Standard: A set of specifications that are adopted within an industry to allow compatibility between products. (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.)
What is a “standard” in eLearning? The eLearning industry (more specifically, organizations that develop, guide, and provide the technology used in eLearning) has developed a series of specifications and protocols since the 1990s to track eLearning course completions and other data. These specifications tell eLearning courses how to communicate with learning management systems (LMSs). For example, how to report that Jane Smith completed the Introduction to Astrophysics course on September 2, 2022 in 73 minutes, with a final assessment score of 87%. These specifications are sometimes referred to as learning technology interoperability standards.
Prior to the establishment of these standards, each course and LMS had to provide its own system for reporting results and learner activity, and this also made computer-based instruction expensive and complicated to implement and administer. In eLearning, we currently have four standards or specifications for compatibility, although only three of them are in regular use. These standards and specifications are:
- AICC, the Aviation Industry Computer-based Training Committee standard. This was the first standard and it established the basis for the standards that followed. AICC is no longer widely used except as the foundation.
- SCORM, the Shareable Content Object Reference Model, developed by the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL) associated with the US Department of Defense. There are several releases of SCORM. Although SCORM is often said to be near the end of its life, it is still very widely used. SCORM has a number of weaknesses and limitations on the data it can collect.
- xAPI, the latest version of SCORM. It has changed the rules and requirements, revolutionizing the design, management, and reporting of digital learning. xAPI is more flexible than SCORM and it corrects many of SCORMs weaknesses.
- cmi5, the latest use case of the AICC guidelines. It provides better support for mobile learning and for cloud-based approaches to digital learning. cmi5 is not yet widely adopted.
The documents in the references provide additional information on this evolution. This article will focus on xAPI.
What is xAPI?
(From The Guild Research Report “2022: The State of xAPI Adoption”. See references at the end of this article. )
“The Experience API (xAPI) is a learning and performance data specification that allows learning content, systems of work, and learning systems to share data about all types of learning and non-learning experiences. Experience data is recorded in a learning record store (LRS). LRSs can exist within software tools, as part of traditional learning management systems (LMSs), or on their own. xAPI is the official name of the specification that was created by the Tin Can project. For most practical purposes, xAPI and Tin Can API are interchangeable terms.”
Why is xAPI important?
The purpose of eLearning standards is to ensure that content and data in eLearning is uniform and shareable across many systems. Standards also facilitate uploading content to an LMS.
The standards are gradually evolving to better enable attainment of those goals. For example, SCORM still requires that the content and the LMS reside in the same domain online. SCORM also does not support mobile learning.
xAPI addresses these issues and is more flexible, allowing organizations to track any part of the learning experience. xAPI does not require that the learning experience be in the form of an “eLearning” course. Instead, it can be in a video or a website, or as text, a podcast, an assessment, in conferences, observations, classroom presentations, and more.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is continuing the evolution of xAPI from a specification to full standardization. Working groups are refining aspects of xAPI to support global industry adoption by software tools and providers. These changes are making usage of xAPI by L&D teams in organizations more robust.
Over time, more authoring tools and learning platforms are supporting the use of xAPI. The effect of this change is to make adoption and use of xAPI more simple and free of the need to do custom software development and coding. This is driving widespread adoption, making mastery of xAPI a top priority for eLearning practitioners.
Why learn about xAPI? Why adopt xAPI?
According to research and surveys, few practitioners are satisfied with the current state of their learning metrics. Most practitioners also find that there are weaknesses in their organization’s learning technologies, especially the inability to integrate with other systems. xAPI is specifically designed to solve these problems, but adoption has been slow. (See Guild Research Report “2022: The State of xAPI Adoption” for the details.)
Where can you learn more about xAPI?
The Learning Guild has published many articles about xAPI and how to implement it. Most of this information has appeared in Learning Solutions. Enter “xAPI” in the Search area at the top of any Learning Solutions article.
Many of the Learning Guild’s live events, both in person and virtual, feature tutorial sessions on xAPI. Recordings of sessions and supporting materials are available in Guild conference archives online. If you are planning to attend DevLearn 2022 there are concurrent xAPI sessions on the schedule. There will also be pre-conference activities (separate registration required): the xAPI User Conference and The Learning Guild’s xAPI Accelerator Certificate Program.
Rosenberg, Marc. “Marc My Words: Beyond SCORM – A Welcome New Direction”. (March 8, 2011)
Werkenthin, Art. “Experience API, cmi5, and Future SCORM.” (May 21, 2015)
Hogle, Pam. “Buzzword Decoder: xAPI Primer.” (January 3, 2017)
The Learning Guild (2022). Guild Research Report “2022: The State of xAPI Adoption”