xAPI – The Liberation of Learning

Learning is never a linear experience. In fact, learning is constant, happening all the time in many different forms. Modern Instructional Designers are now looking past traditional self-paced training, and are finding ways to design training programs that capitalize on both formal and informal learning experiences.

This is how the Experience API (xAPI) was born. You may know it as its previous incarnation, Tin Can, but the latest release of xAPI aims to change the way we collect data within our learning environments. xAPI is an application programming interface (API) that aims to track a learner’s EXPERIENCE with traditional and nontraditional learning activities. For example, instead of just tracking the completion of a video course (currently available through something like SCORM), xAPI would allow you to measure tasks completed on the job. Real world experience, after all, is a cornerstone of modern learning frameworks like Constructivism.

Simply put, xAPI is a way to implement independent tools in a learning environment, but create a way for those tools to work together and report to a single data repository. SCORM works great for desktop-based data collection, but xAPI works to expand our capabilities to include more platforms (physical and mobile), and more environments (online vs. offline & traditional vs. social). More important to me is the new ability to better track collaboration and team-work oriented activities. Learning is evolving, and the way we assess learning needs to keep up!

What Does xAPI Look Like?

So you know what the goal of xAPI is, but how do we implement it? At the moment, technical implementation can be complicated, requiring teams of IT specialists and designers. But just knowing what it looks like can help evolve your own instructional design practice.

The xAPI framework is made of three essential components: Activity Statements, Learning Record Stores, and Learning Providers.

The core attribute of xAPI is the Activity Statement. All learning activities, formal and informal, can be translated into one of these statements. Each statement looks something like this:

(subject) + (verb) + (object)

For example, one statement might say, “Kegan watched the Constructivism Video,” and another one measuring informal activities might say, “Kegan discussed Constructivism on Twitter.” Each statement measures an activity completed by a learner, and a combination of these statements can help measure competencies.

The Learning Record Store (LRS) is a database where Activity Statements are stored and retrieved. Being able to retrieve Activity Statements is crucial, as that allows different Activity Providers to work together, regardless of platform, to deliver a well-rounded learning scenario. Activity Providers are the courses and applications that generate Activity Statements that get sent on to the LRS.

Why Should I Implement xAPI?

  1. Multimodal

As discussed previously, xAPI helps tear down traditional barriers that make collecting data in learning environments difficult. Learners can participate in activities whether they are in-browser or on a mobile device, whether they are formal activities or informal activities (for example, collaborative interactions on social media), or whether they are team oriented activities or individual activities.

  1. Self-directed Informal Learning

Although self-directed learning happens all the time, in many different learning environments, the current delivery paradigms do not allow for the measurement of informal learning outcomes. We like to say that collaboration is a great learning tool, but how do we measure the interaction itself? The use of Activity Statements and the LRS will allow us to track these interactions, and assess their effectiveness. As instructional designers, this will allow us to build learning environments that allow the learners to take ownership of their own learning process, and give instructors the tools to better measure the outcomes of self-directed learning.

  1. Improved Real World Learning

For many of us, the most substantial learning happens outside the classroom, in the real world. However, workplace tasks have never been considered part of a training regimen. With xAPI, we do not need to necessarily differentiate between the “learning environment” and the “real world.” Again, the differentiation between xAPI and other paradigms is the ability to MEASURE learning in a multimodal fashion. Any activity imaginable can be translated into an Activity Statement and logged in the Learning Record Store.

With xAPI, instructional designers can now mimic real-world, on-the-job learning. Application to real-world scenarios and on-the-job performance are now part of learning design, not simply a result.

  1. Competency-based Assessment

With xAPI, assessment can be viewed differently. It no longer has to be a summative assessment of gained knowledge at the end of the training course. Instead, the assessment can be based on competencies, and can occur throughout the training. Activity Statements can be measured in many different ways, giving the instructional designer flexibility in how learners are assessed.

Even if you do not have the technology infrastructure and resources, you can use the concepts behind xAPI to improve your practice. You can use the ideas behind the development of xAPI to think about learning in a non-structured way. And do not be afraid to implement informal learning activities into your curriculum!

Now that you know the basics of xAPI, how can you imagine implementing it in your design workflow? Let us know in the comments below!

Kegan Remington, an Instructional Designer from NAU, specializes in Active Learning Pedagogy and the development of dynamic, collaborative, technology-enhanced learning environments. With a decade of experience in education, Kegan’s career is focused on developing high-fidelity learning materials, integrative learning environments, and promoting effective instructional techniques for the 21st century learner.

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