LETSI chieftan Avron Barr discusses taking over stewardship of SCORM.

Avron Barr leads LETSI (Learning-Education-Training Systems Interoperability), an international non-profit federation dedicated to improving individual and organizational learning and performance. Barr’s background is a strategy consultant in Silicon Valley. He got involved with ADL several years ago when he was asked to fill in for Phillip Dodds, the chief architect of the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM). At that time Barr was tasked with the spinout of SCORM technology into LETSI—a new stewardship organization.

Why did the Department of Defense want to move SCORM development out of the ADL?

Although SCORM was initiated in a lab the Department of Defense, it was developed by a large community of users. More important, SCORM is used all over the world. For example, current data finds that there are 165 SCORM-conformant LMSs in more than a dozen countries. It’s used by the military, government, corporate training, higher education, and K-12 to solve some sort of interoperability problem. 

As SCORM grew in use and popularity, the job of servicing that community also grew. Furthermore, there were parts of that community who would be happy to not deal with the DoD as a maintenance provider of SCORM. So some time ago, talks began about how to transition SCORM to another organization. This sort of move isn’t new. It has happened with other technology, such as GPS, for example.

So how does LETSI enter the picture?

After meeting every other week at ADL offices for more than a year, we decided to launch LETSI as a consortium that would shepherd the future of SCORM. LETSI officially got underway during a meeting this March in London. We had 60 individuals attend the meeting, and six sponsor organizations, one of which was the ADL.

Because one of the founding principles of SCORM is that it—and other standards like it—should service across communities of practice, we have 12 sponsors comprised of standards organizations, government programs, and suppliers, such as the Masie Learning Consortium, MedBiquitous, Adobe, Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee (AICC), and Schools Interoperability Framework Association (SIFA). International organizations also are sponsoring LETSI, including Korea Institute for Electronic Commerce (KIEC) and el Instituto Latinoamericano de la Comunicación Educativa (ILCE). And we have plans to extend sponsorship opportunities in the near future to an even broader audience.

What are LETSI’s immediate plans for developing current SCORM specifications?

We spent much of the first year of LETSI developing a charter, determining procedures, and so forth. Doing this as an international organization from its conception complicated matters, of course, but we do have a plan. Initially, LETSI’s stake in the ground will be the development of SCORM 2.0. (ADL will continue to support SCORM 2004, with a forth edition being released late 2008.) We’ve determined, however, that LETSI itself will not develop the component standards that go into SCORM. We’ve opened up the entire design process, so LETSI’s main role will be to create an open source software community to support SCORM adopters and product developers. In addition, LETSI will play the leadership role in publicizing SCORM extensions and will consider them for future inclusion in SCORM.

To get the process started, we’ve put out a call for white papers, which is open until mid August. A committee will be responsible for review of the white papers for inclusion into the specs, but all papers, comments, and so forth will be open to the public via the LETSI website. There will be online forums for people to discuss key topics as they come up.

This summer, LETSI will open up membership to include individual members, who will comprise working groups that will actually develop the new SCORM specifications. We’re hoping to get a couple of hundred members between now and the workshop in October. At that meeting, the members will really start drilling into the potential new specs.

By the end of this year, LETSI is planning on releasing what is called a “Design Document” for SCORM 2.0, which will basically outline what SCORM 2.0 will be. It won’t be a completed spec at that time, but it will enable implementers—especially suppliers—to start planning future product releases that will conform to the new guidelines. Later, members will vote on the specs. In fact, LETSI’s charter requires that individual members in each working group vote on all technical specifications.

What sort of members is LETSI pursuing?

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The world of training has changed significantly, so we need members who will not only look at the technical aspects of SCORM, but also more generalized concerns. We need people who can talk to the future of teaching and learning strategies and how people will use technology, such as Web 2.0 tools.

In addition, we need members who will discuss business requirements. For instance, how do organizations manage online catalogs or fee structures? We need people who will consider how the individual content is developed and distributed. For example, corporations typically buy content for distribution. Meanwhile, the military nearly always custom-develops content. These are all items that need to be factored into the landscape.

More important, we need people willing to volunteer their time. It’s not going to be an easy job to figure out the next iteration of SCORM. So anybody who is willing to read through the proceedings of any of our working groups deserves to be a member and vote.

Are you concerned about drumming up interest to develop SCORM 2.0? In many cases, it seems as though standards has fallen off the radar for some organizations?

Not really. People at the long-term strategy level are still concerned with interoperability—and still interested in standards. Most learning professionals, however, shouldn’t have to worry about standards at all. Standards should be completely invisible. If a developer creates something in Adobe and runs it in Blackboard, Adobe and Blackboard should be the parties to care about the standards. Unfortunately, that has not been the case in the past. The standards weren’t always complete, and some suppliers would reinterpret the standards as a way to compete. That meant everyone had to talk about standards.

In any event, the picture that LETSI is going for in the future is that all tools are standard-conformant. The learning professional’s job is simply to make sure that they purchase and use standard-conformant products. That should be all they have to worry about when performing their work.

Will LETSI test products for SCORM-conformance?

The ADL currently has two testing organizations that certify products, mostly LMSs. It is very hard to do. LMSs can interpret the specs so that there are slight differences in the way that they run content. There is some looseness there, and that’s why SCORM 2004 is on its third edition and will soon release its fourth.

But for the DoD, government institutions like in South Korea, and major corporations, conformance in terms of tested compliance by a third-party organization is key. For others, it may not be as important. To that end, LETSI intends to develop a mechanism that allows for third-party certification, as well as support self-testing of products.

Who do you see driving the development of SCORM 2.0? Customers or suppliers?

SCORM is driven by adopters, and adopters come from both groups. Suppliers have clients that are asking them to perform specific tasks that currently aren’t addresses in any sort of interoperable framework, so they’re definitely hoping that SCORM will go into its next version. For example, if a university wants to adopt a new LMS system that’s going to influence the suppliers competing for that business. Meanwhile, individuals—or innovators—in many organizations are in the position of having to build their own tools and such, but need it to work with other products.

Whoever the driver, the real job of SCORM is to stay out of the way of these innovators, but still allow for maximum interoperability to save money and stabilize a market. That’s all a standard can do to help the market grow, so all stakeholders are driving development of SCORM 2.0.