“xAPI”, also referred to as Experience API or Tin Can, has the potential to bring about a significant transformation in the way digital learning is designed, managed, and reported.
Despite its existence for some time, many individuals have yet to fully grasp its practical applications. The diverse range of use cases offers a substantial improvement over traditional digital learning, though the multitude of options can be overwhelming.
This article aims to offer a practical perspective by addressing the question: why should one use xAPI?
xAPI explained in simple terms:
To be able to visualise what xAPI can do for your organisation, it is important to acquire a ‘broad strokes’ idea of what xAPI is. (I note that this article was written for “beginners”, and that if you are an expert on this subject matter, this is probably not the best article for you).
xAPI is not a piece of technology (like an LMS, or an LXP, or an Authoring tool, etc.). Just like SCORM, xAPI is also a standard. In fact, the same people who created the SCORM standard got together 10 years after SCORM was released and created the xAPI standard as the next iteration in the evolution of educational tech. That’s not to say LMSs will be replaced altogether – it’s just that they will no longer sit in the center of your digital L&D ecosystem.
At the time SCORM was created, the prevailing technology of the time did not demand a complex standard. While that’s not the case today, unfortunately organisations who haven’t adopted xAPI are still limited by dated analytics like “Passed”, “Failed”, “Completed”, etc. So, when they run reports, they only get a small fraction of what is a much larger narrative – the human experience. And it is because their access to this narrative is so scaffolded that they never truly get a chance to transform the learning programs they use to train employees. They don’t know what they don’t know. And most keep administering the same training year after year without having gained any critical insights into the user experience or behavioural transformation as a result of training (by generating data at the coal-face – the 70 in 70/20/10) with the exception of whether the users completed their training.
Which actually begs the question – How do you track ROI on the substantial investments dedicated to training and development?
xAPI can change that dramatically.
How does it work?
Like all brilliant ideas, how xAPI works is really simple.
It generates statements called xAPI statements. The statements are made up of three words: Noun – Verb – Object. For example: “Pierre(noun) Commenced(Verb) the Connect & establish rapport learning pathway (Object)”. Or “Zawad(Noun) attended(verb) the Leadership training seminar (Object).
Actually, SCORM works in the exact same way with one major exception: it is limited by what sort of ‘verbs’ and ‘objects’ you can report on. For example: Bee (noun) commenced (verb) the Induction Course (object) is a statement SCORM can send to an LMS. The difference with SCORM is the vocabulary is hard coded into the standard and fixed. You’re limited by a specific set of verbs like “Commenced”, “Completed”, etc. Also, the ‘object’ is limited only to “a SCORM course”. Further, SCORM can only send this very limiting data to a Learning Management System.
xAPI vs SCORM
While SCORM focuses on regulating, tracking, and reporting static digital learning experiences, xAPI provides a comprehensive view of all learning activities while maintaining standardisation and governance.
SCORM has proven successful in standardising learning content. Common authoring tools (such as Articulate, Dominknow, Captivate, Lectora, etc.) adhere to these standards, and content exported to LMS systems is usually in SCORM format.
While this content creation approach is widely adopted across organizations, it does impose limitations on what can be achieved.
xAPI learning data offers greater flexibility, dynamism, and granularity compared to SCORM data. Statements detailing learning experiences are transmitted to a central reporting database known as a Learning Record Store (LRS). These statements can encompass various elements an organization wishes to track (more information on statements available here).
Static vs Dynamic Learning Experiences
• Updating content within a SCORM package is a time-intensive process, involving steps such as updating, publishing, exporting content in an Authoring Tool, and configuring the final upload.
• xAPI Content need not be restricted to formal “eLearn” style courses. It can range from a simple video to a web article. Content can be fluid and adjusted as needed.
LMS and Network Independence
• SCORM confines learning modules to reside solely on an LMS and requires a continuous internet connection.
• xAPI content is not reliant on an LMS; it can exist in phone apps, intranet pages, computer programs, web packages, VR applications, videos, and more. Offline data can synchronize once an internet connection is reestablished.
Data and Analytics
• SCORM reporting tracks limited data such as completion status, grade scores, and timestamps. Additional data exposure is challenging and often relies on third-party workarounds.
• xAPI provides detailed data for robust reporting with analytics and insights accessible through artificial intelligence. It enables tracking of various learning interventions, including traditional completion data.
• xAPI statements track activities such as workshop attendance, video conferences, article reading, video watching, complex activity interactions, social engagement, and more.
xAPI Use Cases
Learning designers can now prioritise the learner experience without encountering technical constraints. Digital learning evolves beyond a single object or event on an LMS to become a cohesive series of activities occurring anywhere in a learner’s environment.
Tracking xAPI statements within an intranet
Organizational intranet sites host a wealth of knowledge. Content management systems (CMS) handle intranet and custom content for specific programs or groups. Tracking user interaction with these sites is feasible using xAPI. Collecting access and browsing data provides insight into self-directed and informal learning efforts. This offers an alternative to traditional digital learning methods, frequently employed.
Enhancing traditional learning
Conventional eLearning modules often follow a linear path, presenting content that culminates in an activity or assessment leading to completion. xAPI transmits learning data as statements at more frequent and customisable intervals. Embedded xAPI code can dispatch statements from within traditional eLearning modules. Granular data (such as video watch duration, answer summaries, quiz response times, etc.) provides deeper insights into learner comprehension. This data identifies areas for improvement from both learner and content perspectives, supplying targeted information essential for continuous enhancement.
Social Learning and Gamification
Social digital learning has gained popularity, incorporating interactions like posts, comments, likes, and shares to create an engaging and collaborative learning experience. xAPI statements yield valuable insights into participation and contributions. Data from social learning forms a comprehensive view of learner interactions, basing reporting and evidence on collective data, not just final completion or quiz scores. Similarly, gamified learning content introduces extra incentives and enjoyment for participants. Properly executed, scoring and leaderboards reflect learner performance, motivating further participation. Tracking progress and recording scores using statements simplifies the creation of learner-facing data, such as leaderboards.
Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR)
Immersive training experiences like VR simulations and interactive tutorials benefit learners, especially for on-the-job skill development. However, LMS limitations impact functionality and media quality. Integrating xAPI tracking code directly into applications offers a smoother, more functional solution. Appropriate media formats ensure seamless functionality, with xAPI statements capturing essential participation and completion data.”