Instructional Designers and SCORM: What should they know?

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Having interviewed many instructional designers (IDs) – been/am one, and having worked with many over the years, I must admit, I still struggle getting to the heart of what makes up the skill set and attitudinal qualities we want in good ‘eLearning’ ID. This article is about one area of this: eLearning instructional designers need for technical understanding – how much and what?

I started out when interviewing for IDs looking for qualifications firstly – minimum was Cert IV in workplace training and assessment, and next was a Bachelor of Education or similar. We could teach them the ‘online stuff’, and in fact, some thinking was that the less they knew the better, as they wouldn’t have preconceived boundaries… I then widened the searching criteria, finding success in hiring more ‘writers’ rather than educators. You may also notice in a few blog posts, I believe writing is a major part of good ID for online – but what else? What about SCORM interactions, knowledge of authoring tools, reporting capabilities of an LMS a client will be hosting/launching from, the client’s runtime environment – the implications this might have on what’s possible?

I haven’t in the past been overly concerned with an instructional designers ‘hard knowledge’ of how eLearning courses function, track or general knowledge of capabilities of different authoring tools – this has been a domain for our multimedia development team. As an ID myslef, my knowledge is pretty broad, just due to a lot of production and business management along the way – but I’ve looked at this as a complimentary bonus to ID. Due to a recent experience, I’m starting to lean more towards eLearning IDs having (or developing) technical knowledge, as well as the core writing prowess and educational rigour in their design approaches (i.e. they will argue for their words and approach with qualified reasoning around learning outcomes and what an audience will listen too – and what not).

It’s this balance we want in creative writing and then the very logical analysis of how an activity WILL work – as opposed to doesn’t work in some ID’s cases and to the frustration of clients and multimedia developers if the work gets that far. How many times have we been here?


Storyboards make it through all reviews and client sign-offs only to hit a multimedia developer’s computer who says… ‘ummm, sorry, this is impossible’ or ‘no problems – it’s pretty boring though, but I’ll build it as it’s written’.

I recently was reading up on SCORM 2004 for a Learning Hook project. It’s an assessment engine that our client can update themselves. It’s pretty robust and creative in itself, with great reporting capabilities due to SCORM 2004.

I came across a great resource in this endeavor particularly for IDs. It’s in Plain English and highlights the kinds of SCORM interactions (and defines what this means) that are possible within SCORM 2004. A very basic extract is below, which has been copied from – written by Clause Ostyn, who I thank for sharing these resources.

Interaction types: SCORM defines a number of interaction types with specific names:
True-FalseMultiple Choice, including single Response and Multiple Response Multiple Choice variations
Fill-In, sometimes called “short answer”, including the Cloze variation in which several short answers must be given.
Long Fill-In, which allows for the input of longer text as a form of response.
Numeric, in which the response is a numeric value
Likert, in which the learner chooses a value on a specified scale
Matching, in which the learner identifies pairing matches between two sets of data
Sequence, in which the learner response consists of an ordered sequence
Performance, in which the learner response consists of a series of steps
Other, which allows content developers to specify and build other kinds of interactions that still work with SCORM conformant systems

When you get into the meat of the article (which has much more than the above), learning about what the Performance interaction can report on and do (just as one example), I think it can’t help but grow creativity in IDs’ learning solutions and more importantly, with the arsenal of reporting interactions available, if used well, increase the effectiveness of the training, particularly for business analysis and staff development. The above is a really light on extract – the whole pdf is great reading for an eLearning ID. I’m not about to recreate Clause’s work here – go to his site please and read it.

So reading it myself, and finding a couple of trackable interactions I had no idea existed – nor did many multimedia developers by the way (because most IDs don’t write anything that requires them!) – it made me think that this was core reading for not just developers, but more importantly, our eLearning Instructional Designers.

My next step when hiring isn’t to check how much an ID knows about SCORM and the specifications they’re actually designing for, but once hired, this reading material will be a must, as I don’t think SCORM is just a domain for multimedia developers.

You might also want to look at ADL’s (the SCORM specification owners) documentation that supports scorm for IDs.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi, thanks for the great blog post. I went out looking for an answer regarding the importance of SCORM knowledge for ID's and this has been a good start for my search.

  2. Thanks for the comment too – it's really an interesting area I think. In my experience, very few IDs have good knowledge of the possibilities of SCORM interactions and how they can be exploited for the benefit of reporting and getting a bit more power out of a client's LMS. I think something else that's interesting is that very few employers would expect an ID to know the real detail and power of SCORM i.e. 'more than that it is a standardisation tool'.

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