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SCORM and Executive Order 13111: How the Clinton Administration Saved eLearning

By Henry Kronk
November 05, 2017

The current presidential administration is currently doing all that it can to walk back government regulation of for-profit education, education technology, and accountability in education. It’s an old pillar of the GOP, but it’s also incredibly popular among tech innovators.

A new study suggests that leaders in tech are generally liberal on numerous social and economic topics. But regarding government regulation, they buck the trend and fall significantly right of center.

Government regulation and initiatives have, however, played an invaluable role in the development of education technology.

Executive Order 13111

Way back in January of 1999, Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13111 titled “Using Technology to Improve Training Opportunities for Federal Employees.” The order created, among other things, a presidential taskforce who set about to determine the state of education technology, or eLearning, and to see how the federal government could help.

Their report, which they released in the fall of 2000, sounds surprisingly familiar. Technological development “has produced a continuous need for skills enhancement and retraining that can only be efficiently addressed by using technology-based training,” the authors wrote. “To meet this new level of expectation, we … will need to evolve with the Internet age and move aggressively toward using learning technology to provide “anytime” and “anyplace” training opportunities to its workforce.”

The report also made some amazingly perceptive predictions and suggestions. For one, they imagined a world in which users will access online educational content through a variety of devices in various different settings. They also mandated that, among federal training modules, users would have to advance progressively, one module at a time. This feature has since become standard among learning management systems (LMS).

But more importantly, they recommended imposing certain standards on eLearning technology.

In coordination with the Department of Defense (DoD) and their subsidiary group Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL), the taskforce separately published the Shareable Courseware Reference Model, or SCORM.

It is difficult to overstate SCORM’s importance to eLearning

SCORM basically describes some general technical standards that allow diferent eLearning technology and content to more easily integrate. These standards provide a model for how digital learning modules talk to LMSs.

Because of SCORM, developers can focus their efforts on front end content development, teaching strategies, new wave pedagogies, gamification, and creating engaging teaching models without needing to generate their own platform and network to house it.

Back end developers, meanwhile, might have an amazing new digital device they’re working on, like a video streaming platform or an independent learning management system. Without SCORM standards, it would be incredibly difficult and costly to integrate existing education content into the system.

Youtuber Judith Littlejohn has more on the subject.

Implementing SCORM took the cost of developing eLearning technology way down. It saved an entire industry from the potential of following the printer inkjet model.

In the words of Educated Ventures’ Christopher Nyren, Silicon Valley already sucks at edtech.

Months before Clinton’s presidential taskforce released their report, the dotcom bubble burst. At the height of the dotcom days, investors were pouring in billions. But after 2000 investment, and with it, development, significantly tapered off, dropping below $100m annually between 2002-2005.

SCORM today

But while the well went dry, SCORM lived on. It remains an industry standard to this day, allowing for continued innovation in both educational content and supporting technology.

Advanced Distributed Learning, the group created by the DoD which by and large wrote SCORM, also continues to exist.

According to their site, “the objectives outlined in that 1999 strategy still guide today’s ADL Initiative. For instance, the original strategy proposed pursuit of emerging network-based technologies, creation of common standards to enable reuse and interoperability of learning content, lowering of development costs, widespread promotion of collaboration to satisfy common needs, enhancing performance with next-generation learning technologies, working closely with industry to influence the commercial product development cycles, establishing coordinated implementation processes, and ultimately delivering efficient and effective high-quality learning continuously to DoD anytime/anywhere.”

“The original intent of these efforts (which is still valid today) was to establish learning that was accessible (anytime/anywhere), interoperable (across developers and technical platforms), durable (does not require redesign when technology changes), and cost-effective (significantly increases learning effectiveness while reducing time, costs, and duplications of effort).”