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Louisa Farino

flick learning ltd


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What the MOOC are you talking about?


When I hear someone use a phrase or an acronym that I haven’t heard before, it brings back the fear of being the last kid picked for PE at school: everyone else seems to be part of a club I’m not.

I suspect that I’m not alone in this though as, when I confessed to people at the end of seminars or presentations, that I didn’t understand certain things the response has been overwhelming: they don’t have a clue either. Unfortunately, our sector is notorious for its use of cryptic terms: VLE, LRS, LMS, SCORM, MOOC, Tin Can to name but a few, which can be a bit daunting for those of us not in on the act.

Here at flick we’re big fans of, well, many things actually but in this context there are two relevant things that we’re fans of:

1. Learning – the more the better. We love learning continuously and finding out new things.

2. Sharing – we love sharing what we know with others (#flickfact for example).

In the spirit of this, here’s a quick run-down of what all the various terms mean.

The e-learning debate

First things first, a discussion on terminology wouldn’t be complete without first trying to define what we do here. Is it online learning, e-learning, elearning, distance learning, Technology enabled learning or just learning? No one agrees and the debate rumbles on and, given that I could write a lengthy blog on the merits of which term is best, for convenience we’ll just stick with e-learning for now. For those interested in the debate, you might want to check out Lewis Carr’s blog.


Ok, so we know we’re talking about e-learning. What comes next? LMS – still the core piece of software used for delivering your e-learning. It stands for Learning Management System and there are many of them on the market – some with pretty amazing features. However, they all begin with the idea that you create user accounts on the LMS for the learner to login and access their e-learning.


You can then report on this activity through SCORM. Now, telling you the exact definition of this word is no more useful in explaining what it actually is but, in the interests of completeness, I will. It is Sharable Content Object Reference Model. I wouldn’t worry about remembering what that actually means – no one checks to see if you can actually name each of the words. What’s more important to know is that SCORM (developed by these guys) is a standard that your e-learning should conform to. It’s a technical checklist of ensuring that your e-learning is a good standard and will work properly within an LMS.


It would be simple if they were the only things to consider but there are a couple more terms that get thrown around. To add some confusion into the mix, you’ll have seen that people seem to use VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) as an alternative term for LMS. The difference? Pretty unclear if I’m honest. They seem to offer broadly similar things to the user, and really, it boils down to the inference of what it’s suggesting about the system: a VLE is considered to be more social and offer a wider learning experience than an LMS, but then again, I’ve seen really social LMSes so I’m not sure that the name of the system is sufficient in describing all the features it would offer you.  


Instead of LMS (or, even, alongside LMS), you might find that some people are using the term LRS. This is a Learning Record Store and this one actually is pretty self-explanatory: it stores records of your learning.

Tin Can and xAPI

Often spoken about in conjunction with LRS, is Tin Can, which is touted to be the replacement standard for SCORM in the future. What I didn’t know until recently is that Tin Can is actually a trademarked name of the xAPI so these two terms simply refer to the same thing, which leaves us in the position of needing to know what xAPI actually means. Directly, it means Experience API (Application Programming Interface) but, more importantly, what it does is the useful part to understand: it shares activity data (for example, user Stanley Hudson selected option c as the correct answer to question 9) with any another system. The openness of this is what’s suggested will make xAPI so powerful. For a fuller explanation of this, Craig Weiss can help.


Ending on a more exciting note (or at least I find it more exciting), let’s talk about MOOCs. This is a craze that I’ve been slow to embrace and very much wish I’d got on board with it sooner. What are they? Massive Open Online Courses. What’s great about them?

1. They’re free (for the most part)

2. You can learn with some of the leading universities

3. It feels like you’re part of a ‘proper’ course: they’re typically staggered over the weeks with homework and discussion. It takes me back to my uni days!

4. Your success is rewarded

Personally, I’m all for wider knowledge sharing. I love the idea that we’re removing all barriers to seeking out the knowledge you want and, at the minute, I’m currently enjoying courses with both Coursera and FutureLearn.

If you think I’ve missed anything that you think should be covered then please feel free to comment. 

Oh, and, just in case you’re wondering when we got to play Basketball in PE I was always picked first. Cross county, not so much.

If you have any questions for us, you can contact us through our website at or email us at [email protected].

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Louisa Farino


Read more from Louisa Farino

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