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Exploring the potential of the xAPI (aka Tin Can API)


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If we, the global learning community, choose to adopt the Experience API, we will be able to release learning content and activities from the confines of the Learning Management System, and track both their usage and their real-life impact.
The effects of this will be highly disruptive to the existing learning technology marketplace.
This paper will:
1. Consider the benefits of the Experience API over existing technologies
2. Explore some of the issues that you might need to face when implementing the Experience API
3. Illustrate how to get started with the Experience API

Published in: Technology, Education

Exploring the potential of the xAPI (aka Tin Can API)

  1. 1. 1 Experience API Exploring the potential Mark Berthelemy June 2014
  2. 2. 2 Activity Provider Learning Record Store Statement If we, the global learning community, choose to adopt the Experience API, we will be able to release learning content and activities from the confines of the Learning Management System, and track both their usage and their real-life impact. The effects of this will be highly disruptive to the existing learning technology marketplace. At its most basic, the Experience API allows one system (the activity provider) to send a message (known as a statement) to another system (the Learning Record Store) about something a user has done. This paper will: 1.  Consider the benefits of the Experience API over existing technologies 2.  Explore some of the issues that you might need to face when implementing the Experience API 3.  Illustrate how to get started with the Experience API Experience API - exploring the potential This work by Wyver Solutions Ltd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
  3. 3. 3 Anything we wanted to track had to be built as part of the LMS functionality, or needed a bespoke integration. With the Experience API we now have a standard mechanism to send and receive data between systems about what someone has done. Up until now, this process has mostly taken place inside the organisation's Learning Management System: The Experience API is a game-changer Learning Management System SCORM package LMS Reports Pass / Fail Complete / Incomplete Assessment engine Question data User interactions Forum post (etc) data This is important, because now any - yes, any - system can, using a standard connection method, send Experience API statements. This process of sending Experience API statements can happen within the firewall, or across the internet, using a secure connection. Activity Provider 2 Learning Record Store Statement Activity Provider 4 Activity Provider 3 Activity Provider 1 StatementStatement Statement
  4. 4. 4 A straight-forward, but immediately valuable, implementation of the Experience API is that it allows content providers to host (and maintain) their own content. For the content provider this brings benefits such as: • Control of Intellectual Property Rights • Able to use more sophisticated content management and version control technologies than SCORM packages • No need to create complex server setups to get around SCORM's cross-domain issues For the user of the content, this brings benefits such as: • Simpler maintenance process • Improved security • Hosting is with the supplier • Ability to use content whilst offline, and synchronizing when online An activity provider is any system where someone does something. For example: • Some learning content • A customer relationship management system • A social networking system Activity tracking can be done from anywhere
  5. 5. 5 The Activity Provider can be any sort of system where the user does something. Examples might include: Activity Provider What has the user done? Example statement Search engine Searched for a term Jane Smith searched for "How to sell products" Social bookmark engine Bookmarked a website Jane Smith bookmarked Proxy server Launched a website Jane Smith launched how-to-sell-products Intranet Viewed a document Jane Smith viewed sales-cycle.pdf on Intranet Simulation Progressed to a harder level Jane Smith progressed to Level 2 in the Sales Simulation Social networking platform Asked a question Jane Smith asked "What does Product ¢#42 do?" Webinar Attended a webinar Jane Smith attended Product ¢#42 webinar Blog Commented on a post Jane Smith commented on Product £#42 key features and benefits Assessment engine Achieved a score Jane Smith achieved 87% Customer Relationship Management system Sold a product Jane Smith sold Product #42 You can see how this might work for a typical learner in the diagram overleaf. Any system can provide xAPI statements 5
  6. 6. 6 Learning Record Store Analytics Webinar Internal content management Public content management Community of Practice Learning Management System Recommendation Engine Search Undertake assessment in directed pathway Record activity Send xAPI statement Record activity Ask question in CoP Send xAPI statement Record activity Analyse activity View suggested activities Attend webinar Display suggested activities Record activity Send xAPI statement Send xAPI statement Send xAPI statement Record activity View internal resources View public resources Search for resources Send xAPI statement Record activity A day in the life of a learner
  7. 7. 7 You'll notice, at the bottom-right of the previous diagram, a small box labelled "Analyse activity". In just those two words we encapsulate the richness of the Experience API. The LRS will contain data from multiple systems. This will include both inputs, eg. which resources have been used, and outputs, eg. what the person is able to do. With that data we should be able to make links between the inputs and the outputs (but see box - statistical analysis), and thus make decisions based on that analysis. For example: If, out of all those selling Product #42, only those who attended the webinar “Selling Product #42” have closed a sale, then perhaps we should promote that webinar more heavily to this group. If the high-achievers are those who are most active in the social network, then perhaps we need to encourage more people to use the social network. If the most common search term used by people new in role is: “claiming expenses”, then perhaps we need to highlight the intructions in the induction process. Lies & Statistics The data might say that there's a link between X and Y. But this doesn't mean that X has caused Y or Y has caused X. That can only be proved by scientific testing. Similarly, the data might indicate a link, but that might have just been a blip. Without proper statistical analysis you can't be sure. Anyone embarking down the xAPI route will probably need to engage people who really understand data and how to find meaning from it. Inputs Outputs Learning Record Store ActivityActivity Activity Capability Capability Capability 80% of people who sold Product #42 have attended the webinar: "Selling Product #42" All the people who are achieving their targets have asked questions in the corporate social network The most common search term used by people new in role is: "claiming expenses" Analytics Activity analysis through Experience API
  8. 8. 8 Imagine an IT support system that recorded: • Calls resolved • Feedback scores from callers • Who resolved the call It could then pass a statement to the LRS that said something like: Joel -> resolved -> Password reset call -> in Support Application -> scoring: 5 stars If you then combine that with a system that provides training or support for the help desk agents, which could send statements like: Joel -> read -> How to do a password reset You can then start to do some analysis to show whether people that are solving problems well are the same ones as those reading the support materials. You could even do some cause and effect tests, seeing what the resolution scores are like, then releasing some support materials and watching how the scores change. Mapping performance to learning Content Management System Customer Records Management system Help desk Learning Activity Management system Learning Record Store Analytics Engine Statements
  9. 9. 9 As well as just sending messages to a Learning Record Store, it’s also possible, using the Experience API, for the LRS to act as a repository for any arbitrary data. This is just like the Kindle app on your phone, which can store information about bookmarks and annotations. When you then read via the Kindle app on your tablet device this data gets picked up and used. For those who know SCORM this is similar to suspend data, but there is no size limit, and the data can be stored in a structured way, rather than one long string of characters. In fact, any Experience API data can be retrieved by the Activity Provider. For example, you could store a set of high scores in the LRS, and pull them into your activity when required. Experience API data can also be shared across multiple Learning Record Stores. For example, each department (or even each individual) could have their own LRS, which then feed into a central LRS for wider analysis. Storing data across systems Department Learning Record Store Department Learning Record Store Organisation Learning Record Store Analytics Engine Activity Provider Activity Provider
  10. 10. 10 Who owns this data? For the data to be useful to your organisation you need to really be pulling it in from operational systems as well as L&D systems. How you divide up the responsibilities is up to you, but Operations should certainly be involved in the decision-making. But you’ll also need to consider the end-user’s perspective. Much of the data may be very personal to them. Should it be transportable to other systems when they move on? What data should I collect? One of the beauties (and difficulties) of the Experience API is its flexibility. You can choose exactly what data you want to collect and how it will be represented. If the analysis is to make any sense at all, this means that you will need to define each piece of data, so that it has a specific meaning. For example, if we use the verb "posted" in a statement, does that mean the user published a blog post, or just replied in a comment? Similarly, we need to decide how we want to describe the activities we're measuring, and how granular we need that information to be. For example, if we were dealing with a book, we might want to just record the fact that someone had read the book. Or we might want to break it down into chapters and record that someone had read a chapter, which is part of a book. What you do here will be driven by the amount of data being collected and how rich, or how aggregated the reports should be. Which people? Your learning designers will need to understand not just content, but also how the people will use that content in conjunction with other activities. Your data designers will need to build data structures that can map to the learning design and, at the same time, produce meaningful information. Your data analysts will need to know how to use statistical techniques to draw meaning from the data and to test which effects are brought about by which changes. Practical considerations
  11. 11. 11 Here's a generic (and highly simplified) step-by-step guide to getting started with the Experience API. You will need to adapt it to your particular context: 1.  Identify what you need to find out, what questions you want to answer 2.  Identify where the data will be used, and by whom. 3.  Identify what will happen when those questions have been answered. 4.  Identify what data you need support (1) 5.  Map the data to the Experience API statement elements: Actor, Verb, Activity, Context, Result 6.  Identify where the data for (3) will come from - the activity providers 7.  Ensure that each activity provider can produce the required xAPI statements 8.  Implement a Learning Record Store to begin collecting and reporting on the data Starting out with the Experience API What do you want to know? What will you do with that information? What data will provide that information? Map that data to xAPI statement elements Where will the data come from? Ensure the Activity Providers can deliver the statements Setup a suitable LRS Who needs the information, and where? 6 57 48 1 2 3
  12. 12. 12 We are a specialist consultancy, focussing on technologies that can support better communication and learning within public and private sector organisations. Contact us for information on how we can help you, or read our blog to get a feel for whether we will fit your particular needs. Author details Mark Berthelemy Web: Email: Tel: 01773 881 227 Mobile: 07922 146 761 Twitter: @berthelemy Want to know more?