Taking xAPI from aspiration to practice
Posted on 6th February, 2017 by Mark Aberdour
What is xAPI? xAPI is a specification for learning technology that makes it possible to collect data about the wide range of learning experiences a person has, capturing data in a consistent format using many technologies. Mobile learning, serious games, real-world activities, classroom sessions, social learning, offline learning and collaborative learning are just some of the things that can now be recognised and communicated well with xAPI, and stored in a Learning Record Store. xAPI is really the mechanism that gets all the learning experience data in one place. That’s the first important step to measuring the business impact of learning, which is becoming vital to secure L&D budget.
LEO’s xAPI journey
At LEO we have been on an exciting xAPI journey over the past five years. Back in 2012, we started engaging the learning technology community about how the fledgling Tin Can API specification might be used in the workplace learning sector. In 2013, we recruited the UK’s premier Tin Can API evangelist, Andrew Downes, to lead our efforts in this area. As Tin Can API became the Experience API (xAPI), we then spent much of 2013 and 2014 evangelising via blog posts and conference presentations, helping raise awareness of this major change in the learning technology landscape while also trying to identify the use cases that resonated with people to inform how we might adopt xAPI within LEO.
A couple of major things then happened for LEO that put xAPI right at the heart of our business. In 2013, LEO had formed a parent company, Learning Technologies Group (LTG), which listed on the London AIM stock market and started investing heavily in learning technology innovators.
The first major initiative was the gomo authoring tool which we released to market and spun off as a sister company under LTG in early 2014. By the time gomo 3 launched in 2015, it had a powerful xAPI engine, enabling our customers to measure the learning experience in more detail than ever before.
Also in 2015, we struck up a relationship with learning standards experts Rustici Software, the company who wrote the first Tin Can API specification, which brought the first xAPI Learning Record Store to market with their Watershed product, and which had a number of other highly successful SCORM technology products that were adopting xAPI too. LTG’s CEO immediately saw the value in Rustici’s technology and within a few months, LTG had completed the acquisition of Rustici Software and invested a 30% stake in Watershed as well.
Where our xAPI journey has taken us…
As a result of all this xAPI excitement across our Group, we are now in the position where LEO can offer its customers mature, production-ready xAPI solutions for a whole range of use cases identified during our earlier work in reaching out to the learning community. Here are some of the best examples:
I want to commission bespoke elearning that is xAPI-compliant and get detailed insights into how it’s used
LEO has over 25 years of pedigree in bespoke content development and has always kept up with changes in technology and standards. If you want to commission bespoke, xAPI-compliant content, we will ensure that we build with an authoring tool that is fully xAPI compliant and can even create custom reporting interfaces to help you measure the results, as we did for iPad retail training at Dunhill.
I want to create my own xAPI-compliant elearning and get detailed insights into how it’s used
gomo learning is an authoring tool that allows you to create beautiful, multi-device, HTML5 learning to run in your LMS, embed in your website or display in your mobile app. All the learning interactions are sent back to gomo Central as xAPI statements so regardless of where your content sits, you can always get detailed insights about learning interactions in the gomo analytics dashboard.
I want to make sure my existing elearning content is xAPI compliant and gain all the advantages that xAPI offers without rebuilding the content from scratch
Rustici’s SCORM Driver product will take all your learning standards compliance headaches away and will allow your developers to make any elearning content fully conformant with SCORM, AICC, CMI5 and xAPI. It is basically a wrapper around your existing content, and you can do the implementation yourselves – or Rustici can do it for you.
I want to build learning games with xAPI so that I can integrate with my LMS and also track detailed game experience data
In 2014, LTG acquired Preloaded, a BAFTA-winning applied games studio focussed on learning games. They recently developed a cyber-security game, called Zero Threat, for governance, risk and compliance training company Eukleia, another LTG company acquired in 2015. In the online game, players must protect the data in their network from incoming threats by playing action cards. The game, which simulates the dangers of cybercrime, is designed to encourage positive behaviour by giving players choice and a safe place to practise.
Preloaded worked with the Watershed team to add xAPI tracking so when the game is launched, it tracks:
- game starts and completions
- turns completed
- cards drawn
- cards played by the learner and the computer opponent.
This data is sent to Watershed LRS as xAPI statements, where it feeds a variety of reports serving up event streams, leaderboards, drop-out analysis, average scores, heatmaps, player stats and much more. These reports allow us to analyse the performance of learners at an individual and aggregated level and improve the learning experience over time as we analyse learning outcomes and build a picture of how users interact with the game.
I want to make my own learning management system xAPI-compliant so that I can put my LMS at the heart of my company’s learning ecosystem.
Rustici’s hugely successful SCORM Engine product is used in over 200 commercial and in-house learning management systems, which takes the standards compliance headache away from the LMS vendor. As standards are updated, Rustici update their product accordingly, to the point where SCORM Engine now also functions as a Learning Record Store with full xAPI compliance. Integrating this into your LMS means that you can not only record all your staff learning activities as xAPI statements but also accept incoming xAPI statements from anywhere. You can then either extend the LMS analytics system or push data out to Watershed. You can also let Rustici take the strain of updating SCORM Engine as the xAPI specification continues to evolve, so you are always up to date with the latest version.
I want to explore my learning and performance data in one place in order to measure L&D impact.
Watershed lets you measure training effectiveness and optimise your investments in learning. As an xAPI Learning Record Store, it helps you prove the impact of training by getting the insights you need to effectively measure and validate your L&D investments. Learning Technologies Group is a major investor in Watershed, so it’s close to LEO’s heart. While LEO will work – and has done before – with other xAPI LRS products, we are offering a free Watershed account to all our new Content and Moodle customers for their first courses.
Use LEO to find your xAPI feet
We are proud to have all of these great, market-leading xAPI products and services as part of the LTG group of companies. We also know that it can be daunting to take those first steps into this new technology landscape. LEO is here to help and can work with you on your overall learning technology strategy to help decide which is the right product for your needs. We can then facilitate the right relationships for you, so you don’t have to deal with multiple companies. And remember, these are only sister companies and while they make a great story, we are not tied to them – so if we think that another off-the-shelf product fits your needs better, whether commercial or open source, authoring tool or learning analytics system, LEO will recommend what’s right for you.
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Mark Aberdour is LEO’s Platform Solutions Manager.