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Allie Tscheulin By Allie Tscheulin • September 26, 2018

Using xAPI Profiles to Turn Unique Business Logic into Actionable Data

As xAPI adoption continues to increase, organizations are beginning to look for ways to capture the meaning of data unique to their own domain, business logic, or learning contexts. One of the ways organizations are navigating the need for “data customization” with the commitment to “data interoperability” is through the use of xAPI profiles. In this article, learn what xAPI Profiles are, what they are for, and how they can work together to capture everything from unique business logic, to learning progressions, to cultural values and codify those concepts for repeatable and scalable data collection.

What is an xAPI Profile?

You can think of an xAPI Profile as the blueprint for how an organization or specific domain uses xAPI data. As you may know, the basis of an xAPI statement is an Actor, Verb, Object, and a Timestamp, making it easy for both humans and machines to “read” xAPI data. Because xAPI leverages this semantic format and the words we use can have many different semantic meanings, there needs to be a well-defined template for how the verbs, objects and other parts of xAPI statements are to be used and what they mean conceptually in order to get the most out of your xAPI data.

This gets very important when it comes to connecting different Learning Record Providers. For example, in your learning ecosystem you may have multiple learning management systems or multiple tools used to deliver courses to your learners. If one of your course platforms sends an xAPI statement with the verb “opened” and your LMS sends an xAPI statement with the verb “launched” both indicating that “a learner began using a course object,” the lack of standardization and resolvability between these two verbs not only weakens the integrity of the data, but is very confusing to the instructional designer and learning analytics team. When collecting data from across the learning ecosystem, organizations need to be able to shape their xAPI data, standardize it semantically, and make it relevant to their unique contexts. The creation of an xAPI Profile provides the template for capturing data according to a set of agreed-upon canonical definitions, eliminating the possibility for low-quality data generation while laying the foundation for meaningful learning analytics and data-driven decisions.

When in doubt, there’s no description better than the xAPI Profile Spec itself — ”A profile empowers designers and developers to establish a controlled, domain-specific vocabulary and determine what data should be captured/stored and reported on. In other words, a profile really is the blueprint for a successful, semantically interoperable xAPI implementation.”

What makes up an xAPI Profile?

An xAPI Profile consists of three sections —  concepts, statement templates, and patterns — all of which come together to define how xAPI will be used in an organization or domain.

The most basic section of an xAPI Profile is a category of definitions called concepts. Concepts can be for vocabulary, activity definitions, activities types, extensions and more. By creating agreed-upon definitions for verbs, objects, and other parts of the xAPI statements, it is in this section that the foundation for the blueprint is defined. The next section is the xAPI statement templates. Statement templates are the schema or template for your xAPI statements and are made up of concepts and other xAPI statement parts and define how they fit together and are to be used. The final section of an xAPI profile it the patterns section. The patterns section is made up of defined and labeled sequences of statement templates. All together, concepts are used to define statement templates and then statement templates are used to define patterns.

Patterns are how an organization can define outcomes or automate the inference of organization-specific or domain-specific logic from a series of statements. For example, say that your organization has a series of certifications or learning progressions that team members are to achieve over a certain period of time. As an instructional designer, you know that when a learner completes “Sales Training Courses 1-4”, attends a minimum of 2 of the 6 given “Customer Focus Webinars,” and maintains a score of 85% or above for more than six weeks on their individual “Customer Satisfaction Survey” results, that they have achieved mastery in the “Sales Training 101” learning curriculum.

By unifying data from across those data sources via xAPI into a Learning Record Store, and creating a customized xAPI Profile to “know” this logic, you can automate the assertion of mastery assessment in this particular skill and generate an xAPI statement to acknowledge the completion of this learning progression. This data can then serve as the evidence necessary to demonstrate this level of individual performance, meaning that not only is this progression captured in real-time but that the evidence itself is automated and backed by data. The xAPI Profile is ideally used to actively “listen” to learning data so that patterns, defined by your organization’s instructional design team, can connect learning activity to outcomes all while measuring progress along the way.

The pattern recognition capabilities of xAPI Profiles is a very powerful tool that has only begun to be realized by organizations.

What about xAPI Profiles that are not unique to an organization?

The above explanation focuses on the use of xAPI Profiles within an individual organization’s context. However, professionals from across industries working to advance learning engineering and data interoperability are developing public domain-specific xAPI Profiles. These public, domain-specific xAPI Profiles work to create a shared and agreed-upon semantic template unique to a particular field, technology or community of practice.

The best-known examples of an application-specific xAPI Profile is cmi-5, which defines the template through which traditional LMS data of launching and interacting with content objects can be translated to and made interoperable with xAPI, and the xAPI Profile for Video, which defines common interactions specific to the usage of video content. Other examples of xAPI Profiles under development include an xAPI Profile for Cybersecurity, which would establish a controlled vocabulary for describing activity for anyone working in cybersecurity training, as well as an xAPI Profile uniquely designed to define and capture the experience of training in Virtual Reality. The list of public, vetted xAPI Profiles can be found on the ADL Github.

Can xAPI Profiles work together?

Of course they can! The entire premise of xAPI is data, digital, and semantic interoperability across tools, technologies, domains, organizations, and all kinds of learning experiences, and therefore xAPI Profiles are designed and work best when utilized together.

For example, an organization could use the cmi-5 xAPI Profile to track content usage on their LMS for cybersecurity training, a public xAPI Profile for Cybersecurity that describes the unique learning contexts, skills, and needs of cybersecurity professionals through xAPI data logic, and a customized, organization-specific xAPI Profile that captures both the progression of informal learning on their internal intranet and other proprietary business logic to standardize the way each of these xAPI Profiles connects to the others so that they work together seamlessly.

What is an xAPI Profile?

Whether your organization decides to develop a custom organization-specific xAPI Profile to turn proprietary business logic into automated, integrated and actionable data, leverage the capabilities of public domain-specific xAPI Profiles, or some combination unique to the tools, technologies, and goals at work in your context, defining and standardizing how and for what purpose xAPI data is collected and applied will level up the capacity of your learning designers and analytics team and directly impact the data-driven goals of your organization.

Looking for more on xAPI Profiles? Don’t miss this week's xAPI Cohort session — “Sending Better Data Using xAPI Profiles” with Jason Haag or check out this Learning Solutions Magazine article that goes into the application of xAPI Profiles for development teams.

Not sure where to start but know you want to capture information unique to your organization? Let us know! Yet Analytics has been working with organizations to develop their own unique xAPI Profiles to automate and integrate learning data with business logic. Send us an email at hello@yetanalytics.com or click the button below to schedule a conversation.

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