From exploring organization-wide approaches and outcomes all the way down to the technical details of xAPI and statement creation, this year’s Learning Solutions conference gave learning and development professionals a lot to think about. While there was certainly a big conversation around the strategy of xAPI, there are still many tactical questions that audiences were asking. As a presenter and an attendee, these are the top five tactical questions I heard most from attendees along with some helpful answers and resources to point you in the right direction.
1. What is the difference between xAPI and SCORM?
SCORM was developed in 1999 as a specification to define the communication protocol for how eLearning courses communicate with the LMS, and alternately how eLearning course information can be shared and reused from one LMS to another LMS. SCORM allows us to only track things like time, completion, a score, or if someone passed or failed a course. Since 1999 the capabilities of eLearning content delivery and blended learning experiences have greatly advanced in variety, complexity, and possibility. xAPI is a replacement to SCORM that allows us to capture the learner’s experience beyond the LMS. With the many new tools and technologies available in the learning ecosystem today, xAPI allows us to collect many other more granular data points in real time about informal and formal learning activities and experiences as they take place. Additionally xAPI is extensible, meaning that unlike SCORM, it can be extended to adapt alongside the evolution of learning and training technologies and experiences. That evolution is guided by the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL) and the IEEE xAPI TAG.
- Learn more about the history of SCORM and why xAPI was developed to track learning in emerging technologies beyond the LMS.
- Print out this xAPI one-pager from ADL, the original creators of xAPI, that outlines the differences between different learning and experience data technologies.
- For further discussion and another perspective check out “Is xAPI Ready?” in Learning Solutions Magazine.
2. How are cmi5 and xAPI related?
To understand how cmi5 and xAPI are related it is important first to understand what an xAPI Profile is. Because of the modularity and flexibility that xAPI was designed specifically to make possible, it became necessary for users of xAPI to create shared, referenceable ways to define how they were applying xAPI. For example, let’s say that one group in an organization builds robots and another group builds software. These are two very differently defined versions of “build,” and it is very important for us to understand which one we are referring to when we look at our data. This is where an xAPI Profile comes in — it allows us to define the set of rules or the lens through which we need to be able to look at and interpret our xAPI data. It provides a way to make sure that the xAPI data we create reflects the learner activity we intend to capture in a unified, specified way and that throughout the industry, within an organization, or for a specific task, shared practices in xAPI data design are followed. xAPI Profiles are shared, publicly referenceable, openly usable set of rules for applying xAPI in a given situation. As an xAPI Profile, cmi5 serves as the definition of interoperable communication between an LMS and a Learning Record Store, making it possible to collect LMS based learning activity in xAPI format. Cmi5 was created in collaboration between the AICC (Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee) and ADL and can be used as a transitional step on the way from SCORM to xAPI. Cmi5 enables data portability and interoperability with other xAPI systems because data created using cmi5 is in xAPI format.
- Learn more about xAPI Profiles directly from ADL in the xAPI Profiles GitHub documentation.
- Learn more about the features and benefits of cmi5 in comparison to SCORM.
- Learn more about the transition from SCORM to cmi5 to xAPI in this article on “What is cmi5 and how does it relate to SCORM and AICC?”
3. How is xAPI different from Google Analytics?
Google Analytics is not only one of the most widely used analytics tools available but it is also one of the simplest to implement. Just by adding a snippet of code to your website, you’re able to get information about aggregate patterns in user and content interactions. This information allows you to understand how engagement is trending over time and which resources your learners are finding valuable. The difference between xAPI and Google Analytics is that xAPI allows you to look at granular data about the experience of an individual learner or employee and see specific granular interactions in individual pieces of learning content. Google Analytics data is limited to providing insight into trends across your user population. Additionally, Google Analytics has a finite set of data that is collected and that you as a user have access to. xAPI provides many levels of flexibility, choice, and detail in the granular data you as an experience designer can decide to collect about learner activity, course interaction, content engagement and any other aspect of an employee’s experience that is valuable and relevant to you and your stakeholders.
- Learn more about the differences between “Web, Usage, and Learning Analytics” in this article.
- Watch some of the videos in the “Google Analytics for Beginners” Google Academy course to see how to set up Google Analytics to understand your site’s audience.
- Start deciding what kinds of data will be important to your organization when it comes to xAPI with the article “So You’re xAPI Ready, What’s Next?”
4. Can xAPI data be used to communicate back to my LMS?
The short answer is “Yes!” But how and why are the questions that follow. As a reminder, xAPI stands for Experience API, the API part stands for “application programming interface.” An API is a specified way for different applications on the internet to communicate with each other. One application can send a request to ask for some data, and the other application can receive the request and send a response through the API. Many vendors, products, and applications offer their API with documentation of how developers can communicate with their technology. xAPI is a public, open source, community created API that any technology can use, making it so that rather than each technology having its own proprietary API, they are all using the same API — xAPI — to communicate. The reason that this is important is because it means that xAPI is a specification not a standard. While there can be different ways to interpret a standard, a specification means that there is only one clearly defined specified way to use the API. It either is to spec or it is not to spec. No matter where the data is coming from or what is generating it, as long as the data creators (the LMS, the app, the website, the VR game, the system, etc.) and the data receivers (the LMS, the app, the website, the VR game, the system, etc.) and the Learning Record Store (LRS) are all conformant to the xAPI spec, your xAPI ecosystem is interoperable and future proofed! Technology that is xAPI-enabled conforms to the xAPI specification and can communicate to any other tool that is also xAPI-enabled. Therefore, xAPI data stored in the LRS can be called for and then sent to another application or system, enabling communication back and forth in a standardized, secured protocol. Depending on the system, that xAPI data can then be used to do things like be displayed in a dashboard, trigger an intervention event, send a message to a user, or power a recommendation engine based on previous actions and learning pathways.
- Learn more about APIs and how they work.
- Learn more about how to design for xAPI in “Ten Steps to Plan and Communicate Your xAPI Design to a Web Developer.” Keep in mind that this article is from 2014 and the xAPI specification has evolved quite a bit since then!
- Take a look at a few case studies specifically around this question in the article “Demystifying the Connections Between the LMS, LRS, and xAPI.”
- Learn about what conformance is and why it matters, and never ever ever use an LRS that has not passed ADL’s conformance tests. Find the list of conformant LRSs here.
5. What examples exist of xAPI being used to make decisions?
Once all these other questions are answered, it is no surprise that this continues to be the most important question on everyone’s mind. A quick hand-raise session survey revealed that out of the approximately 50 people in the room, 95% of people believed that xAPI can make “data-driven” a reality for their organization but only 10% felt they had seen evidence of xAPI being used to make decisions. The following resources provide links to real-world case studies.
- The IEEE xAPI TAG hosts an ongoing monthly case studies webinar series that shares a high level explanation of the work, identifies the critical features enabled by xAPI, and the lessons learned during development. Click here to sign up or view the archive.
- The print edition of April’s TD Magazine featured the article “Deep Insights” and presents five real-world situations in which xAPI was used to make decisions by five very different organizations.
- Check out the slides from our presentation at Learning Solutions “Modern Learning Ecosystem Design with xAPI” that highlights five client case studies.
Now you’re probably wondering the next very logical question — What can I do next? There are lots of resources out there to help you get started! Explore some xAPI data for yourself in the Kokea Concepts Demo LRS, check out Yet's collection of Resources, find xAPI project tutorials at Mel’s Learning Lab, connect with the xAPI Cohort for a semester’s worth of weekly xAPI exploration, or sign-up for our May webinar “How to Turn the CSV File You Have Into the xAPI Data You Want.”