“Futurist Myra Travin discussed the criticality of Learning Personalization in a mobile workforce and the benefits of xAPI data to aid with personalization. Myra reminded the group never to confuse technology with strategy. Learners must remain the focus of your L&D strategy, and technology should be leveraged where it can be to support learners.”
As the groundswell of excitement around the Experience API (xAPI) grows, the Connections Forum hosted their fourth xAPI camp of 2015 in conjunction with the Institute for Performance and Learning in Toronto last month.
While this, like previous xAPI Camps, highlighted creative uses of xAPI, the focus of discussions has evolved from “things we can do,” through “things we have done,” and now solidly into “interoperability and standardization.” This evolution shows that xAPI is being incorporated as an integral part of the learning ecosystem—not merely a new technology fad.
What is xAPI?
For a little background, xAPI is an open-source specification for recording learning experiences using a simple activity stream. This data is stored in a Learning Records Store or LRS. The development effort, led by the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative, sought a way to track experiences from multiple sources—software applications, mobile devices, enterprise systems, in situ workplace sensors, and even traditional learning technologies. Essentially any device or application with the proper credentials can write statements about a person’s activities to an LRS. The LRS can then be queried to track and report on these activities, identify trends in workplace behavior, and even provide adaptive coaching or learning opportunities for students in real-time.
After the first release of xAPI 1.0 in the spring of 2013, a number of innovative learning and human performance professionals began using the technology—often leveraging the specification to meet specific business needs that they could not easily meet before in the absence of student activity data. The xAPI Camp archives and TryxAPI websites both host a number of these case studies.
xAPI Camp presentations in Toronto
Fast forward to the end of 2015, and xAPI is the hot topic of discussion at learning trade shows and publications. Companies like Saltbox, Watershed and LearningLocker have released Learning Records Stores. Authoring tools have begun incorporating the ability to send xAPI statements, and plug-ins are available to write xAPI statements to an LRS from independent systems such as blogs, social media sites, and even YouTube. But, as with any new and particularly open standard, the focus has quickly shifted to portability. With so many independent systems writing to one LRS Database, how do we keep all this data straight and make it useful?
Aaron Silvers, partner in Making Better and host of the event, set the stage at the most recent xAPI Camp with a review of xAPI vocabulary and a State of the Industry update. Highlighting topics other presenters would cover in-depth, Aaron also focused on the concerted effort for standardization and building a community of xAPI-compliant products that play nicely together. The development of xAPI “Recipes” is one standardization effort where common protocols for xAPI verbs and their use can be common across an industry or use case. For example, if tracking xAPI statements about a user’s interaction with a video, it’s important that different video players record actions like “fast-forwarding” the same way. If one system uses the verb “advance” and another uses “skip” to describe the same function in an activity stream it becomes very difficult to report on these activities together. One of the things Aaron alluded to in his introduction was the future direction of the Data Interoperability Standards Consortium or DISC, a non-profit organization formed to manage certification of xAPI compliant products, handle specification maintenance, and drive communication around the standard. In 2016, watch as DISC activities ramp up with xAPI testing programs and working groups form to help standardize xAPI Recipes.