xAPI: It is eerie how xAPI has exactly followed the hype curve. In the early days, it had a different name (Tin Can) and people just knew it was a thing. At the peak of inflated expectations, xAPI was hyped as “next generation SCORM.” This was a pithy marketing pitch, but it was also (impressively!) simultaneously an overreach and an oversimplification: those who have tried to use xAPI to do simple SCORM stuff have been disappointed. For one thing, you need a whole new piece of software (an LRS) that is separate from your LMS and is going to cost you more money. And getting your LMS to talk to that LRS, which you probably thought was necessary, will also cost you money. It’s not clear how you identify the person who is doing the learning. People who learned all this for the first time in 2017 were wading in the mucky waters of the Trough of Disillusionment, trying not to get pulled under.
Down in the trough, though, you learn things: how there is real value in xAPI’s specification of a standard for logging learning activities in a database (the LRS, or learning record store), how the LRSes offer built-in data visualization tools and the capability for external tools to extract data for visualization and analysis, how the profile concept built into xAPI has provided a useful framework for organizations like MedBiquitous to construct vocabularies for educational uses. The real use cases for xAPI that we can see in the near term have less to do with SCORM-style strict monitoring of identity and completion and more to do with big data and analytics.
Moreover, the Department of Defense has recently given xAPI a shot in the arm with guidance that DoD learning should “Implement the xAPI specification to enable interoperable experience or performance-tracking capabilities, learning analytics, or data integration with multiple applications or systems.” That list of uses is apt: xAPI is the tool organizations should be using to study the efficacy, engagement, and value of online education. To reference earlier points in the hype curve, xAPI is what the ACCME should be using to analyze the aggregate educational value of CME activities. It’s notable, too, that the DoD guidance tells implementers to continue to use SCORM for asynchronous course tracking. In other words, we are in a period when SCORM and xAPI will co-exist simultaneously. In 2018, we expect to see organizations using both SCORM and xAPI within the same learning activity for different purposes: SCORM for tracking completion on an individual level, and xAPI for deeper analysis and visualization of learning activity in the aggregate.