In late April of this year a significant event happen, but you may not have even heard about it. The Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL) of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) officially released version 1.0 of the Experience API. You may have heard about it by its development project name, the Tin Can API, but ADL has now officially named it as the Experience API, or xAPI for short. If you did hear about this event, I’m guessing that it was not on the evening news. So, what’s the big deal, and why is Brindle Waye committing so much development effort into incorporating this new technology into its products?
What is the xAPI?
If you are aware of the xAPI, you have probably heard it described as “the successor to SCORM,” or “the future of distributed learning.” I have often commented that I disagree with these as descriptive of xAPI. The Experience API is but the first part of a much larger project that ADL has named the Training and Learning Architecture (TLA). In my opinion, it is ths larger project (the TLA) that is deserving of these monikers.
The xAPI is but an initial step towards the TLA. However, is does provide some interesting and desirable new capabilities At the most basic level, the xAPI is a method of report events to a data store along with the ability to query that data store to retrieve this data for reporting and other uses. To use the common example, it allows me to store a statement like “Dave read The Cat in the Hat.” Then I could later write a query to return the things that Dave has read. Sounds simple enough – maybe too simple. Here are the uses we see our user getting out of this new technology and why we have committed to adopt it in our products.
It prepares us for what is to come.
Our course authoring tool has supported SCORM for several years now. A couple of years ago we added SCORM support to our LMS. We believe in interoperability, and we believe that conformance to public standards is the right way to achieve it.
If TLA is the future of distributed learning and the successor to SCORM, we want to be ready when it is. There are needs today that xAPI addresses, as I will talk about next, but it is also the necessary first step to keep up with the evolving technology to deliver and track learning wherever and however it happens.
It frees learning from the web browser and the LMS.
We get requests from our users, and perspective users, about being able to register users and track the results together with the their eLearning delivered through our LMS. For example, an employee might visit a web site and sign up for a live training event. The event registration software could record that event to the data store. When the employee arrives at the event, she might scan a bar code with her mobile device, which sends another record to the data store to record her attendance. The students in that training event might be required to take an exam, either on site at the event or later via a web based exam. The application that scores this exam could report the scores to the same data store. Later, a supervisor could run a reporting tool, either from another mobile application or another web site, and query that data store to build reports on the results of the event.
To take this example one step further, that same supervisor might log into our LMS and pull a report of all training completed for this employee. That report could contain not only the LMS hosted elearning courses that she has taken but also the outcome of this live training event.
This is a large part of that “future of distributed learning” that ADL talks about.
It allows the user to be the owner of their training history.
Another part of the xAPI specification is the standardization of the representation of the stored data as it is inserted and retracted from the data store. Today, each LMS stores tracking data in a proprietary format in their own database. No matter how good their reporting engine is, ultimately the LMS provider owns the data. With xAPI, one data store can query another data store – given the proper authentication and authorization – and data can be transferred between the two. This means that your training history could be electronically transferred from your old job to your new job.
ADL has even put forward the idea that an individual could pull their training history from a connected xAPI data store to a personal device, such as a mobile device, and carry it with them.
At Brindle Waye, we are not the first company to announce our intention to embrace this new technology. However, we have declared 2013 to be the year of the xAPI for our company and our products.