SCORM Troubleshooting

Just as CD’s and DVD’s play on any player that supports the format, SCORM conformant courses should run and track on any SCORM conformant Learning Management System.

In practice, SCORM provides a framework that promotes, but does not gaurantee, successful interoperability. There are many ways conformant content can fail to interoperate.

In my experience there are two most common ways this can happen:

  • interpreting results differently than they are intended by the specification
  • infrastructure issues (bugs, character encoding) that interfere with communication between course and LMS

Result Interpretation Issues

When completion of a course is a requirement, a completion report should identify those who have satisfied the requirement. However, many LMS’s report completion independently of a pass or fail condition. This makes reporting much more cumbersome, as data granularity required to track and interpret test results increases processing and data loads exponentially. A typical workaround is to develop a course that contains an embedded test which must be passed to complete the course. This prevents any granular information from being track at the level of the test.

Communication issues

One of my responsibilities at Kodak WWLD was to troubleshoot SCORM tracking issues.

In the course of working through several SCORM integration issues a pattern emerged that inspired me to create a standard method for solving them. A worst-case scenario that occurred a couple of years ago highlights the steps and principles embedded in the method:

Scenario: Courses created with a popular authoring tool fail to track properly on the LMS. The authoring tool provides SCORM via a black box implementation– its functions and output files can’t be modified. The LMS is provided as a service and can’t be changed on the customer end either.

Step 1:
Test on a neutral platform and try to reproduce issue.
Focus should be on Content or LMS depending on result
Step 2:
Contact vendor with results, have vendor reproduce on neutral platform to get agreement
Vendor commitment to partner on solving issue
Step 3:
Work through causation (keep asking why until answer is detailed enough to reveal nature of problem)
Action plan to make change likely to solve issue

In my scenario there were no obvious reasonable solution steps I could take directly: Changing the black box raises compatibility issues with future versions and adds steps, and will not solve the problem. The LMS provider wants proof that their system is the root cause of the problem, but there are very limited troubleshooting capabilities on the customer end.

To complete Step 1 of the process I ran the content in the SCORM Test Suite from ADL. This is the same software used by ADL to test for SCORM conformity – no one will argue with the results from this test, and it saves out a results log I can send to the vendor. Everything checked out fine in that environment.

Step 2: Even though it already looked like the problem was on the LMS, I went to the authoring tool vendor and they agreed to verify my results. This would help me deal with the LMS vendor, who knew would insist on these steps.
I then went to the LMS provider with the test results. They agreed to audit results of a session on their LMS which we arranged. These were compared.

I arrived at Step 3 quickly because the LMS vendor acknowledged that the content behaved differently on their system than the test suite. They went through their logs and worked out the root cause on their end. They found that the authoring tool sent unescaped text data to the LMS that included a special character that the LMS interpreted as an end-of-file marker.

The LMS vendor’s product is used by multiple customers so they are very reluctant to change anything for one. In this case the problem could effect any and all of their customers, so it was in their interest to make the necessary changes that solved our issue.

While it may read as a simple way to solve problems, this example required many meetings, phonecalls, and almost daily email updates. I became known as “the anklebiter” in my department in the process, but the process ensured that everything was widely communicated and very professional.

ADL Logo

To learn more about SCORM and the test suite, go to the ADL website.

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8 Responses

  1. piet_duck says:

    Hi david..i am pipit from Indonesia..i’ve read your blog which have a title “SCORM Troubleshooting”..and i was so interest because my final project is talking about SCORM your blog,you said that not all packages that we already tried to make with authoring tools,can be opened in all LMS,right?can you show me the example?
    and talking about the troubleshooting,can i have your troubleshoot SCORM tracking issues?please help me..i need it so much..thank you for your time for reading this message..please i hope you can respond me…please..

  2. piet_duck says:

    Hi dave,,i want to asking this blog, you showed us that there is a trouble in SCORM even SCORM is a standardization. Can you tell me the example from that trouble??because honestly, i was a little bit confused with your scenario…thank you..i need your help so much..

  3. In the example my role was to get a series of courses running on an LMS. The courses and the LMS supported SCORM, but the courses did not record completion.
    The courses were developed in an authoring tool that added the SCORM code automatically without showing anything to the author. So it was difficult to troubleshoot, and very difficult to implement a solution.
    The LMS vendor traced the problem to a character the course used that caused an error on their system. They corrected the error.

    Hope this helps clarify…

  4. piet_duck says:

    can you tell me the name of authoring tool that you used and the LMS that you used too to opened that package??
    thank you..

  5. The Authoring tool was Toolbook version 8, and the LMS was ElementK KnowledgeHub.

  6. Florian says:

    do you know if we can experiment a croos domain issue if LMS and content server are on a windows workgroup of virtual machine ?

    many thanks

    • David J McClelland says:

      If the LMS and content server are on the same virtual machine and workgroup you will not be cross domain. I would plan on an LMS on its own web server on one machine and content server on another, each with unique IP addresses, and access them from another machine that acts as client.

      Then I would create a web page on one server that contains a Javascript that loads content into an Iframe from the other server. See if a browser with security set to “high” warns about cross-domain scripting. Then install and build out LMS and content server.

  1. February 7, 2007

    […] J McClelland shares his experiences and a standard troubleshooting method for SCORM content in his blog. (Great post on issues that many of us have […]

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