xAPI is the hottest topic in learning these days.  Of course, it seems like there’s always a hot topic in the industry.  Past winners have included social learning, blended learning, unified talent management, etc.  It’s not a bad thing to be a hot topic.  It’s just something that happens when interest in a concept or feature reaches critical mass.

Typically, interest is at the most fevered pitch early in the adoption of that concept or feature.  This is especially true for SumTotal customers.  SumTotal customers Bluewater has worked with often ask us the question; is this the paradigm shift that changes everything?

The answer to the last question is no, xAPI is not the paradigm shift that changes everything in learning.  However, xAPI is a technology that allows us all to do so much more!  The best ideas are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and that’s a good thing.  Learning and talent organizations can evolve, grow and adapt their direction over time.  It’s really hard to make a 180 turn and keep going.  That’s what a revolutionary idea would require, a radical change in direction.

Back to the original question:

Why xAPI?

Without going into the details of the technology (in this post) the answer to the question is this:  Because the world has changed, industries have changed, businesses have changed and technology has changed it all.  Technology is the thing that has wet our collective appetites for data.  Data is the thing technology produces.  The more and better technology we have, the more data we capture.  The more data we capture, the more data we want with one caveat.  We still need better dashboards that can consolidate our data into easily consumable chunks of information.  But, we want more data so we can answer new questions and do a better job explaining the answers to our existing questions.

xAPI is the vehicle that allows us to capture more data, more easily than ever before, and eventually, in places, we had never dreamed possible.  The xAPI architecture stores data in a Learning Record Store (LRS) and the LRS design is highly flexible.  The LRS stores data in a JSON format which uses a text-based methodology to store structured data. JSON is particularly good for integrations between systems and it is also similar to the structures that are used in huge (and I mean really big) big data solutions.  One of the best features of xAPI and its use of JSON is they are by design extremely flexible.  There’s an almost infinite number of ways to store your data.

As I mentioned above, xAPI (because it’s JSON) is a very good way to integrate data between systems.  That’s essentially what happens when a user launches an xAPI-enabled course.  It’s creating an integration, although that integration is temporary for the duration of the user’s session, and it is not dependent on an LMS. The xAPI format is portable so you can use it anywhere.  The LRS is designed to receive data directly from “anywhere”; such as a course or other system but it could be anywhere.

Define the expected format in the LRS, add that format template to the course or other system and you are ready to go.  Fortunately, most of the standard format templates for exchanging data between a course and an LRS are already built.  Just create your course in your favorite authoring tool and go.  If you need something more, xAPI has the flexibility to allow you to design your own data format templates.  Just roll up your sleeves (or get some help) and go for it!

Since a key part of the xAPI specification is the ability of an LRS to communicate with other LRSs’, integrations are easier than ever before.  That means you can use an LRS both as a data warehouse and as a hub in a learning ecosystem connecting data and resources from multiple locations!  We’ll talk more about that in future posts.

xAPI is a fantastic technology, but it doesn’t capture data by itself.  It needs you! It needs you to reach out, learn what’s possible and consider where you can apply it in your company.  Avoid the revolutionary, big-bang approach to implementing xAPI.  Start small and evolve what you are doing over time as you gain experience with it.

Ready to learn more about why xAPI is an important part of the foundation for the direction of your Learning and Talent department?