E-Learning Fundamentals

All about courses, learning management systems and standards

In this article we explain the technical terms about online training and e-learning.

Basically, there are three main elements of e-learning: the Learning Management System (LMS), the actual course with the training contents and the standard by which the two communicate with each other.


The Learning Management System

The Learning Management System is the central administration software for providing online courses to participants. Typical examples are SAP Successfactors, the open source LMS Moodle or our small but powerful IS-FOX E-Learning System.

In an LMS the individual learning courses are imported and the users are created. These users are then assigned one or more learning courses. Then the LMS usually sends the users an automatic e-mail invitation to complete a course by a certain date, with one or two reminder e-mails if desired. This part is called "invitation management".

In the Learning Management System you can also track the course attendance and draw statistics, for example how many users have at least started the course and how many have already successfully completed it. Many LMS offer a direct interface to HR systems, others only offer an export as Excel file.


The course

The e-learning course contains the actual training content. Theoretically, this could even be just PDFs or PowerPoint files, but with such formats, there will certainly be no learning success. Good e-learning courses are multimedia-based, contain videos, interactive exercises and maybe even different learning paths, depending on the level of knowledge of the participant.

If you want to document a "successful" participation, the course requires a test or final quiz, usually with multiple choice questions. If these are answered correctly to a certain percentage (usually between 70 and 80%), the course reports a "passed test" back to the LMS.

Visualized illustration of an e-learning course

Modern e-learning courses are developed in so-called "authoring tools". Well-known representatives here are Articulate with the product Storyline or Adobe with the product Captivate. You can imagine such an authoring tool like a 'beefed up' PowerPoint. You create individual slides and set triggers that determine what happens when someone presses a button or pushes an element. At the end you press a button and publish the course. Then the authoring tool uses a bit of magic to create a ZIP file with the complete learning course. You can simply upload this ZIP file to your LMS.

The communication standard: Scorm & Co.

The question remains how the course and the LMS 'talk' to each other. Thank God there are international standards like the Scorm Standard. This means that every e-learning course can 'speak the same language' with every LMS, virtually a universal translator between course and LMS. Probably the best known, because the first e-learning standard is Scorm. Scorm defines quite rudimentarily what course and LMS can exchange. The LMS sends the name of the participant to the course, the course regularly sends back where the participant currently is and whether he or she has already passed. There are only two relevant values in Scorm:

  • the completion measures whether all pages have been viewed. If so, the course reports 'completed' to the LMS.
  • The second value is success. If the test was passed successfully, the course reports 'passed'.

That's it in a nutshell.

Scorm is actually very old. The version 1.2 is from 1998, the version 2004 from... exactly, from 2004. Meanwhile there are much more powerful successors, for example xAPI. This technology comes more from the 'User Experience Tracking'. It allows you to track how long a user has been looking at what on which page and what he has clicked on... basically what Amazon, Facebook and Co. collect from all of us when we surf on their pages. If you collect everything, you also know if all pages have been visited and if a test has been passed.

Although Scorm is really old and very basic, probably over 90% of all e-learning courses in the world are still running in Scorm standard.


  • Because it simply does what it is supposed to do.
  • Because the simplicity is also understandable for course administrators and Scorm courses run quite smoothly.
  • And because in most cases it is also absolutely sufficient to know whether someone has passed or not. How long it took, how many attempts were needed, etc., this information is actually not relevant in most cases. In countries like Germany, which has a traditionally strong co-determination, such information is often (and with good reason) not wanted.

However, modern authoring tools can publish a course in almost all relevant standards.