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xAPI: The TL DR Version for Curious-but-Busy People

Monday, January 27, 2020
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As experience API (xAPI) gains adoption, an influx of L&D professionals are curious about what it can do for them and how to get started. What’s more: It’s becoming easier to get started as authoring tools offer xAPI output support, and as providers of LMSs expand their data sources to include xAPI.

What is xAPI? It’s an emerging data specification that will replace SCORM, allowing learning content and platforms to gather more data about more types of learning experiences than ever before (SCORM only supports e-learning). xAPI allows us to include data about actual work performance into the mix, enabling learning professionals to offer more personalized point-of-need interventions while measuring the success of learning transfer to on-the-job performance.

What do you need to get started? You’ll need to be able to send and receive data to use xAPI. Data senders (learning record providers) include e-learning authoring tools, video platforms, chatbots, surveys, performance support systems, knowledge bases, and so on. Think about where your learning is served—that’s a source of data. Custom code can be used to gather data from sources that don’t currently send xAPI data (the programming required for xAPI is not difficult). You can get started by checking out the documentation and user forums for your favorite tools or contact your vendor to ask for support getting started.

Next, you’ll need to receive the data you’re sending. With xAPI, a learning record store (LRS) is the database that holds all the transactions sent by your learning record providers. The LRS will not replace your LMS. The LMS hosts content; manages enrollments; tracks approvals, certifications, requirements, and expirations; manages classrooms; provides manager oversight; and so forth. With an integrated LMS-LRS, the LRS is an additional data source for your LMS to work with. In cases where your LMS doesn’t have an integral LRS, you can use a standalone LRS, which will give you access to several useful and beautiful data visualizations in a tool specifically designed for xAPI. Either way, if you have and need an LMS today, you will probably still need one with xAPI. Get started by asking your LMS provider if they offer xAPI and whether they provide basic support or fully conformant support. Use this official list to locate LRS providers.

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Before, during, and after all of this, you’ll need to have a plan for your data. Your data plan should include considerations about why you want data in the first place and what questions are you trying to answer. Where does the data come from? Who needs it and in what formats to make decisions? How will you display and communicate this data?

Ready to dive in? There are plenty of opportunities to learn about xAPI at ATD TechKnowledge, with sessions led by experienced professionals in the space and vendor suppliers with the tools you need. Then, register for the xAPI Learning Cohort, a free, virtual, project-based learning experience that starts January 30, 2020, and runs for 12 weeks every spring and fall.

About the Author

Megan Torrance is the chief energy officer of TorranceLearning, an e-learning design and development firm outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. She has spent over two decades knee-deep in projects involving change management, instructional design, consulting, and systems deployment. Megan thrives on design excellence and elegant project management. And coffee. She and the TorranceLearning team have developed the LLAMA project management approach, blending Agile with excellent instructional design techniques. TorranceLearning projects have won IELA and Brandon Hall awards, and the 2014 xAPI Hyperdrive contest at DevLearn.

Publications include “A Quick Guide to LLAMA: Agile Project Management for Learning,” and “Agile and LLAMA for ISD Project Management,” a TD at Work. Megan has written for TD magazine several times, including the article, “What Is xAPI?” in the February 2016 issue. 

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