SAY: In the learning community there is sometimes a bit of hype and mysticism around what xAPI is, how it works and what it means for learning. It’s really far from being the majestic unicorn some suspect. In the last 18 months the learning technology market has matured to where there are proven use cases and products that enable you to take your first steps towards adopting xAPI in your organisation. We will explore xAPI, how it can start to be implemented as well as my dream next steps - that are really just around the corner. As we walk through the basics, then have a fiddle with some different xAPI content - stop and ask me questions as you think of them. This should be an interactive session and I want to cover what’s most interesting to you all.
DISCLAIMER: At this point I’d like to call out - I’m also a dummy. I don’t have a background in software, or even web development. I’m originally from quite a traditional learning background - starting out in facilitation in a registered club and then into RTO land. I’ve just always been a bit of a nerd and keen to “Google it’ and give it a whirl who was lucky enough to have the support of an OD director and team who really “gets” the direction learning is going in the digital age. This session won’t touch on any custom development! What we will play with today is just a few examples of what can be “installed’ pretty well off the shelf. With the exclusion of 1 demo quiz pumped out of storyline - everything used is open source. Whilst this means these tools and platforms might not have the most functionality of anything available on the market, it’s a way to get you started.
NAME The other thing to cover off before we start properly is the name. You’ll hear tincan/xAPI used interchangeably in a lot of places. I go with xAPI for a couple or reasons. Tincan was the name of the project to develop the service. Upon release it was christened xAPI, but the name tincan has lingered. The bigger more practical reason is that API stands for application programming interface. Tin can is something your food comes in, or you made toy phones out of as a kid. When speaking to our technology teams, I’ve found they looked at me blankly when I was talking about tincans, but I got at least half a nod when referring to an API as it’s common concept that is part of their every day...
SAY: Before we get into it, I’d love to know where we are with xAPI as a group. ASK: Who has at least Googled xAPI? Who is totally new to it? (it’s ok if you are, the next couple of diagrams we will look at are for you) Who is intending to start using it? Is your business on board? Who IS using? Compare this to where you were 12 months ago. Then think on a global scale. Everyone is making progress using xAPI! It’s no longer anything mystical, it was released in 2013...
SAY: So What is xAPI? It’s an API - in it’s simplest definition, an application programming interface tells 2 pieces of software how to interact. In this case the pieces of software are - an activity provider (wherever learning is taking place...) and a Learning Records Store which is a glorified database (think of a spreadsheet on steroids...). What xAPI does is translates this learning experience into a universally understandable statement for you to store. It’s all in the name - EXPERIENCE API. In it’s simplest form - an xAPI statement involves and actor, a verb and an object. In human terms, it’s storing for you - the Learner experienced the activity. For some stakeholders I’ve simplified it as far as It tracks “I did the thing”. Where this becomes really cool - is the amount you can do with a syntax this simple.
DO: Click to reveal verbs.
SAY: As opposed to SCORM where we could previously only track completion, how long it took, a single score, and whether this was a pass… We can now start to look at the whole learning journey. In terms of a formal course - we can look at all of the different interactions that lead to that score and a pass or fail. Experienced, answered, attended, asked, commented, responded, shared, passed and completed. This is just a fraction of the verbs that can be used in xAPI. The great part of this is it’s possible to apply these verbs to so many activities - all of the ways we actually learn in 2017 and beyond. For example: I read three blogs, watched 2 videos, one right to the end, but the other only halfway, attended a workshop, then commented on a forum post, viewed 15-20 slides in an e-learning module, then attempted a quiz, answering 80% correctly.
ASK: How much of this would you be able to properly record in your traditional LMS? What might this mean for how you design learning going forward?
DO: Click to reveal object metadata.
SAY: As well as what the learning activity is - the object also contains some metadata about the activity - like a unique ID for reporting, a timestamp of exactly when it occurred, the result of the activity and the ability to add context. The other thing to note with the object in a statement, is as well as the most commonly used type “activity” - you can also have an object referring to another actor (like giving feedback) or a statement (such as completing an e-learning module). Don’t worry too much about these for now. The best part about how far xAPI has come is that most of the authoring tools, activity providers and LRS’s now on the market look after all of this basic statement creation for us!
SAY: So what does it look like? As we said xAPI is all about your activity providers, talking to an LRS - or a Learning Record Store. The LRS is a giant database that becomes the central repository for all of the learning activity you wish to track - whether formal or informal. The market for LRS providers is expanding rapidly, with varying degrees of complexity. Some are fairly simple with rudimentary reporting - requiring additional analytics tools. Whilst others have far more reporting functionality built in. It’s a case of shopping around for the one that best fits your organisation. The possibilities of how you structure your activity providers are near limitless - the flexibility means you can build an ecosystem around the most effective learning activities for your audiences. They can include an LMS, Websites - whether they be custom built or through wordpress/sharepoint, Face to face workshops and an exploding marketplace of apps. For example you might have xAPI enabled in your company intranet, along with an xAPI compatible LMS for all of your formal learning. With all learning activity feeding through to your LRS. ASK: Would anyone who has implemented xAPI in their organisation like to share their basic setup?
DO: Click to reveal authoring tools
In terms of actually producing learning and performance support resources - most of the traditional e-learning authoring tools can export xAPI compatible packages, and there is an ever evolving landscape of smaller open authoring tools compatible with xAPI (like the open source H5P). These other authoring tools are just great for placing an xAPI “wrapper” on videos, embedded resources and even producing standalone interactive activities.. DO: Click to reveal business systems
SAY: Some of the more advanced ecosystems are also starting to incorporate business systems. We will get to that soon though.
SAY: I’ll shut up very soon and we can experiment with it in action. To demonstrate how much is possible - today I’ve put together a mini ecosystem for us to try out, using nearly entirely open source options (which are freely available and may be redistributed and modified) - and not a line of code written. For our LRS we are using a demo instance of Grassblade LRS. I promise this is easy enough to install onto a web server using step by step instructions on their website. As a gateway to access our activities, we are using the UnConference LMS which is a Moodle LMS. This has a free plugin installed which converts the clunky moodle event logs, into easy to interpret statements. Normally this would also translate completions, however being an Unconference we don’t have completion enabled. When you look in the LRS you should be able to see all of the unconference activity from today! Launching out of the Moodle site (just so we didn’t have to communicate even more links than necessary) - are a couple of links to a very basic website built in Wordpress. These house a few examples of the types of content we can easily start to sprinkle through informal learning and track. There is a normal Youtube video along with a few activities built using the free web based authoring tool H5P. To send the statements generated by these activities to the LRS, the Wordpress site has a very reasonable plugin ($49 USD) installed. Launching from Moodle is just an example for the purpose of this demonstration. You DO NOT need an LMS in between these activities and your LRS. This was all set up within a few hours, including installing wordpress and creating landing pages for our activities. So this is me asking you for forgiveness for the production value of these activities...
ASK: Does anyone have any questions on this setup? Simple enough? Let’s try it out.
SAY: I’d like everyone to jump into pairs with the person next to them and pray to the conference wifi gods our connections hold up! We’re going to take it turns generating statements in the Unconference LMS and the external links under this session, and monitoring the activity being fed to the LRS in real time. The link to the LRS is on the Unconference LMS under this session Play around in the LRS - experiment with the different ways of looking at the statements. The different ways I’d like you to look is at the activity stream “All activities”, by user “Agents”, “Verbs” as well as the overall statements.
ASK: Is everyone ready to give it a go?
DO: Rotate around the pairs and check everyone is participating, answer any questions.
SAY: Business Systems One of the biggest challenges in our profession is measuring the application of learning in a way that’s meaningful for our organisations. My dream next steps in our xAPI journey is to start to connect our business systems to our LRS to do just this. Think of the things we could do with data coming from our CRMs or service management systems? Even our knowledge management systems and tools like Google Apps - knowing activity within documents in the workplace - THE DREAM. Think of a sales example - we can measure all stages of learning interaction through induction and onboarding, through to the levels of sales activity in a CRM and actual sales and revenue figures. The exciting part is that lRS vendors are offering more and more of these integrations as part of their implementations. These are the areas of xAPI where there is the need for software development, and there are more and more vendors to support. Whilst there will always be the correlation vs causality argument, it’s closer than we have ever been to easily being able to tangibly demonstrate the business impact of learning.
Big Data Admittedly this is an area I want to spend some time myself developing. But the possibilities for learning are huge. That amount of information that can be captured by a well implemented LRS connected to several systems gives us a gateway to the use of machine learning or data mining of our learning data. You definitely can’t do that with attendance sheets. Imagine being able to splice this with job and performance data? All of a sudden we have a platform that can provide content and resource recommendations directly to the learner in real time - based off past learner experiences. This provides the possibility for L&D to move from reactive to proactive mode, ie. we can get the learning needs from how certain demographics perform and take an action before they even know they have a pain point.
Effective Learning Experiences Perhaps the simplest of the three - effective learning experiences! Less and less of all learning is done in the traditional means. xAPI is perfect for the way we learn now - short instructional videos, social learning and crowdsourced web content to support our immediate needs. The real future will be in the creation of journeys using “recipes” of many statements put together - leveraging the learning path through to competence and practical application in the workplace.
ASK: Where else do you think xAPI could take us? Those who are yet to experiment, do you think you’re more likely to now?
Thanks for coming to this session, I hope you all found getting your hands dirty with xAPI useful.
If there is anything we missed today, or you think of later - feel free to reach out. If I can’t answer directly there will be resources online online that can, or I’ll be able to tell you who to annoy (because chances are I’ve already been bugging them to pick their brains!)
Unconference xAPI for Dummies
xAPI for Dummies
Disclaimer: also a dummy...
So what is xAPI?
So what does it look like?
doing it’s ting
Follow along with the statements
being generated by our learners
Open the Moodle app, head to the
resources for our section and test
So where can this take us?
✘ Measurable impact on
✘ Machine Learning
✘ Content and resource
✘ Move from reactive to
✘ Enable the activities
learners actually use!
✘ Using recipes for the
creation of journeys
Anything I missed? Any more