Why Vendors Should Support cmi5

By Art Werkenthin (President, RISC, Inc.)cmi5By the time of this writing, January 2016, you’ve probably heard of cmi5 — “the successor to SCORM?”

cmi5 is a new specification from Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL). It was co-developed by ADL and the Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee (AICC).  This new specification defines how “LMSs launch content” using the Experience API (xAPI) as the content-to-LMS communication layer.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at why vendors should support cmi5 — especially if you are a content developer, rapid-authoring tool or LMS provider.

Reason 1: Your customers are going to demand cmi5

If you’ve ever developed SCORM modules, you know there are many issues with this older specification.  Let’s look at just a few of these issues:

  •      Content must reside on the LMS server
  •      SCORM’s Arch Enemy: Pop-Up Blockers
  •      SCORM data is “fixed”
  •      SCORM can be confusing

Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail, and we’ll show how cmi5 eliminates these problems.

Content must reside on LMS server

SCORM uses relative addressing for assets, so content must reside in the same domain as the LMS.  As bandwidth and access have improved, SCORM modules have gotten bigger and bigger.  Suppose you have a beautiful SCORM module that includes a 300MB video.  Your server is in Houston and all your Houston students are very happy.  Your students in Germany, however, are quite the opposite of “happy”.  The performance of the video portion is terrible.  How can you fix it?

The answer is cmi5.  With cmi5 the content can reside anywhere, even on a mobile device.  Your 300MB video could be put on a Content Distribution Network (CDN).  A CDN allows you to post your web content on several servers, around the country or even around the world. This means your German students would download it from a server in Germany while your Houston students grab it from a US server.

This same issue arises with Content-as-a-Service, or CaaS.  If your customer buys content from an online provider, wouldn’t it be nice if the content could remain on the provider’s site?  With cmi5, the CaaS model just works, no workarounds required.

Your customers are going to want cmi5 if they need distributed content, or want to use CaaS.

SCORM’s Arch Enemy: Pop-Up Blockers

If you are an LMS provider or a content developer, you know that SCORM modules generally open in a pop-up window.  More often than not there are at least two windows opened by SCORM content because the module wants its own “player” window.

If you’ve ever received the call from a frustrated customer saying your content won’t open, you know what I’m talking about.  You dread going on the hunt for all the possible pop-up blockers that may be installed on the customer’s workstation.  Tip from the trenches: I’ve found as many as 7 pop-up blockers on a single machine.  Even if you clear out all the pop-up blockers, you still get the occasional student that hates pop-up windows… so they just close them immediately, thereby breaking your SCORM module.  Finally, if you want to support mobile, pop-ups are a “no-no”.

The solution is cmi5.  With cmi5 content can open in the same window as the LMS.  The LMS disappears and the content opens; simple as that.  When the content is done, it disappears and the LMS returns, right where you left off.

Your customers are going to want cmi5 if they have ever experienced any of these pop-up blocker issues, or if they need to use mobile devices to deliver content.

SCORM Data is “Fixed”

The data model in SCORM is essentially fixed.  You can track a lot of data, but the model is old and times have changed.  With the introduction of xAPI, customers are now realizing they can track any performance metric they desire.  But neither the SCORM nor AICC models have this flexibility.

The solution is cmi5.  Since cmi5 is built on top of xAPI, cmi5 can store any data that is possible in xAPI.

  • Store an audio recording of a student responding to a question.
  • Store a video of a student performing a task.
  • Store an essay written by a student.

Your customers are going to want cmi5 if they have any need to track non-traditional forms of data.

SCORM can be confusing

If you are an LMS provider or a content developer you have no doubt experienced interoperability problems.  You’ve probably been involved in a conversation like this:

Developer: “My module works fine in XYZ LMS but doesn’t work in yours.  It’s your problem.”

LMS Provider: “We have thousands of content modules from other vendors that work fine.  It’s your problem.”

Face it, the SCORM specification is big.  Really big.  Different vendors interpret it in different ways.  As an LMS provider, my company has implemented a lot of “workarounds” for the different ways that SCORM can be interpreted.  For example, “Does success equal completed?”  Sometimes, it depends on the developer.  How can we fix this?

The answer is cmi5.  The cmi5 committee recognizes these issues in SCORM and has worked hard to eliminate confusion.  As much as possible, cmi5 places control in the hands of the LMS Administrator.  For example, the LMS Administrator can set the passing score and the content must respect that score.  Also, the Administrator can determine what constitutes success.  They can require just “passed”, or just “completed”, or both.

Your customers are going to want cmi5 because it reduces confusion and finger pointing, and it returns control to the LMS Administrator.

Reason 2: The U.S. Government is going to insist on xAPI support

Rumors have been circulating for a while that the U.S. Department of Defense is going to require xAPI-conformant projects in future procurements.  If you were around in the early days of SCORM, you’ll remember that the success of SCORM was (at least partially) driven by Federal procurement. xAPI implementations are already spreading like wild fire, but wait until the U.S. Federal Government requires it in products they buy.

If you are an LMS provider, implementing cmi5 can protect your economic future.  cmi5 is the “easy” way to get into xAPI because it uses the traditional “LMS launches content” scenario.  Many of the concepts will be familiar to you from SCORM and AICC.

If you are a content developer or rapid-authoring tool, implementing cmi5 can protect and expand your market.  Want to sell to Federal government customers?  If you work with cmi5 you will by definition support xAPI.


Conformance to the cmi5 specification should be on the radar of all content developers, rapid-authoring tools and LMS providers.  It’s easier and more flexible than SCORM and solves many issues that are pain-points for your customers.  As your customers learn about cmi5 and the problems it solves, they are going to demand cmi5 conformance.  The time to investigate the benefits of cmi5 is now.

ART WERKENTHIN (President, RISC, Inc.)

Art WerkenthinArt Werkenthin, president of RISC, Inc., once wrote ‘No-Escape Missile Envelope’ simulations for a NATO fighters. He has over 30 years’ experience working with LMS systems in the Oil & Gas, Retail, Finance and other industries. An early xAPI enthusiast, Art’s company was the first to implement xAPI 1.0 in a commercial LMS. For the past 2 years Art has participated on the ADL CMI-5 committee and frequently presents and blogs on both xAPI and CMI-5 topics. You can follow Art on Twitter (@AWerkenthin) and read CMI-5 / xAPI blogs.


  1. Dear Art,
    Thank you for this and your other articles on xAPI / CMI5 which have been of great assistance in helping me to understand these new standards.
    A couple of questions, if I may:
    – are you aware of any LMS which currently (October 2016) supports CMI5?
    – how long, on your prediction, will it take the major LMS providers to provide such support?
    I would be grateful for your insights.
    Kind regards,
    Grant Bailey

  2. Hi Grant,

    Currently I am aware of only one LMS supporting cmi5 (RISC, Inc.), however several have announced support is coming. Full disclosure: I work for RISC. In addition, the Rustici “SCORM Engine” product will support cmi5 very soon, so that will expand the list of cmi5 capable LMS. SCORM Cloud is also going to support cmi5 and rumblings I have heard indicate it is only a matter of days away.

    How long it will take for the major LMS to support cmi5 is hard to guess. We’ve seen already that the “majors” have been slow to adopt xAPI and their support of xAPI is tepid at best. Since a large percentage of LMS use the Rustici SCORM Engine, as long as they are on the current version they have a built-in LRS (whether they know it or not). They basically just need to enable it for their customers. Once they support xAPI, the jump to cmi5 is quite easy.

    Frankly it is customer demand that will drive both xAPI and cmi5 with LMS vendors.


  3. Many thanks for your helpful reply Art.
    Regards, Grant


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