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The Enterprise Learning Ecosystem Demystified: Part I

Thursday, February 11, 2016

While demonstrating my product and capabilities to the decision makers of several big brands over the past 18 months, I received a similar response: “Wow! I did not realize that this was even possible. We need to put together some analysis and new requirements for first steps to move forward.” 

When a prospective client says this to me, the procurement process makes it difficult to help them. If I offer to assist with analysis, and the prospect has not already chosen a solution, they may suspect bias—and I risk disqualifying my product from the RFP. 

The Enterprise Is Not as “Closed Off” as It Used to Be 

In many ways, the enterprise business model hasn’t changed much over the last 25 years. Rather, the technology ecosystem transformed and modernized. Indeed, the ability for different overlapping business functions (or systems) to share data has become relatively easy. 

I am reminded of a quote by Steve Jobs, who realized there is great power in “a very small thing to control a very large thing.” He was speaking of controlling a large enterprise network with a small amount of programming. Software runs everything in the enterprise business, and each software package has its own proprietary language. That is the same as it ever was. Today, all software is expected to have or expose an application programming interface (API). APIs are the very small thing that Jobs spoke of. 

During the 1990s (and even more recently in the 21st century), the work involved to securely connect APIs in the enterprise setting was time-consuming and cost-prohibitive. Yet, that is no longer the case for medium and large enterprise businesses. By using APIs, we can rapidly and securely expose services to share and make connections between the systems within the enterprise ecosystem. In fact, each of my current client implementations and other providers create examples of the diverse options available. 

This is great news for the L&D function. We are moving into a world where even non-technical people use point-and-click to get APIs to talk to each other, and the enterprise training team has a seat at the high-tech table. Along with the advent of HTML5 technology and more rapid ways to provide native learning apps, we have seen successful integration and authentication to several LMSs and other third-party systems. These integrations are secure and do not need to store personal identifiable information. 

What does this mean for L&D leaders? By leveraging new technology, you can connect information to multiple LMSs, HR systems, and talent management systems using SCORM/AICC and so forth. 

Commitment to Learning Experience Data Interoperability 

Why Experience API (xAPI)? My commitment to using a specification like Experience API (xAPI) plays a key role in looking forward—to where we all want to go in education and training. We are out of the science realm and well into the engineering world with xAPI. Simply stated: xAPI is “a very small thing to control a very large thing.” 


Competency-based curriculums, automated tutoring, adaptive training, early interventions in training, and even artificial intelligence are never going to happen in L&D with the handful of SCORM calls that most of us are using today. What’s more, the multiple proprietary systems trying to achieve these goals will only compound the problem of interoperability if we do not have something like xAPI. 

Instead, practitioners in our field need to be able to mine the activity streams of interaction data of the learner as they experience training. In other words, if I were to capture all the interactions with my system and keep them proprietary, I would be doing what the LMS industry has been doing since 2001 in response to conformance to SCORM/AICC. “Yes we support SCORM/AICC. (Think: check the RFP box.) But you should still use our proprietary reporting because it’s so much better.”   

The fact is that when SCORM is fully implemented it is quite adequate at providing evaluation data. However, SCORM is also difficult and time-consuming to fully implement, nor does it anticipate the intermittently connected (mobile) world we work in today. The xAPI and Learning Record Store (LRS) combined is an elegant and potentially future-proof solution that goes way beyond distance learning. 

Here’s the good news: xAPI is backwards compatible. For instance, we are collecting xAPI data to our LRS even as we report a handful of SCORM or AICC calls back to several LMSs. Also, along with our clients, we see that SCORM/AICC implementations are temporary until we can interact with the real data. 

Case in point: during a recent deliverable of organizational training to a big brand with approximately 45,000 employees worldwide, our LRS saw more than 5 million xAPI interaction statements. We had no loss of data, no false negatives, 100 percent accurate reporting from our LRS to AICC and to the client LMS. We were able to say, “Yes, we can send your LMS the completions and the score of the final assessment using SCORM or AICC statements. Are you ready for the rest of your evaluation data?” 

Bottom line: It makes better business sense to use a specification like xAPI. 

Want to hear specific client case using new technology in the enterprise ecosystem? Check out my upcoming webinar on February 17th. 

Part II will discuss enterprise mobile learning with HTML5 and the three equally weighted factors in providing highly interactive, device-agnostic distance learning.

About the Author
Currently the director of Riptide’s learning division, Nick Washburn has more than 20 years of experience working with high-tech entrepreneurs and for some of the world’s top brands. Riptide learning-product development aligns with the goals of the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative, and Nick is listed as a member of the workgroup that created xAPI. Since 2005, Nick has led the development of award-winning distance-learning training solutions used by Fortune 50 and 500 companies and the U.S. Department of Defense.
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