Rose Burt By Rose Burt • March 22, 2017

Become a Profile Pro

Something new is coming in the land of learning data standards – a new set of tools that are going to make xAPI even more relevant and accessible to L&D teams. xAPI is about to get learning profiles.

How important are learning profiles?

Aaron Silvers, Executive Director at the Data Interoperability Standards Consortium (DISC) has this to say on the matter:

I see the work DISC and ADL facilitates on xAPI Profiles to be a low leverage point in catalyzing the accessibility and adoption of xAPI. What I mean by that is that with relatively minor effort, we're going to reap tremendous advantages in making xAPI stronger, more powerful and easier in practice – potentially without changing xAPI as it is today. 

The next few months may prove to be as important for the story of xAPI as the release of the spec itself. 

As we approach the launch of the xAPI Profiles working group, we thought we'd give a quick overview of what profiles are and why they're important for xAPI and capturing learning data.

The Experience API (xAPI) organizes information in both machine readable and human readable syntax. The machine readable end of things is in JSON, and the human readable side is formatted as Actor:Verb:Object.

One of the challenges with a specification like xAPI that seeks to provide a standardized language across learning experiences and tools is that a single word can have many different meanings. In spoken language, we use context clues and usage to infer which meaning is intended – but for a system that must also be machine readable, more specificity is needed. When you say 'break' do you mean to take a break? To break an object? To break off an engagement?

Profiles provide the space to define terms and usage, and allow both the human and machine readable sides of an xAPI statement to refer to a dictionary of sorts, called a vocabulary.

The Advanced Distributed Learning Network (ADLnet) defines a profile as:

a specific set of rules and documentation for implementing xAPI in a particular context. Profiles generally provide a particular vocabulary of terms, some created specifically for the profile, and some are referenced from other vocabularies. Sometimes a profile might provide multiple vocabularies for different situations, and sometimes someone might curate a vocabulary from multiple sources without creating a profile.

So profiles contain more than just vocabularies – they also provide documentation and examples for a given use case.

One example of an xAPI learning profile is the SCORM profile. The use case for this profile is defined by the type of learning documented by the SCORM standard, namely "traditional self-paced/single learner, online learning use case." The profile itself consists of a set of resources including a set of defined terms, implementation documentation, and example use cases.

Profiles offer the opportunity for instructional designers and learning and development teams to build out a customized xAPI model with definitions and documentation for their domain. The vocabularies alone promise to be a great resource to learning content designers, and the documentation and examples included in profiles should provide a more accessible starting point for new adopters of the specification.

Interested in getting involved? The xAPI Profiles working group is launching next Monday March 27th at 11 AM Eastern time and will be meeting on Tuesday mornings at 11 Eastern starting April 4th.

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