How do you know that your eLearning design efforts have succeeded until you have examined the results?

At first, the discussion about tracking eLearning only involved documenting activity completion instead of accomplishments: Did an individual or a group complete a course? This was mainly for the purpose of verifying that a regulatory requirement had been satisfied, or for managing curriculum. This task was handled by the Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) and learning management systems (LMS).

This type of activity is known as summative evaluation of instruction. It is an objective and empirical process—what training activities were completed, were test scores and certifications passed, how many employees had met regulatory or administrative requirements? But instructional designers need to be concerned with more granular evaluation of the content and methods involved in learning, including during development and piloting, as well as after implementation. This is not entirely objective and empirical, and the summative information provided by course and test completion is not sufficient to the task.

Over time, as L&D moves from training activity to talent development and accomplishments, the lack of detail in those measurements is a significant problem. Today, recording course completions is not enough. Learning and development professionals and their managers and executives want to know whether our efforts at facilitating actual learning are effective. Leaders are not going to assume that employees learned anything simply by attending a course.


As Megan Torrance, Michael Hruska, and Nikolaus Hruska wrote in Learning Solutions in 2018, the Experience API (Application Programming Interface) or xAPI is "an open specification for recording, storing, and retrieving information about learning activities and on-the-job performance." xAPI is an agreement about how to communicate about how people learn and work. You can read more about the origin and fundamentals of xAPI in their article.

To perform the types of formative evaluation required, matched to the character of innovative approaches such as adaptive and experiential learning, xAPI is ideal. It can “look inside” the learning experiences and record them in a learning record store (LRS). Here are some of the benefits of using xAPI for evaluation of learning:

  • xAPI makes it possible to record learning from many sources in a single record-keeping system
  • xAPI allows learning content to be distributed across multiple sources
  • xAPI can capture learning experiences from mobile applications, social learning, eBooks, and from games
  • xAPI does not require learning applications to launch from an LMS or to run in a browser, as SCORM does
  • xAPI does not require learning content to reside on the same server as the LMS that tracks it, as SCORM does

What can you do with xAPI that you can’t do with SCORM and an LMS? Here are a few of the uses of xAPI that will provide formative information:

  • Find out what users learned from video
  • Track video interactions
  • Track informal and social learning
  • Track learning from interactive eBooks
  • Track use of Alexa skills and performance support

Learning how to use xAPI for formative evaluation

xAPI is not difficult to learn how to use. The basic tracking capabilities require only four lines of code to get started, and Learning Solutions has published a number of articles on the topic in the last three years. However, it may be helpful to have someone guide you through the process the first time.

The Learning Guild’s Measurement & Evaluation Online Conference will include a session by xAPI expert Anthony Altieri on capturing data from your course or eLearning application by using xAPI. Anthony has written extensively about the process in Learning Solutions and has presented many workshops on the topic previously.

Register now for this online conference and learn many other new strategies for enhancing your L&D projects. If you are interested in attending this online event but are unable to attend on either September 30 or October 1, register anyway and you’ll receive access to the recorded sessions and handouts after the event.

You can also get a Learning Guild Online Conference Subscription to access this and all online conferences for the next year, plus much more.