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Creating E-Learning Content in Authorware 7 for SCORM1.2-Compliant LMSs and LCMSs

Introduction

The last few years have seen an increase of interest in e-learning. Many organizations have moved on from the decentralized use of CBT or WBT and are using Learning Management Systems (LMSs) or Learning Content Management Systems(LCMSs) to leverage the full potential of e-learning. Therefore, the demand for developers to deliver their content in a way it can be used or re-used with these systems has increased also.

The widespread adoption of standards is a key factor for enabling e-learning content to be run with and exchanged between different LMSs and LCMSs.

Authorware 7 now includes all the functionality necessary to produce e-learning content compliant with SCORM 1.2 and enable it to be run with and exchanged between SCORM1.2-compliant LMSs and LCMSs. This article introduces the basic concepts and components of the SCORM and takes you through the high-level steps to producing SCORM1.2-compliant e-learning with Authorware 7 ready for import in SCORM1.2-compliant LMSs and LCMSs. The information in this article is supplemented by three additional articles:

  • “The Authorware Learning Management System Knowledge Objects – a Walkthrough”
  • “The Authorware 7 Learning Object Metadata Editor – a Walkthrough“
  • “The Authorware 7 Learning Object Content Packager – a Walkthrough“

Introduction to the SCORM

The SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) from the US Department of Defense’s ADL (Advanced Distributed Learning) Initiative is one of the most widely adopted set of specifications for e-learning. The SCORM is an “application profile” that comprises a set of specifications and standards based upon the work of other groups and standards bodies.
The three main components of the SCORM are:

  1. Runtime Environment: A data model and an API (Application Program Interface) that define how learning objects can exchange data with an LMS or an LCMS for the purpose of tracking a learner's progress (data tracking).
  2. Meta-data: A set of meta-data elements for describing learning content so that it can be easily searched for, identified, and accessed.
  3. Content packaging: A package definition for delivering and exchanging structured content (learning objects and courses) between different LMSs and LCMSs.

Previous versions of Authorware had the functionality to produce learning objects compliant with the requirements of the first two components listed above. The requirements of the third component are now met by using the new Learning Object Content Packager command included in Authorware 7.0. This command completes the functionality required to produce fully SCORM 1.2-compliant e-learning content, including complete, complex course structures from within Authorware.

Note: It is not mandatory for a learning object or collection of learning objects to implement components two and three of SCORM 1.2 in order to be regarded as SCORM1.2-compliant. However, if any type of learning object does have associated meta-data, it must conform with the meta-data specifications. Likewise, a content package must meet the packaging requirements to be SCORM compliant.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of these three components and their function:

SCORM Runtime Environment

This specification defines how a learning object and an LMS or LCMS exchange data about a learner's progress and what data they exchange.

Imagine your Authorware piece is a cell phone. To connect to the phone system, it must use a specific method or protocol to send and receive data. Similarly a learning object and an LMS or LCMS need a defined method for exchanging data about a learner.

In the SCORM, this method is the JavaScript API (Application Program Interface). The API provides the content developer with a standard set of function calls that are used to communicate with the LMS or LCMS. The data model associated with the API defines a set of mandatory data items and also some optional data elements, which are sent and received using the API calls.

In Authorware, setting up SCORM-compliant data tracking via the JavaScript API is facilitated by the use of either the Authorware ReadURL function, or the new LMS Knowledge Objects offered with Authorware 7.0.

SCORM Meta-data

This specification defines how learning content can be described in a standardized format using meta-data. By definition, meta-data is “data about data.” The meta-data for a learning object or a collection of leaning objects includes such information as its title and description, a set of keywords, its type and format, its price and terms of use, and its location.

Imagine your Authorware program is a book. To make the book available and useful for other readers in a library, it must be classified and stored so that it can be located and retrieved easily. Data such as the title, author, publishing date, topic in a classification system, and the book’s physical location, stored in the library’s catalogue enable readers to find and locate books containing the subject matter they require.

Meta-data provides similar information about learning content. The SCORM is based on the IMS Learning Resource Meta-data version 1.2 specification and adds some extensions to it. The specification contains a mixture of mandatory and optional meta-data elements for describing learning objects and collections of learning objects. The meta-data has to be set up using XML (Extensible Markup Language). XML is a cousin to HTML, and like HTML, XML uses pairs of tags that are placed like bookends around sections of text in a document.

Authorware developers do not need to know the format of the SCORM meta-data elements or the details of the related XML tags. An XML file for learning object meta-data is easily produced via the SCO Metadata Editor command introduced in Authorware 6.0. This command has been updated and renamed the Learning Object Metadata Editor command in Authorware version 7.0.

SCORM Content Packaging

This component defines how a single learning object or a structured collection of learning objects (a course), can be packaged in such as way that it can be delivered to or exchanged between different LMSs and LCMSs.

Imagine your Authorware program is an assembly kit for a kite. Everything needed to build the kite is shipped in a single box including a complete list of the component parts and a set of assembly instructions.
The SCORM defines a similar method for packaging learning content. A SCORM “content package” is based on the IMS Content Packaging specification.

A SCORM 1.2 content package includes:

  • all the physical resources of the learning object(s) including map files, segment files, HTML files, media resources etc
  • optional meta-data describing the learning material
  • a manifest file which describes the content of the package and its structure

Bundling the items mentioned above results in a package interchange file (PIF). The PIF provides a concise Web delivery format that can be used to transport content packages between systems, typically in a ZIP file or similar archive format.
The new Authorware 7.0 Learning Object Content Packager command makes it easy for developers to produce the XML manifest file and then optionally bundle it along with the resources of the learning object(s) to produce a package interchange file.

The SCORM Content Hierarchy

Most learning content, regardless of how it is delivered, uses some sort of hierarchical structure. Typically, a course is divided into lessons, and sometimes lessons are divided into topics. There are many possible ways to construct courses. It is useful when working with the Authorware 7.0 Learning Object Content Packager to have a basic understanding of how the SCORM represents content hierarchy.

The SCORM 1.2 specification defines two hierarchical levels:

  • Content aggregation – a group of learning resources. Course-level content always constitutes a content aggregation. To build complex structures, content aggregations may be nested and may contain lower-level blocks of content which themselves form a content aggregation. (See Figure 1.)
  • Resource – comprising two main types of learning resources:

    • SCOs: This is the level at which the learner interacts directly with the learning content and at which the LMS tracks the results. Typically, a learning object developed in Authorware is a SCO.
    • Assets: An asset is a piece of content, typically a graphic, movie, sound, or other media item or an auxiliary item such as a glossary. Most assets are launched by SCOs as part of their internal content (e.g., a graphic appearing on an HTML page) and do not concern the LMS. However, the specification also allows assets to be launched directly by the LMS, although they do not have the ability to communicate with it.
flow diagram

Figure 1: SCORM Content Hierarchy. (Illustration based on: The SCORM Version 1.2 Content Aggregation Model, Figure 2.1.1.3a. Available at http://www.adlnet.org).

A Step by Step Guide to Building a SCORM1.2-Compliant Complete Content Package in Authorware 7.0

  1. Develop the learning object(s) that comprise your course.

    You have two options for setting up the SCORM-compliant data tracking method in your learning object(s).

    • Using Authorware’s ReadURL function to make JavaScript function calls defined in the API. See the folder Goodies/Macromedia/LMS Examples/Adl on the Authorware 7.0 CD for a sample of a SCORM-compliant Authorware learning object that uses the ReadURL function for making the API calls.
    • Using the LMS Knowledge Objects supplied with Authorware 7.0. See our upcoming article, “The Authorware Learning Management System Knowledge Objects – a Walkthrough” for step-by-step instructions on using the LMS KOs. This article will be published on macromedia.com in the near future.
  2. Package the learning object(s) using Authorware’s One Button Publishing (OBP) feature:
    Instructions for using OBP can be found in the Authorware Help files. The only difference between publishing a standard Web packaged course and publishing a course that communicates with an LMS is in the launch HTML file that is generated. During the publishing process, you must select the correct HTML template file from the HTML template drop-down menu on the Web Page tab:
    • For learning objects using the ReadURL function method, select AICC API – ADL SCORM.
    • For learning objects using the LMS Kos, select LMS KO.
  3. Organize the package folder for the published files:

    For the Learning Object Content Packager command to work correctly, all the resources for published learning objects and any ancillary files must be located in the same folder. These resources include:

    • the map files (*.aam)
    • the segment files (*.aas)
    • any other files required by the course, such as Xtras, U32s or external media files
    • the HTML launch files (as selected in the HTML template on the Web Page tab of OBP)
    • any JavaScript files necessary for communication with the target LMS

    All files should be organized and named as they would be on the Web-server.

  4. Create the learning object meta-data with the Learning Object Metadata Editor command:
    To create XML files with learning object meta-data for each of your learning objects or for your entire course, run the Learning Object Metadata Editor command. See our upcoming article, “Using the Authorware Learning Object Metadata Editor – a Walkthrough” for step-by-step instructions. This article will be published on macromedia.com in the near future.
  5. Save metadata in the package folder:

    You must save the XML file(s) you have produced with the Learning Object Metadata Editor command in the same package folder as the resources for the learning objects they describe.

  6. Create the manifest file (imsmanifest.xml) using the Learning Object Content Packager command:

    Run the Learning Object Packager command. See the article “The Authorware 7.0 Learning Object Content Packager - a Walkthrough“ for step-by-step instructions.

  7. Save the manifest file in the package folder:

    The manifest file (imsmanifest.xml) must also be saved in the same package folder as all the other resources already prepared.

  8. Create the package interchange file:

    Package the all the course content into a package interchange file using the Save Package button in the Learning Object Content Packager. The Zip file generated by the Learning Object Content Packager must be saved to a different folder from the package folder. The package interchange file is now ready for import into any SCORM 1.2-compliant LMS or LCMS.

Additional Resources

SCORM specifications

E-Learning Standards book:

Fallon, C. and Brown, S., e-Learning Standards, A Guide to Purchasing, Developing and Deploying Standards-Conformant e-Learning, Boca Raton, FL: St. Lucie Press, 2003
www.elearning-standards.com

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