How Data Transforms Learning And Development, Part 1: xAPI
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How Is Digital Transformation Affecting L&D? The Role Of xAPI

i-scoop suggests “One of the success pillars in any digital transformation project or enterprise-wide change challenge for today’s and tomorrow's customer/stakeholder and business success is the capability regarding information management”. This holds as true for Learning and Development as it does for any other function within an organization. “After all, whatever the form of optimization, communication, collaboration, interaction, experiences, innovation, and so on: information (or content or data) is a key success factor to make it happen (on top of human factors, leadership, processes, organization, etc. which also require information).”

Time To Transform: How Is Digital Transformation Affecting L&D?
Get a notion on how Digital Transformation affects L&D, and what are the next steps it brings.

Change Your Life With Data: An Introduction To xAPI

Before we get into why you might use xAPI, it’s important to note that all xAPI is, when it comes down to it, is a document. In fact xAPI is that most dull of documents; a specification document. Fortunately, learning technologists sleep soundly in their beds at night only because geeky men and women stand ready to make specification documents on their behalf.

This document, the xAPI specification, was created by a consortium of learning experts led by the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL). While the document was being formed, its prototype name was ‘project Tin Can’, but these days it is known by its official name, the Experience API, or xAPI for short.

At its heart the xAPI specification details a method for communicating learning and working experiences, using data, in a common format. The aim is to create a lightweight language and format that we can all learn to work with, to make our systems and our data inter-operable.

There are of course lots of ‘APIs’ in the world. Your organization will use many. The xAPI builds upon common API formats and extends them to allow us to talk about things we do in learning – like querying for assessment results or understanding who was a learner’s tutor. Because xAPI has been built by learning people, for learning people, it represents the future language of our industry.

How Does xAPI Actually Work?

The xAPI details a series of methods for communicating the activity of a user to a central database, a Learning Record Store (LRS). It is not dependent on an LMS, or any particular system architecture, save for the fact that you’ll need an LRS to store data.

In creating the xAPI, its authors couldn’t readily put any system out of scope – we could just as easily be learning on a phone, or a TV, or in real life. As such, the most compelling initial use cases for implementing the xAPI come when you are trying to tie a number of systems together. You’re going to have to create some sort of protocol and shared language between those systems, so you may as well follow a well-defined template to do that. The xAPI specification is that template.

The way that xAPI communicates most typically is known as a ‘statement’ of activity. This is the concept of an actor (a person, for example), performing an action (completing) in relation to an activity (a course). That means that every action you take on an xAPI-enabled system could be capable of outputting a ‘triplet’ of activity that both a Learning Record Store, and a person viewing that Learning Record Store, could understand.

There are many use cases for xAPI but it is most common to see the specification used in connecting systems together, performing data analysis and facilitating performance support.

Why Do I Need xAPI?

The industry already has systems in place for tracking learning—SCORM being the most common—allowing you to package up courses to deploy on an LMS and track who has launched, completed or passed that course.

But 2017 was the 20th anniversary of SCORM and digital learning has evolved. We’re no longer all about logging in to the LMS to launch learning content. Now we learn from micro-content located in a variety of places. We use mobile phones, simulations, games, and more. We’re also increasingly cognizant of the impact of ‘informal’ learning experiences; stuff that happens outside of the sphere of L&D’s control.

xAPI gives us a looser framework that allows us to communicate between any two systems, not just between learning content and the LMS. Using an LRS with the xAPI is an easy way to connect multiple systems together using an already standard approach that retains data in a way many organizations are still required to gather.

How Much Does xAPI Cost?

The xAPI specification is freely available open source as is much of the technology you need to get started. Until recently the xAPI has remained a fairly geeky world. You’d need to do some real research on the specification, understand the concept and do a bit of coding to get things going.

All that is changing as the industry matures. While you will still need to invest a bit of time and resource in getting started, a lot of companies have jumped at the chance to make getting started much easier, Kineo included.

Just as most organizations have an LMS of some sort to manage learners and curate content, xAPI needs an LRS to actually do the storing, sorting and sharing of data. You can use tools like Learning Locker’s open source edition for free, but you’ll need a degree of technical skill to accomplish that.

To use xAPI in a production capacity in the workplace you are going to incur some costs that will need to be budgeted for around the storage and manipulation of the data. If you’re looking to procure your first LRS, you’ll need to consider a few things:

  • Will the LRS be hosted in the cloud, or deployed on-premises?
  • How much data will you create?
  • How is your data secured?
  • Are there any location restrictions?
  • How much data can be lost in a worst-case scenario?

Who’s Already Using xAPI?

Thousands of organizations from all areas of industry are already using – and benefiting from – xAPI. At HT2 Labs, we’re working with clients from across the globe to help them make learning more measurable through the use of xAPI and learning analytics.

  • Villeroy & Boch – who were able to use the data collected by xAPI to prove the link between training and performance throughout their retail stores.
  • InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) – who were able to demonstrate remarkable insight into the impact a social learning experience has had on the organization using xAPI data.
  • City & Guilds – who have used the system in-house, to connect an ecosystem of tools for their TechBac™ project, and powered an awesome dashboard that alerts tutors to students who may be falling behind.

xAPI makes for an interesting starting point. There are lots of ways data can be used to improve learner experience. Certainly we can use data to identify what content will be most useful. Even to personalize according to personal preferences, patterns of use, aggregation, and performance, for example in tests and assessments.

We can use data to help curate, initially providing content based on learner preferences, search data, then enabling ongoing fine-tuning based on what’s working/not working and answering questions like:

  • What do people search for?
  • Where do people give up?
  • How long do they stay with a piece of content?
  • At which point do they drop out?

It’s easy enough to gather this information with tools such as Google Analytics, but if the relatively low adoption of this in learning content is anything to go by, we’re not really there yet. If you want to know about how Google Analytics can help you maximize your team’s work, read the second part of this article. And if you're interested in learning more about the transformation of Learning and Development in the digital era, download the free eBook Time To Transform: How Is Digital Transformation Affecting L&D?

Related Articles:

  1. Performance Support And A Resource-Based Approach
  2. Can L&D Be Transformative? About Microlearning
  3. All Power To The Learner: Social Learning And More
  4. How Is Digital Transformation Affecting L&D?
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