10 eLearning buzzwords you need to know!

top-10In this post we’ve put together short descriptions of the top 10 buzzwords in eLearning at the moment: Tin Can, Social Learning, Gamification, mLearning, Tablet learning, Rapid eLearning, Microlearning, Personalization, Blended learning, and Lifelong learning.

Tin Can

The Tin Can API is a brand new learning technology specification that opens up an entire world of experiences (online and offline). This API captures the activities that happen as part of learning experiences. A wide range of systems can now securely communicate with a simple vocabulary that captures this stream of activities. Previous specifications were difficult and had limitations whereas the Tin Can API is simple and flexible, and lifts many of the older restrictions. Mobile learning, simulations, virtual worlds, serious games, real-world activities, experiential learning, social learning, offline learning, and collaborative learning are just some of the things that can now be recognized and communicated well with the Tin Can API. What’s more, the Tin Can API is community-driven, and free to implement.  (TinCanAPI.com)

For more on Tin Can check our previous posts listed on this page.

Social Learning

Social learning is learning that takes place through social interaction between peers and it may or may not lead to a change in attitudes and/or behavior. More specifically, to be considered social learning, a process must: (1) demonstrate that a change in understanding has taken place in the individuals involved; (2) demonstrate that this change goes beyond the individual and becomes situated within wider social units or communities of practice; and (3) occur through social interactions and processes between actors within a social network (Reed et al., 2010).

For more on Social Learning check our previous posts on-topic listed on this page.


Karl Kapp, author of The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-Based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education, defines it as the use of game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning and solve problems. He says it’s much more than just adding ‘rewards, points, and badges’ to processes to motivate people – it’s the instructional method and not just the delivery system that provides the elements for learning in a game situation i.e. we must ask what ‘pieces’ in games makes them engaging such as interactivity, content, story.

Gamification for Learning – Interview with Karl Kapp http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__Y1m8XF77k


Mobile learning has been defined as: any sort of learning that happens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location, or learning that happens when the learner takes advantage of the learning opportunities offered by mobile technologies.(Wikipedia) In other words mobile learning decreases limitation of learning location with the mobility of general portable devices. But mobile learning is more than just using mobile devices to learn – it is also about the mobility of the learner.

For more on mLearning check out our previous posts listed here.

Tablet or T-learning

Tablet leaning by definition is learning on tablet devices. But is eLearning on tablets really mobile learning? Yes.

In defining mobile learning we need to focus more on the activity of learning at a distance using a mobile device and not on the devices themselves. Tablets are mobile devices – but perhaps not as ubiquitously mobile as smartphones. Tablets have more in common with the desktop and laptop than with the mobile phone when it comes to screen size, yet the touchscreen capabilities of both the tablet and the phone mean that learning design needs to take into account these differences in delivery.

For more on T-learning check this list of related blog posts!
We also love this great post in Mashable – 6 Reasons Tablets Are Ready for the Classroom.
For different opinions on whether eLearning on tablets is mLearning read:
Is eLearning on Tablets Really mLearning’ and ‘Is eLearning on Tablets Really mLearning [Chime In]’ by RJ Jacquez.

Rapid elearning

Rapid elearning is, essentially, a faster process of designing and developing online-based learning courses. Rather than spending months or years developing a course, rapid elearning allows course creators to build lessons and content in a matter of days or weeks. This is typically done through PowerPoint or narrated videos which are designed to dispense information quickly and conveniently to the students. Software is then utilized to test the students, as well as to provide them with activities that they can perform on their own in between pre-recorded presentations or videos.


Microlearning provides the knowledge and skill sets that online education typically offers without overwhelming the learner. It involves learning in smaller steps, and goes hand-in-hand with traditional elearning. Activities that are micro-learning based usually feature short term lessons, projects or coursework that is designed to provide the student with bits of information. For example, rather than trying to teach a student about a broad subject at once, aspects of the topic will be broken down into smaller, more digestible chunks.

Typically, microlearning exercises are best utilized at the point where a student will actually need the information, or when they are going to be most receptive to receiving that information.


Personalized elearning enables learners to customize a variety of the elements involved in the online education process. This means that they are asked to set their own goals, go at their own pace, and communicate with instructors and learners to personalize the learning process. Ideally, the learner is placed in charge of managing his/her own learning, and is able to customize the experience by having a direct say in the processes and content that is being provided.

The key elements that are customized in personalized elearning are: the timing and pace of learning, and the instructional approach (including lessons and activities that draw upon the learner’s experiences and interests). In other words, truly personalized elearning means students are given the chance to learn what they want when they want, and even how they will learn the material.

Blended Learning

Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace. While still attending a “brick-and-mortar” school structure, face-to-face classroom methods are combined with computer-mediated activities. Proponents of blending learning cite the opportunity for data collection and customization of instruction and assessment as two major benefits of this approach. (Wikipedia)

Read: The Definition Of Blended Learning

Lifelong learning

Lifelong learning is the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated”[1] pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. Therefore, it not only enhances social inclusion, active citizenship and personal development, but also competitiveness and employability.[2]

The term recognizes that learning is not confined to childhood or the classroom but takes place throughout life and in a range of situations. During the last fifty years, constant scientific and technological innovation and change has had a profound effect on learning needs and styles. Learning can no longer be divided into a place and time to acquire knowledge (school) and a place and time to apply the knowledge acquired (the workplace).[3] Instead, learning can be seen as something that takes place on an on-going basis from our daily interactions with others and with the world around us. (Wikipedia)

(1.) Department of Education and Science (2000). Learning for Life: White Paper on Adult Education. Dublin: Stationery Office. (2.) Commission of the European Communities: “Adult learning: It is never too late to learn“. COM(2006) 614 final. Brussels, 23.10.2006. (3.) Fischer, Gerhard (2000). “Lifelong Learning – More than Training” in Journal of Interactive Learning Research, Volume 11 issue 3/4 pp 265-294.

Why SCORM 2004 failed & what that means for Tin Can

“SCORM 2004 is dying (if not already dead!).” Now that might seem like a strong statement but it’s the sad truth. For the careful observer there are many signs to support this view, and here are a few of them:

Sign #1: 75% of packages are still on SCORM 1.2, 10 years after the initial release of SCORM 2004 [1] [2]


Sign #2: There is no certification process for tools and packages for the latest SCORM 2004 4th edition. This is the case although several years have passed since 4th release. Currently, someone can be a 4th edition adopter but *not* certified. [3]

Sign #3: ADL itself heavily supports Tin Can as the successor of SCORM.[4]

In essence, SCORM 2004 always lived in the shadow of SCORM 1.2. Now, with the introduction of Tin Can API it seems certain that its adoption rate will decline even further.

Reasons SCORM 2004 Failed

There are a multitude of reasons why SCORM 2004 failed. Here are most prominent (and yes, we refer to SCORM 2004 in the past tense quite deliberately):


The major contribution of SCORM 2004 was the “simple sequencing model”. In fact, it was anything but simple. It was a lot of work for LMS vendors to implement and more importantly, it was too complex for many courseware developers to use. Even the simplest of sequencing required a room full of flow-chart diagrams, dozens of field settings – and even then you needed to be an expert to actually understand what it was doing.

The sad fact is that SCORM 2004 had some nice extensions over SCORM 1.2 which generally made sense, but was hidden under the sequential model nightmare.

For example, a major problem with SCORM 1.2 was that when you took a SCORM quiz there was no way for the LMS to know what the actual questions were. You could access the kind of the question, the correct response, the student response and the score – but not the actual question. This is one of the areas where SCORM 2004 was profoundly better than SCORM 1.2. It included a full text question description and a descriptive identifier for answers. This meant that you could do some effective reporting on questions and the distribution of answers. It was a dramatic improvement but only a few took notice.

Low adoption

This was a side-effect of high complexity. Pedagogically, SCORM 2004 offered important new opportunities but at a disproportional cost.  In other words, the added benefits from the standard were unbalanced by its complexity. The end result was low adoption from vendors and instructional designers.

Even when vendors offered support for SCORM 2004 this was handicapped to great extent. For example, many rapid elearning tools that are available for creating courses DO NOT allow you to build anything easily other than basic SCORM 2004. Almost none of them have an interface for creating a dynamically sequenced Multi-SCO package.

Technology shift

10 years is a long time. Since SCORM 2004 was introduced new technologies have come and gone, smartphones have become mainstream, gamification has been introduced, Cloud & lean solutions are hot topics. We are living in a much different, and more connected, world yet SCORM is still an isolated, browser-based, LMS-centered standard. SCORM 2004 had to change in order to adapt to such a dramatically different environment and rather than do that ADL decided to save itself the trouble and start from scratch through what we now know as Tin Can or Experience API (xAPI)

On not being pragmatic

When SCORM was first introduced it answered a real-world problem – that of the standardization of learning packaging and delivery. And it succeeded because until that point in time there was no adequate way to do that job. On the other hand SCORM 2004 tried to address less obvious problems. It had a higher vision and tried to allow or enforce sound pedagogical concepts but was proven less pragmatic.

There is one important real-world issue that SCORM 2004 deliberately avoided dealing with and that is making SCORM a concrete standard. SCORM is a reference model and not a true standard – you can’t plug this into a wall and have everyone work the same way. There is still too much variation in how compliant LMSs implement UIs associated with the SCORM engine. Will content be loaded in a new window? A frameset? How large a window? How will the table of contents be presented? What navigation request does closing the browser imply? Content authors should be able to rely on a consistent set of UI expectations.

Lessons to be learned and the Tin Can future

Tin Can is trying to succeed where SCORM 2004 failed. Nothing is perfect though as ADL admits [5]. Ongoing compromises are not a bad thing per se, but can certainly be tricky.[6]

Simplicity matters

It seems like the need for simplicity is something that Tin Can endorses. Simplicity drives adoption and without adoption no standard can succeed. In essence Tin Can is much simpler that SCORM 2004 and even simpler than SCORM 1.2 (still, on the latest 0.95 and upcoming version 1 of the standard some complexity elements emerge like support for multiple languages – in essence this is good but comes with higher complexity for technology providers).

Technology-shifts can render you irrelevant

Another important characteristic of Tin Can is that it is actually technologically ‘agnostic’. It can be used inside the LMS, outside the LMS, embedded in a mobile phone or in a videogame. That provides some assurance against technology-shifts and opens new possibilities for capturing interesting learning interactions from informal activities.

Ongoing project support is important

An interesting decision regarding Tin Can is that ADL hired a company to drive the Tin Can project (Rustici Software). What that means for the future of the standard is still not clear, however, currently, the marketing and support effort is much improved.

Freedom and Standardization are opposite forces

Unfortunately, Tin Can does not help in the path towards standardization. It does however offer even more freedom to content creators by letting them, for example, define their own verbs used on statements. Interoperability of content between LMSs is somewhat improved due to the simpler messaging system and absence of Javascript; however, standardization of presentation will not be benefited from Tin Can as it is shaped today.

Tin Can chose freedom over standardization. It remains to be seen if this was a good move.

Reporting is critical for eLearning

The need for reporting is one of the main driving forces behind eLearning. Without reporting you cannot calculate the ROI (return-on-investment) of your learning activities. Reporting was not a favorite topic of SCORM but is at the core of Tin Can.  In principal, Tin Can is built around descriptors of actions (‘training evidences’) that can be translated to better reports. Still, the reporting itself depends on each vendor’s interpretation.  Also, for reporting to be useful it may help to merge statements to form higher level descriptors. For example, Tin Can can report on what you experienced or completed. But those are low level statements that cannot be rendered easily to something like “George is good at mathematics”.

Summing up

To say that SCORM 2004 failed because it was too complex is an over-simplification. There were a number of forces that led to this outcome. Tin Can tries to succeed where SCORM 2004 failed by addressing several but not all of the ongoing issues. It also comes with a fresh view on the technology landscape.

It seems that the compromises were calculated ones in order to simplify the standard but we anticipate that in the near future Tin Can will introduce several new elements in favor of standardization. Hopefully during this process its simplicity won’t be hammered too much. It is still early but a good way to introduce standardization might be through a new standard that builds over Tin Can (and thus, does not make it more complex) and addresses visual and reporting concerns. Let’s call it “Tin-Can X”.


  1. http://scorm.com/blog/2011/08/scorm-stats-then-and-now/
  2. http://scorm.com/scorm-stats/
  3. http://www.adlnet.gov/scorm/scorm-certification
  4. http://www.adlnet.gov/the-definite-indefinite-future-of-scorm
  5. http://scorm.com/project-tin-can-phase-3-known-weaknesses/
  6. http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/town/street/pl38/comp.htm


eFront V3.6.13 has just been released!

Today we would like to announce a new version of eFront! :)

The most notable addition to this version is Tin Can support. We took the time to bundle also several UI improvements, a WordPress integration plugin, a new introductory course, and a number of additional enhancements  to make your favorite learning tool even better.

So check out what’s new!

Tin Can

This is the first version of eFront with internal support for Tin Can.  eFront has implemented the 0.95 version of the standard, which is the most recent one. On top of the implementation you will find a robust way to filter down the reports per user, action or module.

Simple / Complete mode

eFront is becoming more complete with each version. Completeness comes with an unavoidable complexity factor. Starting with this version eFront offers a simple/complete switch on the header than can hide or reveal several elements. And here’s the best part:  you can fully customize the simple/complete behavior from Settings > Customization.

UI improvements

This version makes use of several bootstrap elements for popups and drop-down menus. We also introduce a redesigned header and a Go-to dropdown menu on admin for instant access to common functions.

Introductory Course

All new installations come bundled with a short introductory course about eFront. This is based on the brand new eFront videos you can find on our YouTube channel:


WordPress plugin

We have created a WordPress plugin that may come in handy for anyone that wanting to further customize his/her learning portal. With this plugin you can achieve the following:

  1. List your eFront courses and lessons and their content in WordPress.
  2. Allow your users to signup to eFront through WordPress.
  3. Allow your users to get or buy eFront courses or lessons.
  4. Achieve good integration performance through caching.

You can find more info on this plugin and download it for free from the following URL: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/efront/ and a sample implementation at: http://wpdemo.efrontlearning.net/

Other improvements

This version comes with several additional improvements on Certification, Relative lessons schedule and Facebook integration fixes.

For a detailed log of changes and related discussions check the forum post at: http://forum.efrontlearning.net/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=7983

Tin Can in action

Introduction to the Tin Can API:

The Tin Can API is a brand new learning technology specification that offers a simpler and more flexible way of capturing learning activities and sharing them with a variety of other systems – opening up an entire world of experiences (online and offline). A wide range of systems can now securely communicate with a simple vocabulary that captures this stream of activities.

The Tin Can API is a product of SCORM evolution – i.e. it’s practically the next generation of SCORM – and it eliminates many of the old limitations and restrictions. It is suitable for use in any kind of learning including: mobile learning, simulations, virtual worlds, serious games, real-world activities, experiential learning, social learning, offline learning, and collaborative learning. For a full introduction to Tin Can and how it differs to SCORM please see this post, or read “Tin Can Demystified” by Epignosis’ CTO, A. Papagelis.

How it works:

Statements are the ‘substance’ of the Tin Can API. Each statement corresponds to an experience that has occurred or is taking place right now. The Tin Can API uses (JSON formatted) statements containing any activity that needs to be recorded and sends them to a Learning Record Store (LRS). Each statement uses this simple form: “someone did something” or [actor]+[verb]+[object].

For more information about the Tin Can API, visit http://tincanapi.com, and for an overview on Tin Can Statements go to http://tincanapi.com/developers/tech-overview/statements-101/

Integrating with an LMS:

The main benefit of the Tin Can API is that it frees your data from a pre-defined LMS, promoting mobile, offline or even social learning.

Epignosis’ TalentLMS offers a basic LRS implementation where you can send and record any learning experience. You can enable the Tin Can API for your domain, through the Basic Settings of your account (administrators only).

Once enabled, you can get your private key used for authentication when communicating with the LRS. Statements can be sent to the LRS by posting them to the following URL: http://yourdomain.talentlms.com/tcapi/ . If authenticated successfully and provided that your JSON statement is valid the activity will be recorded and displayed in your timeline – in any other case a descriptive error will be returned.

Besides posting your statements, you should include the following parameters in the request HTTP header:

  • Authorization: your Tin Can API Key (find it in the Basic Settings of your account)
  • Statement ID* (optional): a unique identifier of your statement
*Note: when a statement ID is not included, a POST request should be made. On the other hand, when a statement ID is sent, a PUT request should be used

Tin Can in action:


At http://yourdomain.talentlms.com/dev/tincan/  you can find an example activity, where you can see in action how it communicates with the TalentLMS LRS. Fill in the LRS endpoint URL, your secret Tin Can API key and the email of an existing user in your system. Start navigating through the sample course, and check in real-time the statements recorded in your timeline.


In the same example activity you may also use an alternative LRS, such as the public LRS provided by SCORM Cloud. Use: https://cloud.scorm.com/ScormEngineInterface/TCAPI/public/ & enter a random API Key and your email. Navigate through the course, and visit http://tincanapi.com/developers/resources/statement-viewer/ to see all statements that were recorded.

Run it on your own

You may also download this sample activity, which is located at http://yourdomain.talentlms.com/dev/tincan.zip. You just unzip the files, place them in a web server running PHP and you’re ready to go!

Importing Tin Can Storyline object in TalentLMS

Using Articulate Storyline you can publish a project that supports Tin Can API, ready to use in conjunction with an LRS.  Publishing for Tin Can API in Articulate Storyline is really easy – just select “Tin Can API” as LMS in the Output Options section (detailed instructions here).

TalentLMS offers you the ability to upload Storyline objects which were published for Tin Can directly into a course unit. Just select the option to create a SCORM/Tin Can unit, upload your Storyline zipped object, and save your unit. Start experiencing your new unit and all Tin Can statements produced will be recorded and displayed in your timeline.

Epignosis will also announce the integration of the Tin Can API with eFront LMS next month – so please look out for updates in the coming weeks! :)

TinCan Demystified

If you are somewhat interested in eLearning and unless you have been living on a deserted island for the last year you probably have already heard about the TinCan project. TinCan is heavily promoted as the successor of SCORM and was designed to fix many things that were lacking on the previous standard. In this post we discuss what TinCan really is and how it compares to SCORM.

The Tincan API resulted from several deliberations on SCORM 2.0 over the last five years. The standard is developed by the company RUSTICI but ADL is still the steward of the specification, just like SCORM. The Tin Can API is community-driven, and free to implement.

At its core, TinCan is a messaging system. You collect messages in the form of JSON statements about what your learners are achieving while learning or playing or interacting with other people. Those statements are stored on what TinCan calls LRS (Learning Record Store). The LRS can be either standalone or part of an LMS. The standard doesn’t touch on how you go about translating those messages into something useful. In its simplest form you simply present the statements in the form of “Noun, verb, object” or “I did this”. It is totally up to the LRS developers to make use of this data in any other way they see fit.

Compared to TinCan, SCORM was a very complex standard. It took our team around 8 months to build a SCORM 1.2 engine and more than 16 months for the SCORM 2004 / 4 edition. On the contrary, we spent only 1 month to complete a basic TinCan implementation for use with eFront and TalentLMS. Perceived simplicity is a core ingredient of the new offering and a major adoption point for LMS and authoring tools developers.

A nice side-effect of the messaging system is that any enabled device or program can send Tin Can API statements (mobile phones, simulations, games, real world activities etc.). On the contrary, SCORM was browser and LMS based only. As TinCan project put it People learn from interactions with other people, content, and beyond. These actions can happen anywhere and signal an event where learning could occur. All of these can be recorded with the Tin Can API.” This openness is very important and in our point of view, the biggest benefit that TinCan brings to the world.

TinCan also claims improvements on another commonly required but rarely delivered functionality – the ability to complete learning objects offline and synchronize when you get online. Even when not working completely offline people ask for better support for browser timeout and connection drops. SCORM depends on the browser session and such issues are common and catastrophic.

In reality, the new API offers little real help on this front. However, since the communication happens through simple messaging, client programs can easily store the messages when offline and communicate them to the LRS whenever the user returns to online status. No matter how basic this seems to be an efficient solution. Never underestimate the power of simplicity!

TinCan is very cryptic on a few prominent elements on SCORM like Packaging. The reason is that you might not need Packaging at all. Your learning object might be a mobile application or a game that does not run inside an LMS; Packaging has no value on such a loose-end environment. If you choose to import a TinCan package to your LMS though then yes, you will need to deal with content packaging, launch and import issues.[i]

TinCan has also little to do with the complexities of things like Sequencing. Do you remember what SCORM’s 2004 sequencing was? Let me refresh your memory…

In SCORM 2004, the sequencing is completely dynamic; the sequencing implementation identifies the next activity based on both Tracking Model and Sequencing Definition Model of activities. In fact, the values of Tracking Model are dynamic but the values of Sequencing Definition Model are static. Actually, in SCORM 2004, the sequencing implementation collects the result of learner interactions with SCO (through CMI data model) and maps them to the Tracking Model and then evaluates the sequencing rules (defined for activities) based on the Tracking Model.”[ii]

This sort of complexity led to very low SCORM 2004 adoption. From our experience over 90% of SCORM is still 1.2. Perceived simplicity is the reason. People just want to grab the raw score. The other things that SCORM 2004 offers are often in surplus to requirements. People often require SCORM 2004 support but rarely use it.

Our biggest complaint with SCORM was that it is a reference model and not truly a standard; you don’t plug this into a wall and everyone works the same way. There is still too much variation in how compliant SCORM LMSs implement UI associated with the SCORM RTE. Will content be loaded in a new window? A frameset? How large a window? How will the table of contents be presented? What navigation request does closing the browser imply? Content authors should be able to rely on a consistent set of UI expectations.

Unfortunately, TinCan does not help towards this standardization. On the contrary, it leaves even more freedom to content creators by letting them, for example, define their own verbs used on statements. Interoperability of content between LMSs can be somewhat improved due to the simpler messaging system and absence of Javascript; however, standardization of presentation or reporting will not be benefited from TinCan directly.

To summarize, TinCan brings many good things like simplicity and freedom from the browser and the LMS. On the other hand, it falls short on standardization of UI and reporting. In essence, TinCan tries to bridge elements of formal learning (mainly Reporting) with informal activities (e.g, browsing or game playing). We can foresee additional tools or sub-standards on top of TinCan to address real world issues especially with reporting and standardization of the verbs on statements.

[i] http://scorm.com/wp-content/assets/tincandocs/Incorporating-a-Tin-Can-LRS-into-an-LMS.pdf

[ii] http://stackoverflow.com/questions/12080589/with-a-scorm-2004-lms-and-or-scorm-2004-scos-can-a-teacher-change-the-sequenci