eLearning: Is it Time to Jump on the xAPI Bandwagon?
by Megan Torrance
xAPI and the Tin Can Project... it's possible that you've been hearing about these terms for years. Or maybe someone just dropped one or both terms into a conversation and you're feeling left out. It's okay. Few eLearning developers have ever developed or seen an eLearning project that uses xAPI. However, given the fact that eLearning development tools and learning platforms now support xAPI, it may be the time to jump on the xAPI bandwagon.
What is xAPI?
Many people say that xAPI is the next version of SCORM. While xAPI will replace SCORM, to say it's the "next version of SCORM" is like saying my smartphone is the next version of the rotary dial phone. SCORM is the technology standard that means any eLearning course can work in any learning management system. Not to put too much of a fine point on it, but it's the standard that has allowed for the growth and variety that you see in the eLearning world today. When we no longer have to worry about whether our course can talk to our learning system, we can then focus on the instruction. Clients can change vendors without fear because as long as we're all using SCORM the course should work.
However, SCORM is outdated. It doesn't like to be disconnected from the internet. It only tracks what happens when you're logged into the LMS. And it only tracks a few shallow, boring metrics about what happens in an eLearning course.
Let's face it, the vast majority of what people learn doesn't happen in the LMS. And that means it doesn't get tracked. You can't see it. You can't measure it. You can't report on it. At least not with much depth. And if you are tracking, you can't switch vendors. Along comes xAPI.
So, really, what is xAPI?
xAPI is a simple, lightweight way to send, store, and retrieve data about learning experiences and to share that data across platforms. This data is formatted and sent via structured activity statements by activity providers (like an eLearning course or performance support system) and stored in a learning record store (LRS). The LRS is analogous to the SCORM database in an LMS, but it is not required to handle all the learning management functions that your current platforms likely do.
Here's the magic. This isn't "LAPI" it's "xAPI" and that signals a huge difference in direction. The x in xAPI stands for "experience," not just the "learning" part of things. While an eLearning course can be an activity provider, and for many people that will be the primary source of learning data (at least for a while), xAPI takes us far beyond SCORM. With xAPI you can track activity in performance support tools, participation in online discussions, mentoring conversations, performance assessments, and actual business results. Now we can see a full picture of an individual's learning experience and how that relates to his/her performance.
The API in xAPI stands for Application Programming Interface: it's the way that software systems interact and share data. xAPI activity statements can be generated by activity providers and sent to the LRS, or they can be sent from the LRS to other systems, or from LRS to LRS. The point here is the interoperability. When we're all using the same standard--moving from SCORM to xAPI--tools and content from different vendors can all work together, paving the way to a smoother experience for the organizations we serve and the growth of the industry.
An xAPI activity statement records experiences in an "I did this" format. The activity statement specifies the actor (who did it), a verb (what was done), a direct object (what it was done to) and a variety of contextual data, including score, rating, language, browser and platform, results, intersections with curricula standards, and almost anything else you want to track.
Is xAPI here to stay?
This is the billion dollar question. With any new technology, there is a small set of leading edge and early adopters who take the plunge, struggle through the kinks of working with something new and forge the way while others wait in the wings to see if this thing is really going to stick. A lot of new ideas fail. And when you're responsible for the learning and development of a large organization with millions of dollars on the line, it's wise to wait and see if this is going to get traction or if it's just a well-hyped flash in the pan.
Should I use xAPI?
Yes. If you have something to track that cannot be handled by SCORM, xAPI is a viable option for you and it's not difficult to get started. For initial experimentation and testing, most commercial LRS products offer a free trial option.