Who Really Controls Your eLearning Content?

Picture of a cake

eLearning Ownership Issues

As many companies seek new and innovative ways of creating engaging eLearning they often turn to external companies for help. Projects are kick started and eLearning courses are developed. Somewhere towards the end of the project the developers deliver a SCORM pack and the eLearning is loaded onto an LMS. That’s it… right? Actually, no. This is where some problems can begin.

In this article I will try to discuss some of the issues that can arise from executing projects where the main deliverable is a SCORM pack. This isn’t pointing fingers at any specific people or developer as the vast majority of the industry is highly reputable. Think it more as a way of helping to understand some of the pitfalls you may encounter if the issue of ownership of content is not identified during a project.

SCORM Packs Are A Bit Like Cakes

For the purpose of this article, all you need to worry about is that a SCORM pack is the compiled output of an eLearning authoring program. There are lots of authoring programs out there and they all work in slightly different ways, but think of the SCORM pack as the finished product, like a cake that you buy from a bakers for example.

When you buy that cake you own the rights to that cake, right? Well, to a certain extent, yes. You can cut the cake up and give out slices of it to everybody who wants to eat a bit of it – but what happens if somebody asks for some icing to go on the top of the cake? You need another cake now with a slightly different recipe. If the cake was a piece of eLearning, you need another SCORM pack. The baker of the cake has all the intellectual property that goes into making another cake. They have the recipe, the tools and the production skills to bake another cake.

Imagine a situation where the baker dies, goes bust, retires, sells the required tools or any other scenario  where they can no longer provide you with a new cake. You need a new baker and you don’t have the recipe, tools or techniques to pass on to them for them to create you a new cake. Instead, all you can do is offer them a slice of the old cake and ask them to make you a new cake like it. They would need to work out a new recipe, gather the tools and ingredients together and offer you a substitute. i.e. they need to spend money again on development costs.

This situation happens often with eLearning as maintenance updates and changes are required for it over the lifespan of the content. Substitute baker for an outsourced eLearning authoring company, and you are on the same wavelength.

eLearning Assets

Within a SCORM pack there are all sorts of ingredients that are moulded together and baked to form the perfect cake. Examples of these could be:

  • Video footage
  • Audio files for voiceovers
  • Subtitle files
  • Edited photos
  • Illustrations
  • Animation sequences
  • Interactions and engagements
  • Glossary teminology
  • Navigation elements
  • Downloadable elements like PDF’s or other files
  • Etc Etc

If you commision a piece of eLearning then you don’t necessarily have all of these assets in a convenient format when they are baked and given to you as a SCORM pack. Take one of these assets as an example. Imagine that within your SCORM eLearning you have an illustration that has been drawn in Adobe Illustrator or some other tool. The truly editable file is the Adobe Illustrator .AI file, not the .PNG or .JPEG file that may be included in the SCORM pack. If you need to alter the illustration, then without the source file you cannot make a new SCORM pack (or bake a new cake).

What You Need In Order To Truly Own Your eLearning

If you want to ensure that you really own your eLearning then you need more than just the SCORM pack delivered to you at the end of the project. You need all the assets that go into it as well as the authoring tools that were used to compile it.

For example:

  • Do you have the installation files for the authoring program?
  • Do you have the licence details for it and will they be valid?
  • Do you have the installation files and licences for all the tools that were used to produce the assets that were included in the eLearning?
  • Do you have the native format files that the eLearning authoring programme uses (e.g. If it was Articulate Storyline, do you have the .STORY files?)
  • If voiceovers were used, do you know the contact details of the voiceover artist so changes to the narration can be made?

These are generally all examples of Intellectual Property (IP) and if you are commissioning work from an eLearning developer you need to discuss who owns this IP at the end of the project. Most developers would have no issues handing over the files and assets for the IP to the person or company commissioning the work, but there may be some charges involved in pulling it all together, so it’s best to discuss it up-front rather than get any unpleasant surprises at the end.

If you would like advice on any the point raised in this article, then please contact us.


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