xAPI - Not just a new and improved SCORM

Perhaps one of the reasons that xAPI hasn’t already taken over from SCORM is the perception that xAPI is just an improved version of SCORM, and SCORM is “good enough” so why change? However, we need to think outside of the traditional box when it comes to xAPI – you can’t simply compare it to what SCORM does because xAPI offers so many more possibilities than we could even consider with SCORM.

What is SCORM?

SCORM has been around for almost two decades and is still the most commonly used eLearning standard. It offers a way of packaging up eLearning content to upload into any compatible Learning Management System (LMS) and then track that data within the LMS.

Since around 2008 when we began to see the potential for mobile devices as a new medium to deliver training, an alternative to SCORM was being investigated, as the standards were potentially too limiting. The traditional LMS based upon SCORM could only capture details of learning taking place within the LMS, when the learner was connected to the system. It was generally not possible to collect data about learning experiences that occurred offline for example, or outside of the LMS.

What is xAPI?

In 2012 an alternative solution was launched to the eLearning community, Experience API (xAPI), or TinCan. This new eLearning specification makes it possible to collect data about a broader range of learning experiences, undertaken either online or offline, using a shared format for receiving and sending data that makes it possible to share learning data between multiple systems and applications. The xAPI standard is much more about helping track what happens in learning experiences outside of an LMS, no matter what medium the learner chooses to use.

xAPI-enabled learning activities generate statements, or records of learning, which can then be transmitted to a Learning Record Store (LRS). The LRS is the repository for the data and provides the tracking and reporting functionality of the xAPI system as it receives, processes and transmits data.

The LRS can be built into an LMS or it can be a standalone product. An LMS that has a built-in LRS still offers all the traditional LMS functionality to manage learning delivery, but also supports xAPI. A stand-alone LRS enables tracking and reporting of learning experiences using xAPI, but it does not offer any other LMS functionality.

xAPI Benefits for Traditional Learning

xAPI is playing a key role in shifting LMS technology from a traditional learning management approach for training delivery to offering a learning experience package where learners can access training through various means, including dedicated mobile learning apps.

The possibilities that xAPI brings to traditional eLearning content development are also vast, though its implementation across different authoring tools varies significantly. Your choice of authoring tool is key to how and what learning experiences you can deliver to your learners. Some content authoring tools, such as dominKnow ONE, automatically create xAPI statements that an LRS can read. xAPI data from the learning content can be sent directly to an LRS without any LMS intervention.

Some of the key functionality that xAPI offers learners includes:

    • Learners are not restricted to accessing learning content via their LMS
    • Learning can become a true ‘blended’ experience and not limited to the digital classroom
    • Track informal learning without pre-defining what the learning events are going to be

Looking Beyond Traditional Learning

To realise the benefits of xAPI over and above SCORM, we need to look beyond the regimented approach to learning delivery. There are so many opportunities today to source information and learn, the LMS is too restrictive. Anything can be learning, not just eLearning courses, it could be a website, a YouTube video, a magazine article, an email from a colleague, or conference you’ve attended, the list is endless! It doesn’t matter what the learning is or where it happens, it can be tracked using xAPI. By using xAPI to track learning experiences, we can develop a more complete picture of what our learners are learning.

xAPI data is fully accessible - you are not restricted to only drawing reports from your LMS. The LRS stores all the xAPI information (you can share xAPI data with multiple LRS if you wish) and this is available to slice and dice however you want it, whatever you need to know.

The Real Power of xAPI

The real power of xAPI comes in capturing experiences outside of the traditional learning arena. To explain, here's some theoretical examples.

Let’s say Microsoft launched a campaign to increase the spelling and grammar accuracy of documents. They produce some great video guides on it and then have an assessment in a SCORM LMS that shows users have 100% pass rate - based on this they could assume that everyone understands how to correct their spelling and grammar. Now, let’s bring in xAPI. Microsoft embed xAPI into MS Word and MS Outlook that sends an xAPI statement to an LRS every time a user opens the Spell and Grammar checker to successfully correct their work. This data enables them to analyse how many of their users are actually using the Spelling and Grammar checker.

In a more practical example, let’s consider a sport such as golf. If a golf club manufacturer put some sensors into their brand of golf club that measure how the club is being swung, they could use xAPI to send data back to an LRS to track how well someone is swinging the club, and also then compare how their swing improves over a period of time.

xAPI could also benefit eLearning designers by enabling them to analyse the effectiveness of different content mediums. For example, a content author could embed a video within a course and use an xAPI statement to track how many learners are watching that video, from beginning to end, to help them evaluate the level of engagement versus other delivery methods.

Explore the Potential

xAPI has a lot of potential, but to take full advantage of it we must reconsider what learning is and what it can be. It is likely to be some time yet before xAPI completely replaces SCORM, but there are exciting possibilities for its application, amalgamating systems from outside of what we would previously have considered the learning remit to capture a broader range of experiences in the context of learning.

As xAPI becomes more widespread, the LMS will need to evolve to support it in order to remain relevant and meet the increasing focus on capturing and tracking broader learning experiences.