As a learning professional, what does your job require you to support, document, record, and track? There is formal, structured learning for which you are held accountable (certifications, continuing professional education, required or mandatory training). And there is informal, unstructured experience (coaching, suggested reading, on-the-job-training) that supports employee satisfaction, career advancement, and individual success. Formal learning and informal or social learning are important in order for your organization to have success as an enterprise or activity. There is software to support those objectives: a learning management system (LMS), the xAPI, and the learning record store (LRS).

The LMS facilitates registration in formal learning and documentation of required training (knowing that legal and professional requirements are being met). The LRS and xAPI provide the means to track and assess informal and social learning in the organization and to identify effective learning and growth pathways (knowing what works to grow talent).

The LMS is probably already familiar. However, chances are that the LRS and xAPI are less so. This article provides an overview of the function of xAPI and the LRS, and information about an upcoming event where you can learn more.

Formal learning and SCORM

In formal classes, employees learn about 10 percent of the knowledge and skill needed to do their jobs. Where do they learn the other 90 percent? They get that knowledge and become proficient in their skills through interaction with co-workers and supervisors.

Organizations track and manage formal learning in a number of ways that allow them to capture key business information: who registered for courses, who completed courses, when did they complete them, did they pass the qualification tests, and so on. The learning management systems that do the capturing may also facilitate registration for courses (including self-registration), schedule individuals to attend, and generate reports about the number of employees who have completed and qualified. For eLearning, these tasks have been handled by software that conformed to a set of standards known as SCORM.

SCORM still exists and so does the software, but it has serious shortcomings. For example, SCORM does not work with eLearning completed on mobile devices. It requires that the courses be taken online. It cannot track learning that takes place in simulations or in virtual learning environments, in real-world activity, in "serious games" or experiential learning, in social learning, or in collaborative learning. It cannot connect to information in The Cloud. In other words, it is not able to track learning or experiences that take place in 90 percent or more of the places where learning happens.

Informal learning, Learning Record Stores, and the xAPI

The xAPI (Experience API) is a software specification that records learning experiences by allowing learning content and learning systems to communicate with each other. The learning experiences are recorded in a Learning Record Store (LRS) as activity streams. This software combination provides a number of capabilities that do not exist in SCORM, including:

  • Tracking eLearning outside of a web browser and in native mobile applications
  • Starting eLearning on one device and finishing it on another
  • Tracking simulations, including games
  • Tracking real-world learning experiences, including video and eBooks

xAPI is open-source and uses JavaScript as its data format. Experiences are recorded as statements in a simple syntax: Who (noun) did (verb) what (object). The recorded statements can be retrieved.

Learning to use xAPI and Learning Record Stores

While Learning Solutions has published many articles that explain xAPI and the LRS, the quickest and simplest way to learn to use this system is to attend live training with an expert practitioner. At The eLearning Guild's DevLearn Conference & Expo in Las Vegas, October 23-25, 2019, Anthony Altieri will lead a one-day pre-conference workshop, "BYOD: Using xAPI in the Real World." Anthony is an expert in the use of xAPI and LRS software; he has written several articles on xAPI and LRS in Learning Solutions and also frequently presents sessions on these topics at Guild events. At his pre-conference workshop, you will learn:

  • The anatomy of an xAPI statement
  • The benefits of activity streams
  • How to send queries to get data back from your LRS
  • Techniques for using the data you get back from your LRS
  • When and where to use xAPI
  • When and where NOT to use xAPI
  • How to set up a Learning Record Store (LRS)
  • What you need to implement xAPI in your organization

Previous experience with xAPI and LRS is not required—this workshop is for people who are new to xAPI. You will need to bring a laptop with a modern web browser (e.g., Firefox, Chrome, Edge, Opera) and a text editor (e.g., Notepad++, TextWrangler, MS Studio Code, Sublime, Atom, emacs, etc.)

Registration for this pre-conference workshop requires registration for DevLearn 2019. Register by July 19 and receive a $200 discount on conference registration.