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I am often asked whether our organisation has xAPI capability as part of a requirement for us to be engaged and when I confirm that it does, I’m then asked “so what is xAPI?”

It’s a slightly funny situation I must say… Do you have it? Oh good. Err… what is it?

With this blog series I’m trying to help explain xAPI (as well as other training matters), but this regular question got me thinking… If you don’t know what xAPI is, what makes you think you need it? Or put another way, Who should be using xAPI?

Tim Morton of Rustici has written several excellent articles on this topic, but what it boils down to is this…

  1. Is all your training online?
  2. Are you happy for everything to stay in your LMS?
  3. Are you simply tracking course completions?

If the answer to all three questions is “yes” then xAPI is not for you (at least not yet).

On the other hand if you are teaching train drivers and you would love to get data from the simulator and use it as part of the assessment, while also collecting data from the trains themselves about how a driver performs as they navigate the network then xAPI is a must.

What is different is that this example is one where training and assessment is taking place away from an LMS and away from a classroom. We’re connecting a thing (a simulator and a train) to our training environment. What’s more, the information we’;re collecting is complex – “how fast was the driver going?” “how long did it take to stop?” “what were the weather conditions?” “how did the driver react to a situation?” “Did the driver notice that signal?”. These are all more specific and detailed than most eLearning is designed to capture so you will probably then need another system to perform analysis of that data to arrive at an overall assessment of the driver.

As another example, if you want to create a system that pushes learning to people when they need it (at “the point of need“), that’s typically not going to happen during a training session. Instead you need some way to have the tools of trade that they are using detect when someone is about to do something and could do with a helping hand. That tool could send a signal with xAPI that causes some other system (perhaps an LMS or a content repository) to send a learning snippet to the operator then and there.

So in summary, it’s worth looking at xAPI if:

  1. you have good opportunities to train or assess people at the coal face
  2. The tools they are using have the ability to send xAPI messages (or can be fitted to do so)
  3. You want more than one system to combine to take part in the training or assessment