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What’s the point of Experience API?

Earlier this year version 1.0.0 of the much-touted Experience API (formerly and unofficially known as Tin Can API) was released.

There has been a lot of publicity about Experience API at conferences and in the press, but as adoption is so far quite slow, we thought it was worth drilling down a little into its practical business uses. In other words, we know what it is now and have an idea of its potential – but what can it actually do for your organisation?

This post does not necessarily outline the challenges with Tin Can or the current adoption by LMS vendors, but rather how it could benefit an organisation in the future…

Why upgrade SCORM?

While SCORM and AICC suit the tracking of traditional e-learning, the Experience API enables tracking of non-interactive, social and platform-independent learning that modern-day learners undertake every day. User behaviours have changed radically since SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004 were developed. The new standard takes on board the fact that they use a variety of different devices with different connectivity states, in geographically dispersed locations, to consume information of all sorts from all over the web and more traditional media too.

You could say this is all part of bringing to e-learning the new perspective that Web 2.0 brought to the internet in general.

Why another standard?

Although SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) was strong in tracking completion, time, pass/fail, and in reporting the score of individual SCOs (Sharable Content Objects), it is severely limited in its ability to track and store other relevant data. Also, a SCO requires constant internet access and an LMS in the back end. The Experience API takes these barriers away – in fact, it doesn’t need an LMS or even a browser at all. See the Rustici website for a list of additional functionality in the Experience API that SCORM cannot support.

How does it work?

The Experience API is a specification that defines how statements are created, managed and delivered as a result of an action by a specific user or system to enable this action to be stored in or retrieved from a Learning Record Store (LRS) via web services. For reference, a LRS is a data store that can be standalone or as part of an LMS and serves as a repository for learning records delivered via the API. The information from the LRS can be used by other systems, like other LRS repositories, LMS solutions and Business Intelligence (BI) reporting tools as needed.

Here’s the technical bit – but don’t worry, we’ll get to the business benefits of the API very soon!

The statement itself comprises a JSON (JavaScript Object Notation) representation of the action, an example of which can be shown below.

The basic build up of a statement is Actor – Verb – Activity, and actual action shown above is that the following task was performed: ‘The user shared the URL http://www.google.co.uk’, in which the Actor is “The user”, the verb is “shared” and the Activity is “the URL http://www.google.co.uk”.

What can be done with the API?

According to the 70:20:10 way of looking at learning, only 10% of learning is achieved via formal learning/courses, with the remaining 90% through experience/collaboration (70%) and through relationships like coaching and mentoring (20%). When considering this, it becomes apparent that by using only SCORM, designed for tracking formal learning, it is difficult to track the majority of learning activities.

The modern workforce is not necessarily bound by a physical location and its use of the Internet is not limited to desktop – or always online – devices. We increasingly make use of and rely on social infrastructures and dispersed knowledge networks (including, but not limited to corporate intranets and websites). Standards like SCORM are no longer sufficient to track training and knowledge sharing within the organisation in today’s world.

Here are some examples of where the Experience API can be beneficial:

  • A manager is subscribed to an industry web feed and wants to share this with their subordinates in a way that the organisation can track whether collaboration is used effectively within the organisation
  • A colleague wants to share a video with peers that they found in the course of research during a formal course, and notify the organisation that this video exists to complement the formal training
  • A trainee has completed some self study that requires recording while on a train without internet connection – the local device can store this info and once access is re-established, the information can be sent back to the LRS
  • A department head has defined a process that they wish to share with other parts of the organisation and wants to track when it is followed
  • The organisation wants to include/synchronise informal learning data into a larger Talent Management programme.

So the Experience API can aid all forms of staff training and learning. At the same time, the organisation can benefit by the ability to measure activity, level of impact and, thus, ROI – and improve training and business results based on the outcomes. For example, using Experience API the organisation can:

  • Measure use of non-organisational content e.g. reporting on who shares information, what type of information is being shared (video, articles, etc) and who consumes the information
  • Measure what internal resources are being used to aid in their role (e.g. which department uses the intranet as a main resource) and how they found the information (e.g. who shared the resource)
  • Measure the use of formal training (similar to SCORM), e.g. who completed a certain e-learning course and what they scored

How can it benefit an organisation?

There are many benefits that the Experience API can provide, since it will in effect disconnect the tracking and measurement of e-learning from the traditional, online-only LMS and pre-defined content.

Moving away from Desktop

With the workforce increasingly on the go and with the adoption of BYOD, there is a growing requirement to enable e-learning on mobile devices and to offer the information offline as well as online, since with mobile devices internet connectivity is not always available. The Experience API allows content and app developers to store statements offline and send these to the LRS when Internet connection is (re) established, meaning that internet connectivity is not continuously required.

Furthermore, with the ever-increasing requirement to make e-learning content more engaging (including the use of rich gamification for e-learning), the requirement for different app types (web apps, hybrid and native apps) is sometimes required, and these apps can be enabled to feed information back to the LRS when needed.

Finally, since this deeper level of information gathered can be analysed, the organisation can tailor and personalise the training material as and when needed.

Connecting different sources and resources

Within organisations a wide range of resources tends to be available for staff training and continuous professional development (CPD). As well as traditional e-learning, these often include internal blogs, portals, repositories, archives, and client-facing materials, as well as information on industry specific websites, industry webinars and conferences, and so on.

Some of this information might not always be easily accessible, not commonly known and certainly not easily shared. The Experience API enables this information to be captured so that it can be made available for everyone. However, the means to achieving such ready access to the right people remains the challenge for exploiting the potential of the API.

The Experience API aspires to sharing information between multiple systems to ensure business process management can become more effective and more streamlined. This is much more than just capturing E-learning information and sending it into a Talent Management Solution, for instance.

Continuous Business Improvement

The heart of the challenge is to align the overall training strategy with business processes. Whilst the Experience API can aid cultural change and, hence continuous business improvement, it needs far more than just this new technology.

For example, Information and knowledge shared by a peer or subject expert can lead to improved learning and performance. When that person sees that their contribution has had a positive impact on performance, this can encourage further sharing of information and knowledge; a virtuous circle. The diagram below shows how the Experience API, properly applied, can assist this by recording the action taken; the LRS will store the action and the organisation can report on this – the rest of the circle is closed by appending training and business processes as needed.

How can LEO Learning help?
Since the specification has only been officially released quite recently, the standard has not been implemented widely. Organisations will naturally feel a degree of caution about buying into a new and relatively unproven technology standard. LEO has a significant track record of developing learning technology architectures and can offer an objective and measured view on how to harmonise the introduction of new technologies with the processes and people behaviours that achieve the overall business benefit. We consult with organisations on which vendors in the market have implemented the API and can impartially advise on whether the move to the Experience API is the right one for your organisation.

If your organisation has already made a significant investment into delivering e-learning via SCORM or AICC, LEO can advise on what is required, and whether it is possible to ‘Experience’ these sort of business benefits. If mobile and multiple learning channels are now your challenge, the opportunity of include a Tin Can might just be worth considering.

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