Experience API for a Changing World
Things change. Technologies change. One of the few constants, however, is learning. To stay current in this agile world we must constantly be learning. Yet the busyness of this world means we can’t spend a lot of time sitting in front of a desktop or laptop computer learning. New technologies have given us new ways to learn.
Unfortunately, our technologies for tracking new types of learning and new mediums for learning have been slow to catch up. SCORM doesn’t cover it all. It never did and really wasn’t intended to.
Top 8 xAPI Questions
In comes xAPI. You have probably heard of it if you travel in learning and development circles. If you are not on board with it yet, you soon will be. As you may guess, with a new technology comes a lot of questions. Here are some of the top xAPI questions. See if yours is among them.
What is xAPI?
Its official name is Experience API but most everyone uses xAPI for short. It is also sometimes known as TinCan API but that’s outdated. The API part stands for Application Programming Interface. It is a way of standardizing communication between a learning medium and a data source. The result is the ability to store information about what a learner does.
Is it Replacing SCORM?
No, xAPI is not replacing SCORM. At least not in the near future. There are still things that SCORM does that xAPI doesn’t do and, of course, vice-versa. Because of this, many Learning Management Systems are keeping SCORM support but adding in support for xAPI. You can read more about xAPI and SCORM comparison here.
How is xApi Different?
It offers the opportunity to track learning experiences that were difficult to track before. SCORM can only track eLearning launched from a web browser, which coincidentally is one of the things xAPI doesn’t do.
However what it does do is allow tracking of informal learning such as a group discussion or reading a book. In addition, xAPI can track offline learning experiences and even online learning that occurs outside of a web browser. In fact, the reason it is called Experience API is that the intent is to track a multitude of learning EXPERIENCES.
Some other things that make xAPI different:
- It uses a database called a Learning Record Store instead of a LMS
- Statements are created to record an experience in the form of ACTOR, VERB, OBJECT
- It uses a JSON based data structure instead of XML
- It utilizes the RESTful Services architecture. Basically what that means is that we can use standard commands that are typically used in HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) to pass data along. You can read a detailed explanation of it here.
Do I Need New Systems to Support it?
As mentioned above, you will need a Learning Record Store, or LRS. Some newer xAPI compliant LMS’s have already integrated a LRS into them. If you don’t have one of those, you will find via a quick Google search that there are several out there that range from very affordable to Are You Kidding Me.
You will also likely want to have an authoring tool for at least some of the learning experiences you will create. That tool would need to be xAPI compliant as well.
There are other tools that may be helpful to you. We talk about them in more detail on this blog post.
So Can I Get Rid of My LMS?
Not just yet. As long as you still need SCORM support you will need to have your LMS. But don’t worry, it is possible for the two standards to work in tandem and for the data systems to work as well.
Do I have to change how I build courses?
Not in a major way. You will have to think about how it will be delivered. Remember, xAPI is not really designed to track eLearning and certainly won’t track the same kind of data in the same way as SCORM.
What xAPI will do for you is provide the opportunity to deliver a course other than through a web browser. While the standard doesn’t contain within it support for mobile learning or offline learning, it does have the data structure to be able to record the experience.
You would normally look at tracking a SCORM compliant eLearning course by recording completion of the course or the score on an assessment. With xAPI you would look more towards recording that “Bill experienced CourseA“.
Does xAPI make mobile learning possible?
Again, not directly. There is nothing in the xAPI standard that says “here is how mobile learning works” or “here is how offline learning works”. Instead what you have is a simple statement structure with an established set of verbs so that you can accurately describe a learning experience.
And because xAPI does not require a web browser or even a live Internet connection (like SCORM does) we can record an experience that occurred through a mobile device and eventually send that data to the LRS for permanent storage, retrieval, and reporting.
How do I get all this data?
Ahhh, now we get to the fun part! Most, if not all, of the Learning Record Stores will have reporting features inside of them. Those reporting features will usually be much more robust than the reporting features inside a LMS. They also tend to display data in more visual formats than reporting features in other systems. The visualization of data to give us a big picture is an important component of the “Big Data” movement. The LRS systems reporting features try to leverage that to give you what you need.
If the LRS you choose doesn’t have a reporting feature, or if it simply is not powerful enough for you, have no fear. The data structure is so standardized that you can use a wide variety of data mining tools to generate the reporting that you need.
Best of all, the simplicity of xAPI and its data structure makes it possible for you to integrate that data with a variety of other systems. For example, you could connect it up with your Talent Management System or HR database to more centralize the data. You could then use your existing reporting tools.