AICC, SCORM , xAPI, CC/LTI, CMI-5…What Does It All Mean?

If nothing else, the growth of eLearning seems to correlate directly to the growth of bizarre acronyms.

Currently, there are three primary methods of tracking lesson data back to a centralized storage site and database. There are ultimately more than that, which I’ll mention at the end, but first is an overview of the top three methods for tracking eLearning progress and interaction.


Arguably the first eLearning standard. Developed by the “Aviation Industry CBT Committee” (AICC), this standard is fairly well entrenched. Quite a few companies with some history behind them still primarily support the AICC standard within their products (i.e. Plateau > SuccessFactors, Skillsoft, Captivate, Presenter, etc.). Per the AICC Wikipedia article,

AICC specifications are usually designed to be general purpose (not necessarily Aviation Specific) so that learning technology vendors can spread their costs across multiple markets and thus provide products (needed by the Aviation Industry) at a lower cost. This strategy has resulted in AICC specifications having broad acceptance and relevance to non-aviation and aviation users alike.

The AICC standard has gone through several revisions to keep pace early on but has not been updated in over a decade. AICC has several sub-specifications (AGRs) to address various types of media, so there can actually be at least 7 different levels of AICC compliance. However, the only one of significant relevance today is AGR CMI001, also known as AICC-HACP, being the most recently updated and, by using direct POST capabilities, avoiding Javascript cross-domain issues inherent with the SCORM API (detailed discussion on the AICC forum).


While the AICC specification may have stagnated, it provided the groundwork for the next significant spec: SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model). Championed by the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) group, AICC formed a close relationship to work through this next evolution. Per the SCORM Wikipedia entry,

SCORM is a collection of standards and specifications for web-based e-learning. It defines communications between client side content and a host system (called “the run-time environment”), which is commonly supported by a learning management system. SCORM also defines how content may be packaged into a transferable ZIP file…

The AICC basis for SCORM can be seen deeper in the specification with the preface of ‘cmi.’ for most all the spec’s functions and variables.

There currently exist two primary versions of SCORM, 1.2 and 2004. Being an older, more simple standard, there is fairly wide support for version 1.2 across most authoring and LMS products. A large subset of that group, however, does support at least some ‘edition’ of the 2004 specification.

SCORM is fairly well entrenched due to its longevity…and thus being the primary specification which most tools and LMS products have incorporated. While there are certainly areas for improvement, the specification is rarely used to its full potential and is largely used as a simple means of tracking a user’s progress and score within an eLearning course. However, with the growth of mobile devices, one significant restriction has become more critical – the requirement that the content be launched from a SCORM-compliant, web-based application.


Otherwise known by its working name, TinCan, the Experience API (xAPI) specification is also managed by the ADL and is slowly gathering steam, hitting version 1.0 in April, 2013. The specification is young but promising. While it frees the content from the tie-in to a direct web application launch and a restrictive set of tracking parameters…it is very much a different specification from SCORM and carries with it new concerns. Per the xAPI Wikipedia page,

The Experience API “is an e-learning software specification that allows learning content and learning systems to speak to each other in a manner that records and tracks all types of learning experiences. Learning experiences are recorded in a Learning Record Store (LRS). LRSs can exist within traditional Learning Management Systems (LMSs) or on their own.

It is interesting to watch xAPI mature and be integrated with LMS products, or new standalone LRS products, as well as how useful it is in increasing the assessment of user’s learning paths, preferences, and growth – especially in considerations of how easy it will be to track almost any online activity. Have privacy concerns about xAPI’s ability to be implemented everywhere? Unsure how to report on the ‘actor, verb, object’ data when it’s not strictly defined? Stay tuned…


Where AICC and the ADL are instrumental in the other specifications, the ‘IMS Global Learning Constortium’ (IMS) is focused on similar standards; namely the Common Cartridge and Learning Tool Interoperability standards (CC/LTI). These specifications have made much more progress in the academic arena than elsewhere and are less-widely supported specs.

Common Cartridge content packages are actually very similar to SCORM-compliant packages but may include features common to LMS products such as supplemental files and discussion forums. In essence, CC attempts to reach beyond the actual lesson (per SCORM) and cover the entire range of ‘digital course materials’; however, a CC package may be a course, or a lesson plan, or an assessment …or a combination of all three (the Common Cartridge FAQs help decipher these details).

Generally, LTI-compliant tools be can be plugged into learning management systems directly – not just course authoring tools but pretty much any educational application (i.e. eBooks, grading tools, etc.) – allowing the application to track user actions to the LMS directly. This Educause PDF explains the concept well.

And there’s actually a third standard maintained by IMS; Questions and Test Interoperability (QTI), which is a subset of CC itself. In short, if your LMS supports QTI, you can import a QTI document and the LMS will ‘build the quiz’ for you. This one actually seems to have the broadest reach between academic, corporate, and public development…but is still in a nascent stage compared to the ‘top three’.

Got all that?! It’s an interesting approach but so far only QTI seems to show any possibility of breaking out of the education environment – which is why the only LMS products you generally see with LTI capabilities are those like Blackboard, Moodle, and Canvas


The AICC organization isn’t out of the game yet! While collaborators for the SCORM and xAPI specification, the group is taking on the true ‘next generation’ of SCORM with the CMI-5 specification. AICC’s CMI-5 Wiki maintains a list of the weekly meeting minutes which provides details on the progress.

One significant advantage may be that where xAPI is gathering steam as an alternate specification to SCORM, CMI-5 has the underlying purpose of combining the best parts of AICC, SCORM , and xAPI into a more robust replacement for SCORM and the AICC specifications; the success of which, however, may largely depend on the successful implementation of xAPI and how well it works for those who need that sort of data.

Update 5/2015: Progress continues on ‘cmi5’.


In sum;

  • The AICC specification is still around, especially in older LMS systems, but no longer maintained and is pretty much EOL’d.
  • The SCORM specification is still very current and applicable, with the only two restrictions being cross-domain tracking (a rare issue, and one that can be worked-around) and mobile-App compatibility.
  • The xAPI specification is young but growing. Look for increased support in both tools and LMS/LRS products in 2014. Whether advantages of mobile-compatibility vs privacy and reporting concerns become an issue, it’s wait-and-see. xAPI is NOT the ‘next generation of SCORM’.
  • The CC/LTI specifications have some advantages but will likely remain restricted to academic environments. The related QTI specification may see increased growth, but only where LMS products see the benefit in supporting the specification.
  • The CMI-5 specification shows a lot of promise but its growth very much depends on commitments and whether the market sees advantages over xAPI which has a significant head start.

2 thoughts on “AICC, SCORM , xAPI, CC/LTI, CMI-5…What Does It All Mean?

  1. rustici’s scorm cloud is a good place to test scorm/xapi content…and worth repeating xapi is not necessarily a scorm freplacement…

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