eLearning TrendWatch: APIs

One of the most important and challenging situations facing learning professionals today is the integration of the LMS with other systems, applications, and platforms. This is typically achieved by utilizing an API or application programming interface, a set of tools, routines, and protocols that can be used to facilitate communication between applications as well as allow programmers to come up with new applications that work within the context of the platform in question.

eLearning TrendWatch: APIs

Facebook, WordPress, Google, Amazon, Twitter, all have robust APIs. In the learning environment, SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) and Tin Can are two widely known APIs. Tin Can, now more commonly referred to as the Experience API or xAPI for short, is generally considered the successor to SCORM. The reason Tin Can is the latest and greatest is due to its expanded capabilities over SCORM, and it’s also an open source solution. These newer capabilities include the following:

Tracking and leveraging Big Data in eLearning

The cool thing about xAPI being liberated from many of SCORM’s limitations is that it can be configured to collect data about learning wherever it occurs. This is especially important when you understand that something like 90% of learning occurs informally and outside of traditional learning and training efforts. If your company has a wiki on a particular topic and an employee accesses that wiki, xAPI can track that, collecting data that feeds into a unique LRS (learning record store) for that particular learner.

Taking eLearning outside of the web browser

Using SCORM, you can only collect data when the user is accessing/viewing a course through a web browser. Not only that, the browser must be one launched from the same domain as the LMS, which means it can’t collect data from a mobile workforce that catches its learning on the go.

eLearning in native mobile applications

What xAPI can do is collect data from and deliver learning in native applications, meaning on whatever device is being used to access the learning content. In other words, xAPI is a ton more flexible than SCORM.

Platform transition

With xAPI, it doesn’t matter if you start training on one kind of device and finish it on another because all that data is going to feed directly into the learner’s LRS. Again, more flexibility.

The ability to track games and simulations

There has always been some resistance to gamification among some skeptical learning or training managers. The beauty of xAPI is that it can take data from learning games and simulations and feed that right into the LRS and combine with data from more traditional forms of learning.

Tracking real-world performance and ROI

A perennial challenge for learning professionals is coming up with viable ROI calculations for learning efforts. After all, how do you prove that any particular learning initiative really translated into improved performance? This is something that becomes a whole lot easier with xAPI. Using xAPI, learning can be directly tied into the performance management systems of a company to show the relationship between learning and performance. What’s even better is how xAPI can track all learning, not just that which occurs within the official LMS.

Team-based eLearning

Now imagine that you create an LRS that is for multiple people, which means you can track all kinds of learning data for an entire team of people.

As you can see, xAPI’s strengths lie in its ability to track a wider range of information about learners and their behaviors, capabilities that were rather limited in SCORM. It can even collect and consolidate data from multiple LMS platforms and a huge variety of other sources. This means you can learn lots of really interesting things about how your people are really learning. It’s the LRS that is the key to leveraging this data into something from which you can derive actionable insights to make more informed decisions about your learning efforts. And that’s the Holy Grail of Big Data in eLearning today.

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