Tin Can API - Replace Legacy SCORM - Part 1

    In 1999, the SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Reference Model) project was launched, initiated by the Department of Science and Technology under the US Government. The goal of the project was to make life easier for the US Department of Defense and come to a common standardization in the e-learning market. The development of SCORM was entrusted to the initiative group ADL (Advanced Distributed Learning), which gave birth to a new standard. In October 2001, the first, working version of the standard, SCORM 1.2, was released, and since then it began to conquer the market, systematically becoming the main global collection of E-Learning specifications and standards. Over 11 years, the new standard managed to gain a foothold among suppliers and customers and has undergone some changes. In 2009, the fourth version of SCORM 2004 was released - 4th Edition.

    Apparently, having buried themselves in their monitors and delving into the improvement of SCORM, the guys from ADL were very carried away. So much so that they did not notice how the market changed, overgrown with new technologies and became different. The foundation of the specification was laid in the late 90s, but in 10 years the market has matured so much that it was difficult to recognize. There were smartphones with large screens, tablets, against this background, the direction of Mobile Learning appeared, and with it HTML5 Publishing for the ability to display training materials on different types of devices. But that was just the tip of the new wave of e-learning trends: Social Learning, Gamification, Blended Learning, Informal Learning and dozens of new-fangled phrases filled the market.


    ADL realized that the standard is clearly outdated and does not meet today's market requirements, SCORM just does not have time to change for it. Therefore, the smart uncles from Advanced Distributed Learning decided not to attach crutches to the old standard, but to create a new one that would meet current requirements and support most modern standards. Thus, the Tin Can API was born .

    I planned to tell in this article about the main advantages of the new standard, tell about how the standard is being developed, and give code examples. But starting to study the webinar recording and translating the documentation, I realized that it simply would not work to fit all this into one article. It’s very important to clarify some points, since their analogues in SCORM did not exist. I personally was interested in delving into others for a clearer understanding of the specification. For this reason, in this article I will cover only part of the advantages and key points of Tin Can and I hope that I can continue the series of articles devoted to the young standard.

    I thought that this kind of information might be useful for the Khabrovites. It will be useful for those of you who get interviews at companies from e-learning, or who plan to launch your own project related to E-Learning, about the emergence of a new standard that the market is starting to focus on.

    Key Features of Tin Can API

    Mobile Learning

    Optimization in work with mobile devices. More detailed tracking of the student’s success and the ability to continue to collect information about his progress even in the absence of an Internet connection.


    Over the past 10 years, the demand for simulators has greatly increased, both from the military industry and from commercial companies and corporations associated with civil aviation and the production of complex machines. The development of this market prompted ADL to add enhanced support for simulation software to the new standard. SCORM allowed tracking only simulators running in a browser. Tin Can allows you to remove this restriction, it makes it possible to monitor the user's progress in full-fledged desktop simulation programs and transfer the collected information to the learning management system.

    Serious Games

    Tin Can API allows you to include educational games in the curriculum of the course. Gamification today is one of the most high-profile trends in the E-Learning market. Its most noticeable advantage is the ability to captivate the student and stimulate him to further learning. In most cases, the game cannot be embedded in LMS. How, then, to collect information about the success of the student? The meta data that SCORM can collect does not correspond to the set of information that is generated in games. In SCORM, we usually see notifications about courses, about getting grades for completing assignments. In games, we are interested in collecting completely different information: for example, a student has reached a certain level or performed a specific element in a simulation program. When developing Tin Can, we took this moment into account,

    Live Activity Tracking

    Learning is not just about computers. We read books, participate in training seminars, conferences and webinars, and pass training in the classroom. In the Tin Can API, we are not tied to virtual learning, we have the ability to track any events that seem to us to be part of the learning process. Tin Can suggests combining digital learning with real-world learning through self-contained information by teachers and students. This is true for those cases when the learning activity is not connected in any way with E-Learning, but occurs in the real world.

    Examples of entries that can be independently entered by people in Tin Can:
    • Description of student activity, entered manually in text form:
      • Vasily attended the lecture
      • Vasily used underwater equipment
      • Basil spoke Greek

    • A student attends a lecture, seminar, conference on the topic of his education
    • Active student participation in classroom learning

    The easiest use case is that the teacher independently informs the learning management system that the user has completed some specific activity.

    Event tracking without internet connection

    Most of the previous E-Learning specifications were able to track activity only on the condition that there is a constant and stable Internet connection. Tin Can API allows you to track the activity and progress of the user even in the absence of a permanent Internet connection, storing information on the device until the connection with the network resumes.
    With the help of Tin Can, we can continue training on a mobile phone in an airplane and not experience any difficulties about this. When creating SCORM, e-learning was presented as continuous learning behind a computer screen for 20-30 minutes. But the new realities, as well as the advent of smartphones and tablets, have changed the classic e-learning and allowed to turn it into something more. Training is much more effective if we can easily return to it at any time and continue from the point where we left off, but from another device. Mobile Internet has problems with the stability of the connection, so the ability to save temporary information about user activity directly on devices and send it to the activity repository as soon as the connection with the Internet has been added to Tin Can.

    Security and Authentication

    SCORM has virtually no protection. Any web developer who knows how to work with web tools will be able to hack SCORM and twist the exam results to the desired point. Another option is even easier - ask someone to take an exam in your place. Tin Can aims to raise the bar for security and authentication. The solutions offered by Tin Can are still far from ideal, but at least they promise to give us the opportunity to secure communication paths between the teaching materials presented to the student and the learning log repository ( LRS ).

    LRS (Learning Record Store) is generally a separate topic for conversation. The Tin Can group offers to introduce a new facility, which will store all the information collected about the user from different learning environments (LMS, mobile phone, tablet, live class). Let me remind you that in SCORM this works differently, and all the information on promoting a user is collected by LMS. The idea is not to be constantly tied to one LMS and so that you can use any number of different learning management systems and other tools. In this case, all information and logs are stored in a separate network object, which is the Learning Record Store. Information collected in the LRS can be requested by one of the LMS, reporting tools, or other LRSs.


    All this, of course, will not automatically raise your level of protection to unprecedented heights. There will be smart people who will still try to figure out the code and change some parameters. To combat this, tools have been added to Tin Can to verify and confirm that actions were actually performed by a person within one of the systems. Support for the OAuth open authorization protocol has been added.

    Refusal to use the Internet browser

    11 years ago, when everything happened in browsers, SCORM met the requirements and satisfied users. But now technologies are moving in different directions, and binding to the browser does not allow to realize some features. The Tin Can API eliminates the need for a browser as the only tool for delivering monitored training materials. The need for this arose a long time ago, since in fact SCORM is not able to track information in standalone, desktop applications. With the advent of the mobile app market and the inability to track student progress in them, the problem was again raised in professional circles. Tin Can is designed to solve the problem, it added the ability to coordinate information between native mobile applications, simulations, serious games and LRS repositories.

    Intermediate conclusions

    This year, active work began on popularizing the new standard in the circles of E-Learning specialists around the world. However, the Tin Can API specification has not yet been translated into Russian, despite the fact that this information is extremely useful to Russian-speaking specialists as well. At the moment, the Tin Can API is in version 0.95 and is essentially ready for the official release.

    On October 31, 2012, one of the most famous annual e-learning conferences, DevLearn 2012, will begin in Las Vegas. ADL and Rustici Software are planning to hold several reports on the new specification in an attempt to encourage industry representatives to use the new standard instead of the outdated SCORM. There, in Vegas, the Tin Can API team plans to equip a separate, large area at the exhibition pavilion in order to try to convey to the conference participants the key points of the new standard and help those interested. It remains for me to wish them good luck and the speedy implementation of the standard in organizations and training products.

    You can always find more information on the official Tin Can API website tincanapi.com or on the websitescorm.com/tincanoverview . The article partially used materials from the above resources and from a webinar conducted by Mike Rustici.

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