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In the learning technologies industry, the corporate and academic markets have always been quite separate. Different products, suppliers, terminology, strategies and content types. For example, what the corporate knows as a Learning Management System (LMS) is a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) in academia.

Both market suppliers are aware of and compliant with the e-learning standards for interoperability: SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model). There are also early adopters in each market of the specifications touted to be the next generation SCORM, known as the Experience API (xAPI).

Education never really embraced e-learning in the same way as the corporate market, which in the early days was a source of frustration for me, but at £20k per hour for e-learning content I accepted there were huge cost restrictions. However, in the xAPI world, I’m now looking to academia with some admiration. I’ve been made aware of a project that dwarfs any of the corporate use cases that I’ve seen so far. That said there are potentially many projects out there still under wraps.

This education centred project illustrates a number of learning points in the use of xAPI and will develop the xAPI specification further for everyone’s benefit.

First learning point is that a strategic ‘business issue’ was identified where a solution was essential. In this case the problem was ‘student retention’. It is a problem that every further and higher education institution faces and each organisation has been tackling it in their own way.

JISC is the UK higher education, further education and skills sectors’ not-for-profit organisation for digital services and solutions. One of their many funded projects is ‘Effective Learning Analytics’.

The solution aims to include everything required to track student learning activity so that the institutions who adopt it can improve retention and attainment. The project is about half way though and is due to complete in September 2017.

The sponsors and recipients of the solution neither realise nor care that it is underpinned by the xAPI. Currently xAPI solutions are all very different and bespoke. They require much thought and design; the first step being to identify the business issue that needs to be resolved, the second is to find knowledgeable support; in this case it is HT2.

The third learning point from this project is something that is a great benefit of the xAPI specification, in that it can bring together data from a variety of sources. In the JISC example they have:
• Student Information Systems (providing Student ID, Course, previous qualifications)
• VLEs which are xAPI conformant (Moodle and Blackboard have already created their xAPI plug ins)
• Library systems (providing visit information and resources accessed)

The project team are looking into self-declared data too which might involve a student adding their own goals and could in the future include wearable devices providing sleep and exercise patterns. That said, I am not sure all students will want their university knowing the hours they keep?!

On that note, JISC will ensure there is a student consent service so the learners have control over how their data is used. In addition, JISC has written a code of practice for learning analytics https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/code-of-practice-for-learning-analytics.

Each of these data systems will have its own language, written for its own needs. To get meaningful analytics there needs to be a common vocabulary. So the data is sent to a Learning Records Warehouse (LRW) which can take xAPI data or convert other data into the xAPI format (Actor, Verb, Object: ‘I did this’). This is basically a Learning Record Store (LRS) by a slightly different name, ‘warehouse’ kind of illustrates that this is going to be big! Already, more than 85 institutions have expressed an interest and are at varying stages in their implementation.

A learning analytics processor will develop engagement metrics and send them to staff dashboards and a student app to show progress relative to others in their cohort. There will be an alert and intervention system that will notify staff of students who are at risk of failure and manage the interventions that might take place as a result; for example, scheduling meetings between the student and their tutor.

To access the video by Niall Sclator on which the article is based click here.

So in conclusion, if your requirement is to track compliance, then SCORM will suffice; if there is a business issue that has a learning or performance element and requires analytics on data from a variety of systems then consider using the Experience API.

This article, written by senior analyst, Fiona Leteney, first appeared in E-learning Age magazine.

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