A Quick Introduction to LMS Standards

There are a few common reasons why folx go looking for information on Learning Management System (LMS) or Learning Record Store (LRS) standards. If you’re one of them, maybe you’re doing your due diligence to make sure your course will work with a specific LMS or LRS. Or maybe you’ve come across some cryptic references to e-learning standards (cmi5 is what exactly?) and want an easy-to-understand explanation.

No matter what brought you here, you’re in the right place. This article is all about giving you the plainspoken lowdown on LMS/LRS standards and why they’re important. Along the way we’ll unpack a few acronyms (specifically, AICC, SCORM, xAPI, and cmi5) and give you a little history lesson, too.

Ready? Let’s get to it!

What are LMS/LRS standards and why do we need them?

Organizations use LMSs and LRSs mainly to track learner data like course completions and quiz scores. As you can imagine, there are lots of different ways to share data between digital systems. Without an agreed-upon process, your course could end up sharing data in a way that your LMS or LRS can’t understand. This is where LMS/LRS standards come in.

Each standard (AICC, SCORM, xAPI, cmi5) is essentially a shared language for communicating with an LMS or LRS. Having standards ensures that, no matter the authoring app or LMS/LRS you’re using, information can be shared without any fuss or complicated coding. 

If you’re using an LMS that’s integrated with your authoring app—like Reach 360 is with Storyline 360 and Rise 360—you don’t have to worry about these standards because your course files and LMS all work together automatically. And if you have an Articulate 360 subscription, don’t forget that it now includes the Reach 360 Starter plan, so you can use it to share training with up to 300 learners a year at no additional cost!

However, if you’re using an LMS/LRS that isn't integrated with your authoring app, you need to know which standard to publish to. In the world of e-learning, there are four common standards: AICC, SCORM, xAPI, and cmi5. Let’s take a closer look at each one.


The oldest e-learning standard, AICC (which stands for Aviation Industry Computer-based Training Committee), was created in 1988 to ensure that aviation training could be designed, delivered, and evaluated across various computer-based training platforms. Eventually, the specs in the AICC standard became popular outside the aviation industry.

The AICC dissolved in 2014 due to declining membership and the rise of other e-learning standards. Although the AICC standard is no longer evolving, it’s still fairly common for authoring apps and hosting platforms to be AICC-compliant. Many organizations have useful legacy training content that was originally published as AICC, so they look for LMS platforms that allow them to host that content and authoring apps that allow them to maintain that content.

Before the AICC dissolved, the committee started working on a new standard called cmi5, which I’ll highlight in just a bit.


SCORM, which stands for Shareable Content Object Reference Model, was released in 2001. Despite its age, it’s still an industry standard that defines how to package course content so that LMSs can recognize it and extract information about learner activity. The SCORM standard in all its iterations has proven to be a catalyst for broad adoption of e-learning.

However, as we saw with AICC, standards need to continuously evolve to meet the ever-changing landscape of modern technology—like cloud computing and mobile devices. While SCORM specifies how courses and LMSs should communicate, it does so in ways that are a bit out of date. 

Another common complaint about SCORM is that it only tracks a limited amount of information about learner activity—like completion, scoring, and quiz interactions. If authors want to track more detailed information about the learner experience—like which links learners clicked or if they tend to get stuck in a specific part of the course—they can’t. Ultimately, these limitations gave rise to the creation of xAPI

Learn more: A Quick Introduction to SCORM


When xAPI came out in 2013, it was billed by many as a replacement for SCORM. Unlike SCORM, which only tracks how learners interact with courses on an LMS, xAPI tracks a broader array of learning activities and experiences across a wide variety of platforms—from mobile apps, video games, and Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality training simulators to enterprise systems like talent management and help desk applications—using an LRS. 

In theory, this allows e-learning pros to track almost anything, anywhere, opening up tons of possibilities for gathering and analyzing more meaningful and performance-oriented data. 

However, in practice it can be complicated to implement, since you have to manually define everything you want to track and how. Not to mention that very few systems outside of the Learning and Development (L&D) industry have adopted this standard or are even aware of it, so the tracking possibilities aren’t quite as extensive as you might think.

Learn more: An Introduction to xAPI 


Although cmi5 sounds like the name of a Star Wars droid or a top-secret espionage organization, it’s far less exotic. Cmi5 is the most recent e-learning standard, released by ADL after the AICC dissolved.

To create cmi5, they basically took xAPI and added rules specific to e-learning content to make it easier for course authors to set up. In short, like xAPI, cmi5 tracks and records learning experiences wherever and whenever they happen—course creators just don’t have to do as much mental gymnastics to get it to work. For this reason, many e-learning pros tout it as the preferred option for tracking, calling it the best of both worlds. 

More Learning

Does all of this sound like an L&D version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? If AICC is out of date, SCORM is too constrained, and xAPI lacks definition, does that mean the cmi5 standard is just right? 

In case your head is spinning, here’s a table that recaps the basic use cases for each of the four standards:



Use Case



Legacy e-learning courses with basic tracking needs like completion, scoring, and quiz interactions.



E-learning courses that don’t require tracking beyond completion, scoring, and quiz interactions.


LMS and LRS 

Learning experiences that extend beyond e-learning courses and require highly detailed, customized tracking—via an LRS.

Note that xAPI was designed to record general experiences, with a light focus on e-learning content.



Learning experiences that extend beyond e-learning courses and require highly detailed, customized tracking—via an LMS.

Note that cmi5 includes special functions specifically tailored to e-learning content.


I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in knowing that our industry has a rich history of evolving standards. For almost thirty years, L&D folks have been working hard to create and iterate standards that give practitioners the tools they need to help their orgs keep pace with today’s learners.

Want to learn more about the hosting platforms that use these standards? Here are a few resources to check out:

Sébastien Fraysse
Trina Rimmer
David Glow

Trina: Isn't the statement "isn't currently supported" a bit incorrect? It may not yet be hard-baked into quiz items, interactions, or completion triggers that ship with Articulate tools (because let's face it- the standard is very new and coding this in right takes time). However, it is entirely possible that these CMI codes can be added to any screen, button, etc. For example, When a quiz is finished, you can have the results page send a CMI JS code for finished, and evaluate scores to determine if usersscore>passscore send Passed/Satisfied or if not, send failed. I think we understand that when a new spec comes out, it takes time for the software provider to update the tools, but I think it is a bit underselling the potential to send CMI data to an LRS with your tools, becau... Expand