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What’s Next with xAPI: A Convo with Aaron Silvers

Wednesday, July 10, 2013
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A little over a year ago, I interviewed ADL Community Manager Aaron Silvers about the xAPI (or Experience API™, formerly known as Tin Can). Since then, the API has undergone a name change and has moved from beta to Version 1.0. You’ve no doubt at least heard of the xAPI, which is an open-source technology specification that enables content and systems to record and track all types of learning experiences.

The ADL is holding a free program, xAPI-Design, which is focused on helping your team design learning experiences using the xAPI. I caught up with Aaron to get an update on the xAPI and the ADL’s interesting new program.

Can you give us a quick update on what’s going on with the xAPI?

The Experience API™ had its first major release in the end of April 2013. There are literally dozens of vendors using xAPI in their products and I’m hearing stories, weekly, of companies adopting those new products and using xAPI in their organizations. The spec itself is actively maintained by a working group helmed by the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative, and with the specification now being solid, our energies are turning rightly on doing everything we can to help design practitioners at large use it.

It’s a huge challenge to accelerate the comfort and adoption of something as new and different as the Experience API. That’s why we’re responding to this challenge with the xAPI-Design program.

What is the xAPI-Design program? And who is it intended for?

xAPI-Design is a team-based, DIY approach for learning what you can do with Experience API, and how you can design with it in mind. We’re going to have nine-week cohorts where you and your team design a response to some business need with the Experience API. While working openly with your team and others, the ADL Technical Team will help you with how to apply xAPI to your project.

It’s intended for design practitioners in any field, at any level of comfort with technology. The program assumes the people joining in have at least heard of Experience API, but have no working knowledge of it. So, individuals can come with a whole team or on their own and we’ll match them up with a team.

We’re hoping to draw a very diverse pool of designers, developers, and product managers to work on these teams. All three groups (design practitioners, developers and engineers, and project managers) need some familiarity with creating something with this new technology. We want to help catalyze the communities of practice that will eventually define the expertise needed to really help the technology develop into something that visibly increases performance or delivers on some identifiable value, and not a check-in-the-box in a list of requirements.

What types of learning experiences would you like to see people designing with the xAPI?

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Personally, I’d like to see anything but a page-turner. I expect that we’ll start with very small prototypes.  For example, in many organizations, there are likely needs for mobile performance support tools that can relay some information about how some tool was used in context. That information could be sent through xAPI to a learning record store. This kind of thing would be helpful as a response to what I hear a lot from business intelligence people and organizational development people. It’s not just about checking the box that something was completed. There are quick wins to be had in understanding how useful a job aid is, and how it might be revised to be more helpful, in the course of someone’s work.

Ultimately, what matters is simply does what they create help respond to a challenge, and can they demonstrate how it affects that challenge? This is why what they create is only as important as the report they create that demonstrates how it helps. For me, that’s the key differentiator in how we’re approaching xAPI Design—it’s not about the artifact as much as it’s about the impact.

If people can’t participate in xAPI-Design, how else can they learn about and get started designing experiences using the xAPI?

First, we intend to do a few of these cohorts in the next year, so if people can’t make the first one, there should be other cohorts they can join. Second, I believe that the know-how learned through the xAPI Design cohort will develop some practitioners who will eventually be sharing what they know and do. Third, I predict that multiple workshops and conference sessions around the industry (and the world) will start making the space and time to learn how to use xAPI if there’s demand.

Finally, the work that comes out of xAPI-Design, as far as I can predict, will be totally open, so there should be a lot more examples out there on top of all the open source libraries (and the open source licensed spec itself) for people to pick up and play. The key here is that people who want to get started designing experiences with xAPI need only to start to play.

How do you see adoptions and use of the xAPI evolving over the next year?

So far, the majority of people use Experience API for the same kinds of things that people were doing with SCORM. There are some minor differences, like tracking without launching in an LMS, or it's on a phone, or they’re creating content that tracks interactions and completion of content but on a mobile device.

In the next year, as people in organizations get a bit more hands-on experience with xAPI and  realize they can tailor what they measure and start to present that information in ways that are specifically useful to their needs, we’ll see a shift in how products incorporate xAPI. Right now, they’re using it to track things that made sense in the industry as it has been. Over time, they’ll hopefully find ways of offering granularity and flexibility in what and how design practitioners can track activities, and report on those activities.

My hope with xAPI-Design is that the community of practice that emerges identifies what we at ADL and others in the community can do to make creating things with Experience API more approachable for less technically inclined people. I hope it inspires new tools. More than that, though, I hope new design practices emerge that focus on connecting what we do in our craft to how we generate value in identifiable ways – from such things as increasing sales performance to keeping people safe and alive.

Aaron E. Silvers provides support to the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative as a contractor with Problem Solutions, LLC. Any views he expresses here are his own and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of ADL.

About the Author
Justin Brusino is the Community of Practice Manager for Learning Technologies at ATD. Connect with him on Twitter @ATDLearnTech.
About the Author

Aaron Silvers is an active leader in the evolution of online learning. He was the lead developer for Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) responsible for determining how content could be built for SCORM system and over the last five years led the specification (and now standards) effort developing the Experience API. He chairs the IEEE xAPI Study Group.

Through his consultancy, MakingBetter. Aaron accelerates learning and builds capacity in organizations. He evaluates systems and tools, leverages LEAN methodology to innovate and continuously improve learning and development functions, designs learning experiences and develops learning analytics and reporting capabilities.

Aaron co-created the “Up to All of Us” community and annual gathering with partner Megan Bowe in 2011. Up to All of Us catalyzed a new community-of-practice that reconsidered design, workflow, tools and practice. He continues to encourage the development of more effective design practices and better tools through partnership for the Experience API community with the forthcoming events, Connections: xAPI.

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