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Moving on xAPI

For many years I’ve been referring to and using the research that comes out of the Fosway Group. Now I’ve joined them as Senior Analyst! I’m looking forward to being able to use my experience of implementing and managing learning solutions, built up over 16 years in corporate situations, to support the continuing growth of Fosway’s next generation learning analyst practice and engaging with corporate clients and organisations across Europe. As part of this role I have the opportunity to produce some independent research on what the Experience API (xAPI also known as Tin Can API) can do for business, what problem is it trying to solve, why has it not been adopted yet and when a vendors says their product is xAPI compliant, what do they actually mean.

My first event was the annual Fosway Learning Symposium. I’d been to this event in previous years as a corporate invitee; participating in the roundtable discussions and learning tremendous amounts from the experiences of other attendees. This year I was part of the Fosway team, scribing for the roundtable facilitators (my new colleagues) and creating mind maps of the discussions.

Only one of the discussions ask questions on xAPI. No-one in that roundtable had actually implemented anything to do with xAPI; which does not surprise me at all because real projects (rather than pilots) are few and far between at the moment. So, I think the next questions must have been “why do you think that is?”

Three of the responses were as follows, in other words the perceptions of some people in that room:

1. The xAPI is not business ready

2. L&D is not mature enough to make use of it (because they are still focusing on compliance and completion rates)

3. Not enough learning management systems support xAPI

These are generalisations, but to a degree actually ring true because:

1. Currently there is a lot of technical speak about xAPI but very little that the L&D departments can use to build a case to justify why the business should spend money and commit resources.

2. There is still a lot of focus on the compliance tick box activities to ensure that the heavily regulated industries keep their doors open. SCORM is fine for that (most of the time), as long as you’ve a good internet connection!

3. It is difficult to know what each vendor means by ‘xAPI compliant’ whether they sell a Learning Management System (LMS), Authoring tool or Learning Record Store (LRS where the xAPI statements are collected for analysis). Some vendors just replicate SCORM and to be fair are waiting for the buyers to decide what they want to track.

However, we absolutely need to move on from SCORM; as Aaron Silvers, one of the original authors of the xAPI specification, said in a video I watched recently, ‘SCORM is the best of 1990’s thinking; before YouTube, Twitter or Facebook’.

So I’m starting to get an insight into where some further independent analysis is required.

In the meantime, if you are interest in learning more about the xAPI there is a free MOOC Learn xAPI 2016 available from Ben Betts’ team at HT2. There are two streams one technical and one strategic. The MOOC started at the end May and lasted for four weeks, but will still be open to bowser for some months to come.

This week as I write, in the MOOC there has been a live ‘hangout’ with Megan Torrance called xAPI Without Breaking The Bank”. She has had two years’ experience of getting people started with xAPI so had some great practical insights. One of her phrases struck a cord with me; the Instructional Designer’s job (her role) ‘is not to build training but to improve the performance of people on the job’.

This, in my view, is what next gen learning is all about; somehow we need to find your next step to achieve this objective and the right technology to support you, starting at the point where you are as an organisation, both technically and strategically.  Let just say I’m excited about the challenges ahead!

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

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