E-learning standards are a set of common rules that apply to content, authoring software and learning management systems (LMSs). They provide all stakeholders with guidelines for designing and developing content, deploying it across platforms, and ensuring interoperability across devices.
There are two main types of e-learning standards. Courseware design standards refer to the different aspects of course design and development, and technical standards refer to the deployment of courses on an LMS or other portal.
Courseware Design Standards
Courseware design standards include instructional design, visual design, media, writing and assessment standards.
Having instructional design standards in place before developing a course helps developers clearly define the purpose, objectives, and strategies and choose content, interactivities, assessments, and feedback methods. Bloom’s taxonomy is a good guide for developing a logical framework for training content and ensuring congruence among the instructional objectives, activities and assessments.
Visual design standards refer to graphical user interface (GUI) and navigational elements. Course navigation must be intuitive and user-friendly to be successful. The objective of visual design standards is to ensure design consistency across lessons and modules.
Media standards ensure consistency and compatibility across the media elements used in a course, such as the screen layout/size, textual elements, graphics, animation, audio and video. While deciding on the media standards, factor in the end users and how they will access the courses. Do they have access to headphones? Will they access the course on desktops, laptops or mobile devices? Answers to these questions will dictate the use of media elements in the course.
It is always a good practice to have writing guidelines or a style guide for instructional designers and course developers. These writing standards act as a reference for the use of language, punctuation, bulleted lists, abbreviations, acronyms and other elements of text. For example, you might recommend using active voice instead of passive voice and simple, straightforward language rather than academic, abstract language. Standards like these should be included in your writing or style guide.
Assessment standards, which should align with instructional objectives, define how you evaluate learners’ understanding upon course completion. Bloom’s Taxonomy or Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Learning Evaluation provide some guidance on assessment. These guidelines on multiple choice questions could also be useful.
Technical standards pertain to the interoperability and portability of e-learning courses across devices, browsers and platforms. The most commonly used technical standards are SCORM, AICC and WCAG.
SCORM stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model. It is a technical standard developed by the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL), and it defines how e-learning courses interact with LMSs to facilitate course tracking. SCORM compliance makes it easy to record elements such course completion, number of times a learner has accessed a course, time taken to complete the course, assessment scores and points.
AICC stands for the Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee, which developed technical standards for computer-based courses in the airlines industry. Though the AICC standards’ objective is same as that of SCORM, they use HTTP messages to communicate with an LMS and involve multiple steps, and its popularity is diminishing due to that complexity.
WCAG stands for Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which the World Wide Web Consortium developed in order to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Many countries, including the U.S., have passed laws requiring that any material shared digitally is accessible to all.
Multiple software products, LMSs and e-learning developers are involved in the development of e-learning courses. In the absence of clear standards, coordinating and integrating content would be a laborious and costly exercise. Therefore, it’s important to understand your organization’s e-learning standards at the beginning of implementation. The end objective is to ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page with respect to the content and develop learning objects that can be used seamlessly across software programs, platforms and devices.