Learning Technology

xAPI: Why Should I Care and What Could It Do for Me?

New technologies are always cropping up with seemingly better and more efficient ways to accomplish our everyday tasks. Of course, not all technologies truly realize their purported promise, or are as applicable and far reaching as they might have originally claimed. Determining if a new technological approach is worth embracing is a challenge, to say the least. I, for one, sure wish I had bought some bit coin several years back, but then again, even now, the verdict for this technology is still out.

In the training world, we were introduced to SCORM from an initiative that arose in 1999, led by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) and Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL). The purpose of the initiative was to develop a standard for eLearning that would meet the needs of both federal and private sectors to replace AICC and correct previous problems. It took a few years and by the mid-2000s, SCORM had become the de facto standard for all eLearning content. Fast forward 20 years, and we are seeing the beginnings of a sea of change being led by xAPI.

xAPI, like SCORM before it, started from a DoD and ADL 2011 initiative. The limitations and age of SCORM were already beginning to show and a course correction was needed. Two years later, the xAPI 1.0 spec was released, and after some additional advances, DoD confirmed that this year xAPI, coupled with the CMI5 Profile, is the anointed replacement for SCORM.

While the first step in realizing this vision is the development of a full conformance test, the pieces are already in place for organizations to take advantage of what xAPI has to offer, which gives them few reasons to not begin this change.

You may wonder “big deal, it’s a new standard. What does this do for me?” Well, let’s start with where you are today. With SCORM, you are essentially able to garner a few key pieces of information about eLearning courses which include the course status (did they do it or even start it?), what score they got (if there was a test), how long they spent in the course, and what answers they picked for the individual test questions.

This may not seem like much, but at least it’s more than what we know about classroom courses (which is often simply confirming someone attended). You might wonder what else is there to know that could be of use. Well, if you were in marketing and thought that, you’d probably be out of a job! With such little data, you certainly couldn’t , for example, auto-suggest buying options or profile buyers and target different types of ADs based on their behavior. For this level of sophistication, you need a lot of data points, or “Big Data” as it is commonly known. Just think about the last time you observed how much Google, Facebook and Apple seem to know about you as a person.

xAPI is a learning answer to this problem and provides many capabilities beyond SCORM. From a technical standpoint, it leverages a modern technology stack. In practical terms, this means it is easier to launch and track content. Now you can potentially track any type of content, be it a survey from a survey engine outside your LMS, a key card, a web page, or eLearning launched from a website outside of the LMS.

You can also determine what type of information you can track. With xAPI, you can track virtually anything. However, that does not mean that you want to or should track everything! An understanding of Big Data is quite beneficial in this new world. In addition, the available information can not only inform you of what is going on in virtually any aspect of learning, but it can also be used to feed information back into learning, based on previous experiences of the individual who experienced that same type of learning. We are now truly part of the whole of our experiences, and not alone in our self-paced learning.

This all sounds amazing, but practically speaking, what are we really talking about? The applications are naturally endless, but here are some ideas to ignite inspiration. After you develop a branching course, you want to better understand the paths people took and where mistakes were made. Maybe you want to enable learners to better understand their choices, compared to others, or improve systems to better understand where mistakes are made. If you ever wondered just how practice exercises relate to test scores, now you can know. Learners are often confident in their choices and answers, but when wrong, do not often relate back to that misguided confidence. Now you could record those personal assessments along with the choices made to help your learners to then better understand these relationships. You can even take it a step further and begin to identify trends across learners to improve your overall organization.

Have you ever taken training that was mostly information you were already proficient in, with just a few new facts? Well, what if learning was able to auto-adapt, removing elements of the content, based on your previously established skills/competencies? Think of the time and frustration saved and multiply those savings across the entire company. Are there sections everyone is choosing to answer first? Where might new training initiatives need to focus?

Perhaps getting learners to the training more easily is the problem. You could create a learning launching page that bypasses all aspects of your current learning system, all the while recording activity even outside your typical launching system. Maybe you want learning to control access to a physical environment. If a worker hasn’t completed the required annual compliance learning, their key card could be set to deny access.

All of these are the types of things xAPI can help you to realize. You may worry that you need to know programming and how to write xAPI statements, or at least copy code others created, to even begin to achieve the simplest of these things. In some cases that can be true, but with the landscape of resources and tools changing rapidly, there are solutions that will help you to achieve these goals with out of the box-no programming required! Of course, you could spend time programing, but perhaps instead, spend your valuable time focusing on bigger goals and use the solutions that will help you get there faster and easier!

Ultimately, we can’t forget that the real goal of learning is to enable people and organizations to improve, make positive changes, and achieve results more efficiently. With xAPI, you can begin to tie the details and specifics of your training and learning to your organization’s KPIs. This can result in the development of more effective training, better targeted programs, and even create strong support for the effectiveness and clear worth of training to the organization. It’s one thing to know that the training has made an impact on your organization, but it’s another to know and validate this impact and then improve upon it. Ultimately, xAPI is the thread that will help lead you down this path.

So, what are you waiting for? Jump in! Here’s a collection of helpful xAPI resources to get you started from Meridian’s strategic partner, dominKnow.


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