see ltsc.ieee.org


The IMS (Instructional Management Systems) project was started in 1997 and originally focused on higher education. More recently the IMS Global Learning Consortium Inc. has broadened its focus to a range of initiatives relating to standards for learning servers, learning content and enterprise integration of these capabilities. The outputs from the key sub-projects within the consortium, documented as specifications, include:

• The Learning Resource Meta-data Specification to create a uniform way to describe learning resources, so that they can be more easily found.
• The Enterprise Specification, aimed at administrative applications and services that need to share data about learners, courses, performance, and other parameters across multiple platforms and technologies.
• The Content Packaging Specification, looking at reusable content objects.
• The Question and Test Specification, which addresses the need to share items and assessment tools across different systems.
• The IMS Learner Information Specification, which investigates the organisation of learner information and data about learning producers, to facilitate interoperability between learner systems, including sharing information on categories such as activities, competencies, interests and qualifications.
• The Reusable Competencies Definition Information Model defines an information model for describing, referencing and exchanging definitions of competencies.

The IMS specifications are being used by a number of vendors as their baseline for current and future releases of their products. For more information see www.imsproject.org.


ISSS was created in mid-1997 by CEN (European Committee for Standardisation) as the focus for its ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) activities. The organisation was created to meet an unfulfilled gap in this arena, moving away from the more traditional methods, looking at ‘Information Society’ standardisation. See www.cenorm.be.isss

Implementation of Standards


Now that the e-learning world is becoming more clearly defined, so are the key areas for standards definition. Many of the above groups work closely together on initiatives, a recent example being the development of SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model). During 1998, the ADL (Advanced Distributed Learning initiative) group determined that a common framework was needed to pull together the various draft standards for Web-based learning being created at the time. Based mainly on the work of the AICC, IMS and IEEE, the first release of the SCORM common content model occurred in January 2000. A variety of organisations have been involved in its further development and testing, with release 1.1 appearing in January 2001. SCORM standards enable the reuse of content across multiple environments and products, and to support discovery and adaptive learning. It consists of XML (Extensible Markup Language)-based specifications to represent course structures, other technical specifications for the run-time environment, and those for meta-data records for content creation. There is also a suite of conformance test software for SCORM compliance.

Further details can be obtained from http://www.adlnet.org/Scorm/scorm.cfm


LRN stands for Learning Resource iNterchange (pronounced ‘learn’), and is the Microsoft implementation of the IMS Content Packaging Specification. It consists of an XML-based schema and an LRN toolkit. It enables a standard method of description of content, making it easier to create, reuse and customise content objects with an XML editor, whether initially developed from scratch or bought under licence from vendors. For more information see http://www.microsoft.com/elearn

Using Standards

Are these standards the right standards? As with any evolving environment, the value is in the fact that someone has put a stake in the ground and documented a standard approach. That approach needs to be fully tested by practitioners and developers. It is bound to evolve with feedback from those practitioners, and based on new ideas and capabilities in both the technology and learning sectors. Standards mean consistency, and having consistency is good for all those involved in e-learning.

If you are considering purchasing e-learning products, building interfaces between multiple products or designing and developing e-learning content, it is well worth reviewing the appropriate standards, and adopting them, or using modified subsets. It is also worth digging deeper to find out precisely what vendors mean when they claim that their product ‘works with xxxxx compliant products’ or was designed based on a given standard. Their definition and your expectations may differ.

If you are interested in contributing to the standards of the future, then most of the standards groups are open to comments and suggestions on their standards; see the Web sites for more information.


Success in e-learning involves three key areas. Firstly, a broad understanding of all the various components – from Learning Management Systems to content development techniques, from IT infrastructure to learning design and management of organisational change. Next, since e-learning programmes are rarely inexpensive, it is critical to get a high return on your initial investment, so making use of the most experienced resources possible is vital for success. The value of those who have ‘done it before’ cannot be underestimated. And finally, it is essential to co-ordinate and manage these components, business functions and resources. E-learning crosses many boundaries and should be viewed as a strategic endeavour, and managed as a truly cross-functional programme.

We hope that the articles in the ‘Recipes for E-learning Success’ series help you to understand some of the current issues surrounding this topic and have stimulated you to review your ideas on e-learning. Fosway is continually researching and developing e-learning best practice, and is focused on sharing its knowledge and experience with its customers and e-learning practitioners.

Recommended Fosway Reading

The other articles in this series are as follows:
Recipes for E-learning Success
The Volume Vs. Value Equation
Blended or Integrated E-learning?
Design Dynamics For E-learning
Building Learning Communities
Synchronous Vs. Asynchronous

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