What is xAPI Anyway?

Everyone in the learning community is all abuzz about xAPI. Very few, however, understand what it is and what it can actually do for you as a learning developer. Even more so, they don’t fully understand what it can do for organizations that implement it.

xAPI is short for Experience API (and was originally known as TinCan). It is a specification for how you can record learning EXPERIENCES in a simple format. It allows for being able to link learning with performance when fully utilized.

But Why Do We Need It? Wasn’t SCORM Enough?

SCORM logoSee, for many years as learning evolved we sought ways to actually determine that people completed training. That was especially challenging for e-learning. You could put training out there but how did you know someone actually used it and actually learned something from it?

Enter the Shareable Content Object Reference Model, known better by it’s acronym SCORM. The rules within SCORM provided the common communications necessary for an e-learning course to communicate to a Learning Management System (LMS) that George completed the e-learning course Fundamentals of SCORM on January 5, 2004, and scored 80% on the assessment. It met a very specific need at the time but didn’t cover everything.

New Era, New Needs

Technology changed. How we access information changed. Ways in which we learn didn’t really change but our need to track them did. And more to the point, as HR departments and Training Departments had to justify their existence, being able to link learning with performance became much more important.

So two organizations looked at these changing needs: LETSI, an international organization dedicated to improving learning and performance, and ADL, the US Government organization that stewards SCORM and other initiatives. It was agreed there needed to be a new generation of specifications that would account for the changing times. Let’s call it SCORM 2.0; or maybe not?

Welcome to Project TinCan

two boys using a tin can phoneQuickly, however, it became apparent that what was evolving was much more than another version of SCORM. The resulting project was then code-named Project TinCan to reflect the two-way communication it would allow. Since it’s primary task was to be able to track virtually any learning experience, it seemed appropriate to name the resulting specifications Experience API or xAPI for short.

I Did This!

The new xAPI overcame one of the issues that learning developers had with SCORM – namely the complexity of statements to record learning. There was SO MUCH and a lot of it hardly ever used.


Experience API simplified recording a learning experience into a statement reflected in the phrase “I DID THIS“, also called a Statement. The statement contains an Actor, which could be either a person or a group. It has a Verb describing the action taken, such as “logged in” or “read” or “launched”. Then there is the Object that the action was performed upon, like a book or an exercise within a course.

Activity Provider

The Statement is generated and sent by an Activity Provider, which is the device originating the activity. In SCORM, this could only be a web browser playing an e-learning course launched by an LMS. But with xAPI it can a wide variety of devices (think mobile and non-browser based), either offline or online.

Learning Record Store

Now all those statements have to go somewhere. Enter the Learning Record Store or LRS. It is designed specifically to work with the simplified statements of xAPI and store the custom forms of information that may be reported in an Activity Statement. It is essentially a database and while it doesn’t replace a Learning Management System it can supplement it.

What Does This Mean for You?

What xAPI really gives you is an As You Work solution. It offers up the possibility of no longer having to mold what we do around our desire to track it. Instead, we mold what and how we track activities, whether learning or performance, around the way we work. We will then be able to solve that puzzle of connecting learning experiences with how people perform in the workplace.

It is not per se a replacement for SCORM, at least not yet. But it is a new generation of how we record what happens in organizational learning. If you want more comparison between xAPI and SCORM, read this post.

Still trying to solve this puzzle? Let us help. Contact us at support@jcasolutions.com for a free consultation.


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