You may have heard that the next generation of SCORM is around the corner. It’s called Project Tin Can and it aims to pull SCORM into our current world by enabling us to capture more informal and social learning experiences. But that’s not all. Here’s some more info from Aaron Silvers, who while working at the ADL (Advanced Distributed Learning) initiative, led the development of a number of SCORM 2004 content examples; he returned to the ADL in 2010 as its Community Manager and helps lead the development of the Tin Can API.

What is the Tin Can API?
The Tin Can API is an open source technology stewarded by ADL that focuses on how the activities people do are evidence of a learning experience.

What spurred this evolution for SCORM?
As early as 2008, some of us who were no longer with ADL were using social networks and recognized that there was something bigger happening with

  • how online communities form
  • how self-directed learning was happening with great search engines as a tool
  • how informal and social learning were happening with people tapping their networks and communities for help in performance support contexts
  • how much of this was being done increasingly by tools and devices that weren't in the desktop web browser. 

These activities were all happening in places SCORM doesn't serve and that's kinda what kicked things off.

What new capabilities does Tin Can API enable?
The capabilities we're addressing out of the gate cover being able to track a variety of activities in all manner of connected devices. I’ll break this down a little further.

  • Activities:  formal content that might otherwise be addressed with SCORM AND it includes social networking activities, games and simulations, collaboration on projects, real-world activities, evaluations, and assessment. If there's a verb for it, we want to be able to express it with Tin Can API.
  • Connected: types of systems and devices that connect to a "Learning Record Store," which can be a standalone system, part of a learning management system (LMS), or any other system.
  • Devices: mobile and desktop computers, sensors, business systems, and so forth.

How will this affect an organization’s existing LMS?
An LRS is basically a database that stores Tin Can API activity statements. I would suspect that in some cases, an LRS will be part of some LMS upgrades. In other cases it might be a bolt-on to their existing LMS. In a few cases, it might be a bolt-on to enterprise software (if not new enterprise software) that wouldn't traditionally be thought of as something a "learning" or training department would use as a system.

How does this affect reporting?
Our main goal with Tin Can API is to create a uniform format for data that can be shared across an organization (or even across whole organizations) so that people and their organizations can truly understand what they know. The data will be most useful when there are larger performance questions that an organization (if not a matter of self-interest to the individual) wants to answer. In such cases, the "content" (and I use that term very loosely) can be peppered with Tin Can API statements much the same way that Google Analytics works and simply report on what you *do*.


What else do learning professionals need to know or get ready for?
I think that if you're a developer of learning technologies, we're making it insanely easier to develop experiences with Tin Can API. I think if you're a designer, the opportunity (and the challenge) is that there's no one "form" that e-learning takes in a Tin Can API world. A mobile app might be the interface to one part of a learning experience you're designing. You have to look at experience design in terms of multiple lenses that can provide one very robust model of what learning activity really looks like, with data that makes it pretty easy to tie learning activities in context with performance. That's something that's really difficult to do with SCORM and designing with that capability is going to change things for instructional designers. I think we're going to lean very heavily on what's happening with "user experience design" in the commercial world.

You can learn more about Project Tin Can and sign up for email updates at


Note: Aaron Silvers provides support to the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the ADL.