Let’s take a little quiz: What’s the state of xAPI adoption?

  1. I cannot believe the slow pace this industry takes. With all our excitement about new and shiny objects, why has it been six years since release and so few are using it?
  2. We’ve been using xAPI for years, and it’s giving us invaluable insights into the learning experience and also the impact of learning on performance. SCORM is history!
  3. Oh, gosh, this is hard stuff. We did some pilot projects and found out that this is a lot more complex and requires us to buy some new software. None of our L&D team are software developers—so we’re kind of at a loss.
  4. What is this xAPI of which you speak?

When The eLearning Guild and I surveyed Guild members in July 2019, the answer to the question above was a definite “e. All of the above.” Additional survey results, as well as recommendations for L&D professionals, were published in a Guild research report, 2019: The State of xAPI Adoption.

The state of xAPI adoption

Awareness of and willingness to adopt xAPI fall along a continuum:

  • Those of us in the xAPI community have been engaged for close to a decade in exploring what comes after SCORM. Among this community, many are frustrated with the lack of dissatisfaction with SCORM—the lack of a burning desire for a better platform and for more than the shallow data about eLearning that SCORM provides.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, many people (nearly 1 in 5 who responded to our survey) still do not know what xAPI is or how it could be helpful.
  • In the middle are the nearly half who are interested but have not yet created an experiment or prototype project—and the quarter of respondents who have created a prototype or are using xAPI in one or more production projects.

What’s going on here?

Models of innovation adoption give us a clue as to what’s happening.

Most models suggest more or less bell-shaped curves with long tails at the leading and trailing edges, signifying few early and late adopters, with adoption by the mass of a population somewhere in the middle.

While I am generally suspicious of neat and precise numbers so broadly applied, technology diffusion has been academically studied since the 1950s and is generally agreed to follow this depiction of Everett Rogers’s Technology Adoption Lifecycle.

A bell-shaped tech adoption curve show very few early adopters, slightly more “laggards,” with most in the middle.

Figure 1: The innovation adoption curve shows the early, average, and late adoption numbers. [Image citation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DiffusionOfInnovation.png This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.]

It would be an interesting exercise to plot the various innovations in our field along such an adoption curve.

The instructional designer in me invites you to pause and reflect on the innovations you have recently adopted and those that your organization is considering. Plot where you think your organization and your peer organizations are in terms of your use of:

  • Video
  • Mobile learning
  • Electronic performance support
  • Virtual reality
  • Augmented reality
  • Virtual classrooms
  • Adaptive learning
  • Chatbots
  • Other technologies driven by artificial intelligence

xAPI and the tech adoption curve

And what about the Experience API? Is xAPI ready to shift the market?

Unlike most of the innovations listed above, xAPI isn’t a delivery mechanism. It’s the unifying data-use specification that would enable all of these innovations to share data.

xAPI enables L&D leaders to look much more deeply into the landscape of learning and performance—and potentially to examine organizational impact. xAPI allows us to look at training activity and on-the-job performance by topic or domain, such as safety or leadership development, instead of by tool or vendor, i.e., chatbots in one place, eLearning in the LMS, performance support in another place.

xAPI and the eLearning community

The July 2019 survey looked at the xAPI adoption curve—and then dug deeper.

63 percent of respondents to the Guild survey are interested in using xAPI or are experimenting with it.Figure 2: Very few survey respondents are using xAPI extensively; most are experimenting or curious.

Based on our research, fully six years after the release of xAPI, we are squarely in Early Adopter territory, just before the shape of the curve starts to get steep.

Thousands of people have participated in xAPI Camps, xAPI Learning Cohorts, the xAPI MOOC, and other formal learning experiences. Many more have taken a self-directed approach to their learning.

Hundreds of organizations, large and small, are already using xAPI to some extent—some have been doing so for years.

Dozens of vendors offer support for the specification. A conformance test for the learning record store (LRS) has established a baseline for interoperability.

Most importantly, the U.S. Department of Defense distributed learning requirement, DoDi 1322.26, which originally required SCORM, has been updated to include xAPI. In fact, many RFPs/RFIs in both the government and commercial spaces ask for xAPI as part of the targeted solution.

All of this means that companies are investing in technology to provide xAPI to the market—and the market is asking for it.

Making the decision to adopt new tech

Individuals and organizations considering adopting any new technology weigh a number of factors, including (but of course not limited to):

  • Perceived need—is there a problem to be solved or an unacceptable gap to fill?
  • Perceived benefits relative to investment costs and risks
  • Existence of attractive competing alternatives
  • Evidence that peers and opinion leaders are successfully adopting and using the technology
  • Extent to which they will benefit from the network effects of having made a particular investment

To make any of these evaluations requires that good information about the innovation be available. Here in the Early Adopter phase, the adopters risk over-enthusiasm and over-simplification in their eagerness.

Barriers to xAPI adoption

In the survey, we asked about adoption and then studied the perspectives of:

  • Adopters
  • Non-adopters
  • Providers

The goal was to learn what motivates each, and what might be impeding adoption. Topping the list of reasons why non-adopters are hesitant to adopt xAPI is a lack of knowledge and skills, followed by a failure to identify a need for xAPI.

Barriers to xAPI adoption include the lack of identified need (68%), budget, leadership buy-in, and technical support.

Figure 3: Respondents could indicate multiple barriers to adopting xAPI; 80 percent cited lack of knowledge or skills.

Experimentation is the entry point

In the absence of knowledge and xAPI development skills, people are experimenting! This has proven to be a great way to get organizations started using xAPI.

Learning cohorts focused on xAPI have taken place since the fall of 2015. They are increasingly a go-to option for learning about xAPI in a free, loosely structured, 12-week, learning-by-doing virtual experience. The xAPI Learning Cohorts include a weekly web education and check-in session. In between, project teams work on prototype experiments with xAPI.

Teams are supported with Slack channels, a GitHub repository, and free extended trial accounts from vendors. Participation continues to be strong semester over semester, growing from 35 in fall 2015 to more than 750 in the spring of 2018. The current cohort has more than 575 participants. A new cohort will launch in January 2020.

More than two-thirds of respondents who are not using xAPI believe they will adopt xAPI within the next three years, with 21 percent aiming to do so within the coming year. Learning more and choosing a starter project are great first steps.

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