For years now, we’ve relied on the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) standard to help us track some very basic data for courses that are accessed from learning management systems (LMSs). Basically, we use SCORM to track course completion, the time required, whether learners passed or failed, and what their score was. This information is available to anyone who has the ability to view the reports. The question I always ask is, how often is this data even looked at outside of tracking compliance courseware? Although I see the importance of what it does and agree that it has played an important role in managing learning, I believe we may have outgrown it. The data that it gives us, while important, is very narrow when we consider the possibilities for learning today. There have been many important changes in learning and development over the past decade, and we’ve come to realize that a majority of the learning takes place outside an LMS. I’m not going to say that we no longer need LMSs; however, I believe that an LMS today should look a lot different than it did 10 years ago.
What I’m talking about in this article is the amount of learning that takes place outside an LMS. We have so much information available to us these days, and we can access it not only from our desktop computers but from our mobile devices, anytime and anywhere—dare I say at the point of need? In the last decade or so, we’ve seen the rise of informal and social learning—or I should say that we’ve come to recognize that this is how a great deal of learning takes place. Many organizations have multiple internal systems that act as conduits to all this content. We have systems like SharePoint portals, and internal social networks such as Jive or Yammer. We also have networks of internal websites filled with valuable information that’s available for us to consume.
One of the challenges of such distributed information is that it’s very fragmented, and there’s so much that it’s often difficult to determine what our learners are finding valuable. As learning and development professionals, we’re obligated to consider how best to leverage and support all potential relevant learning content for our audience. One way we can meet this challenge is to add curation to our list of responsibilities. Given the amount of information at our fingertips, we need to help “bubble up” the information that’s most important and relevant to helping our audience perform their jobs. All this holds true with external resources as well. Now, the second part of all this is that we need to find a way to track the types of information that our audience is finding useful, and where they’re getting it. The ability to gain these insights will aid us in many ways; for example, it will help us be better at curation as well as help us magnify what we see as valuable from an organizational standpoint.
Okay, time to get to the point, Jeff. One of the biggest things happening in our industry today is the next iteration of SCORM. This originally went by the name Project Tin Can and is now officially named Experience API, or xAPI for short. The general concept of xAPI is that it tracks activities, otherwise known as an activity stream. Specifically, xAPI is a service that allows statements of an experience to be delivered and stored securely in what is called a learning record store (LRS).The statements are typically statements of learning experiences, but the API can address statements of any kind of experience.
We’ve seen the emergence of several LRSs on the market. Saltbox has a very robust, scalable LRS called WAX LRS that they will customize for your organization’s needs. I’ll be sitting down with Saltbox as part of this series of interviews. I’ll also sit down with Ht2 out of the UK, which offers an open-source LRS called Learning Locker.
Several LMSs have an integrated LRS—Litmos by CallidusCloud, for example. Litmos has done an excellent job showing how activity streams can be leveraged to enhance the reporting of an LMS.
Here’s a video that explains the general concept of xAPI based on activity streams.
You should also follow ADL for the latest on xAPI.
I’ve been following this since the beginning, and have done several interviews with contributors and community members. One on the key people responsible for helping get this initiative going was Aaron Silvers. Aaron really brought the community together and helped get people behind it. For three years, Aaron worked as community manager at ADL, building awareness and creating a movement. It’s amazing to me how quickly this went from concept to implementation. I believe Aaron is a key reason this all happened so quickly and successfully. Over the next several weeks, I’ll be exploring and having conversations around this topic. The first interview in my series around xAPI is with Aaron Silvers. We catch up on where xAPI is now, how we got there, and what’s next for xAPI.
You can follow Aaron and his continuing work through his new venture MakingBetter. They’ve put together some incredible events for people who’d like to get involved in the movement. The events, called Connections:xAPI, take place in Chicago and London. Aaron is a true experience designer and has created incredible experiences centered on creating, sharing, and learning.