The eLearning Guild recently surveyed members about their use of xAPI, research that was published in 2019: The State of xAPI Adoption, by Megan Torrance.

More than a quarter of respondents are already using xAPI, to varying extents. Among the non-adopters, two-thirds are interested. Barriers to implementing xAPI include technical barriers and lack of an identified need.

Since technical barriers might include the need for costly tools and infrastructure, the lack of identified need is a key contributor to a hesitance to adopt xAPI. Organizational leaders are understandably unwilling to undertake a costly and significant change without a clear need and potential benefits.

Leaders who understand the value of a broader and clearer picture of learning activity and how it correlates with on-the-job performance will easily understand the need for an interoperable xAPI ecosystem.

Counting completions isn’t enough

Conventional SCORM-based eLearning allows L&D teams to track who’s completed training, what their quiz scores were, how much time they spent on the training—and little else. Many managers are satisfied with this, but they are missing the potential of much richer information about learners and learning.

Using xAPI, L&D teams can gather more information than simple completions and quiz scores. They can gather details about how and for how long learners interacted with elements of the training, information about performance in a broad variety of tools from simulators to chat apps to eLearning, and they can aggregate data from multiple tools.

With this xAPI data, L&D teams can improve training and correlate training with work performance. Collecting richer data enables managers to see what their employees are actually learning, not only whether they’ve clicked their way through an eLearning course or started a video then walked away.

Learning happens everywhere

Modern digital learners are “always on.” Learning is constant—and much of it takes place outside of the LMS. Consider how much of employees’ learning occurs through:

  • Social collaborations and interactions, perhaps using a platform like Slack or Yammer
  • Hands-on practice with a software module, a CPR dummy, or some other job-related tool
  • Curated content on a company website or wiki
  • Video viewed outside the LMS
  • Self-directed learning over the internet
  • Informal or social learning
  • A microlearning, text- or chatbot-based app they use on their smartphones or tablets
  • Podcasts they listen to during “windshield time” on the way to client sites
  • An interactive eBook
  • Reinforcement or reminder tools used in the workflow to support performance and answer immediate questions
  • eLearning, workshops, or other training taken through external content libraries, professional associations, accrediting bodies, etc.
  • Use of virtual assistants

With a full-fledged xAPI ecosystem, that learning could be tracked and correlated with job performance. A richer data set would enable managers to target training, pair employees with skilled mentors and coaches, reward successes, and intervene early to identify weak areas and remedy problems.

Create interoperability

It’s possible to gather some rich learning data without xAPI, and, Torrance wrote, many survey respondents are bypassing xAPI and using other technologies to gather and track learning. “This non-interoperable data strategy helps them move fast but risks creating organizational silos centered around tools that do not communicate with each other,” she wrote.

That means:

  • eLearning in the LMS doesn’t have any information gathered by the performance support
  • Performance support tools, like a mobile microlearning or a reminder tool, doesn’t have information on eLearning completion and performance

Better data sharing can better personalize and contextualize all learning, Torrance said.

In addition, with a “siloed” system, managers and L&D teams cannot produce a single report on learning across a broad topic, such as safety or leader development. Instead, they get reports by tool or by vendor on, say, activity within the LMS or the performance support system.

Use xAPI to show training ROI

The bottom line for many L&D teams is whether training is effective. Knowing that someone “completed” it, or passed an exam that asked 10 or 20 questions about a two-hour comprehensive module cannot tell them that. It says little about what the trainees learned and nothing about whether they’ve retained it or can apply it on the job.

That’s where xAPI enters the picture, according to Torrance: “xAPI was designed to provide insight to the impact of learning on actual job performance.”

Companies capture all kinds of data about on-the-job behavior and performance. In an xAPI ecosystem, L&D teams can import this data and study it alongside learning data, creating a single pool of data from which to draw their conclusions, Torrance said.

They can then analyze and visualize the data to answer specific questions: Did people who took training perform better on the job? Did people who struggled in training, also struggle on the job (or not)?

In addition, the business data can be used to personalize learning experiences, Torrance said, in ways that a closed SCORM-based ecosystem cannot. For example, “If a sales representative is consistently closing deals for a particular product, further training may not be useful,” she said.

Explore xAPI adoption

Torrance’s research report, 2019: The State of xAPI Adoption, digs into the data on who’s adopted xAPI, how they got started, and what’s standing in the way of adoption at other organizations. A section on providers explores some of the issues that solutions providers face in and implementing xAPI systems and supporting xAPI use. The report is available to all Guild members as a free download.