Tin Can (xAPI) vs. SCORM: Which is Right for Your Learning Needs?

Designing Digitally


It is crucial to choose a technical standard for your eLearning content – xAPI, previously known as Tin Can API, or SCORM. To determine the best option, you need first to understand the capabilities of each. Then, assess the training goals and tracking requirements. Let’s do a deep dive to help you select the one that is right for your needs.

Defining SCORM

SCORM stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model. It tracks four aspects of the learner’s experience: if they completed the module or not, the amount of time they spend in the module, if they passed or failed, and a single score for the entire module.

SCORM is a universal standard compatible with Learning Management Systems (LMS). This ability to communicate is known as interoperability and has made SCORM a successful go-to for decades.

Defining xAPI

The Experience API (Application Programming Interface), or xAPI, lets you track nearly any kind of learner activity. Options include which items they clicked, how long they spent reading a page, which videos they viewed multiple times, and what answers they selected on quiz questions. 

With xAPI, you can collect user data and store it in a Learning Record Store (LRS). You can do this with a custom LRS or set up one inside your current LMS if it has the needed capabilities.

Benefits of SCORM

SCORM is easy to apply to modules built-in authoring programs like Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate. You do not need high-level coding knowledge for it. The technology is widely used because it has been around for a long time and is commonly known, and is supported by LMSs.

Benefits of xAPI

xAPI opens up a world of possibilities and flexibility. For starters, xAPI is not bound to typical eLearning modules. You can embed it in websites, mobile apps, Serious Games, resource libraries, etc. Unlike SCORM modules, items with xAPI coding do not have to be hosted in a central LMS. They can exist anywhere! The only requirement is that the data must eventually be transferred to the LRS.

This brings us to the next benefit, that xAPI can store data offline. A learner can complete a training exercise without an internet connection, such as while they’re flying on a plane. After they land and connect their device to the internet, the data will transfer to the LRS.

xAPI allows you to collect and analyze data on any aspect of the learner’s experience. It uses statements that contain an actor, verb, and object. Think about it as "He/she did this." Do you want to know how many learners clicked the “more info” button? Have the programmer write a statement for it. How many completed a quest in a Serious Game on the first attempt? xAPI can tell you. The data and analytics available are limitless, so long as you tell the programmer upfront what you want to track. You can then use this data to understand where learners are struggling, who is excelling, what additional training tools you should offer, and which formats of training your learners appreciate.

How to choose between the two?

In a nutshell, SCORM has been an acceptable tracking method for quite some time. It will continue to serve your needs if you’re only looking for primary complete/incomplete or pass/fail data with a score. While xAPI is gaining traction and popularity, there aren’t any signs of SCORM support waning soon.

If you need to track more detailed information, gather data from items outside your LMS, or collect data from experiences learners took offline, you’ll have to implement xAPI. As with most technical features or additions, xAPI typically requires more time and possibly money to set up, program, and thoroughly test. There are, however, economies of scale. You only have to set up the LRS once, so you do not need to reinvest after your first xAPI project.

Another question to ask is, “What will I do with all this data?” It would be best to have people in place who will run reports from the LRS, analyze data, and then act on it. Otherwise, the data will stack up in the LRS. There’s no sense in putting forth the effort to track data if no one will ever use it.

At Designing Digitally, Inc., we develop entertaining custom training that keeps learners engaged and involved. We offer both SCORM and xAPI technologies based on your needs and budget. 

To learn more about these tools and to identify which technology is right for your training solution, contact our team of experts today. 

Related ArticlesLearning Record Store (LRS), xAPI, and What You Need to Know and Using Predictive Analytics to Enhance Your Elearning

Please note this article was updated by our team on 5/13/2021.