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Y Is xAPI So X-Zillerating?
Friday, March 17, 2017
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Put simply, xAPI—Experience API—is a specification for how we send, store, and retrieve detailed records about learning and performance, with the data then being sharable across platforms. xAPI promises far more than its predecessor, the SCORM standard, which tracked e-learning activity in learning management systems. While xAPI is not new in its technology, it is gaining greater traction in the L&D field because of what it gives us: the ability to share across platforms as well as the capacity of measuring far more than e-learning modules.  

Megan Torrance and Rob Houck, the authors of “Making Sense of xAPI,” liken the sharing across platforms to an update you might make on LinkedIn, which you can automatically add to your Twitter posts. And because you can measure more than e-learning courses, L&D professionals—and organizations as a whole—can gain far greater insight into a broader array of learning activities, the actual performance of job tasks, and how learning correlates with performance. 

While you don’t necessarily need xAPI, note the authors of the TD at Work issue, odds are you’ll want it in the future for these reasons.  

xAPI starts with the learning record provider. In the SCORM e-learning environment, the provider would be the e-learning course itself. However, because xAPI can track learning experiences well beyond e-learning, the record provider could be a game, performance observation, team-based learning experience, social learning—you name it.  

The vernacular for the learning record provider is an activity statement. The statement consists of an actor (who did it), a verb (what was done), and a direct object (what it was done to), along with any number of contextual data.  

For example, a learning experience could be: 

Patrick (actor) coached (verb) Barbara (direct object) on HIPAA compliance requirements (context). 

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Along with the learning record provider and the activity statement, you need a learning record store (LRS), which is a new way of storing these new data you have. As Torrance and Houck explain, “If you want to use xAPI, you will need an LRS, either as a stand-alone piece of software or integrated into a full-fledged LMS (learning management system).” 

As just mentioned, there are nearly unlimited amounts of data you can collect using xAPI. So how do you decide what information to gather? Here, L&D professionals go back to their roots: measuring for learning and performance improvement—but with more options available to them. 

You may, for example, use the Kirkpatrick Model to measure. An effort to measure Level 3 Behavior may entail extracting from the performance system of record to verify that learners are performing desired behaviors, such as, “Sophie completed the fourth step in the process in 43 seconds.”  

Or, you may use Cathy Moore’s action mapping approach to measure against business goals: “Luis sold seven widgets this month.”  

If you’ve read this far, you may be thinking that you’re ready to put your toe into the xAPI ocean. But with which learning project? There are varying schools of thought. Maybe you’ll want a low-profile one, so you can work out kinks with few repercussions. Alternatively, you may want to dive in with a senior leader’s pet project, one that will be given the resources and attention to improve chances for success. The choice is really made based on organizational needs and culture. 

Whatever your decision, you’ll be in the good company of fellow L&D pros as xAPI continues to improve. 

Take a look inside “Making Sense of xAPI.” Want to learn even more? Explore Megan Torrance’s ATD Essentials Series class, “Essentials of Creating Learning Experiences With xAPI,” one of more than 40 interactive courses available with the Essentials Series Annual Pass.

About the Author
Patty Gaul is a writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD).
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