xAPI – What it can mean for your learning Program

xAPI – What it can mean for your learning Program

xAPI – What it can mean for your learning Program

In the Learning and Development industry a very buzzworthy topic is xAPI (xAPI is also known as Tin Can API or the Experience API in case you have heard or read additional posts elsewhere, it will herein be referred to solely as xAPI within this blog post). The concept is everywhere… you are reading blogs left and right explaining what it is and its characteristics. Some a lot more easy to understand than others. But in general, you realize that xAPI definitely can go a long way in expanding the capabilities of some of your more cumbersome components within your learning program. But “how exactly can it do that?” And really, “what is it?” According to Tincanapi.com (which also exists as experienceapi.com to suit your fanatical naming convention’s needs), “xAPI is a brand new specification for learning technology that makes it possible to collect data about the wide range of experiences a person has (online and offline). This API captures data in a consistent format about a person or group’s activities from many technologies. Very different systems are able to securely communicate by capturing and sharing this stream of activities using Tin Can’s simple vocabulary.” Why is this important? Well, previously these data points had been collected over various other protocols, specifically focused on E-learning and Instructor Led Training (ILT), while now, this universal type of data encapsulation ensures interoperability between new learning objects within your system and the outside world.

What does that mean to my learning program?

Think of your learning program like it is an amusement park full of intense rides, arcades, and entertainment. In general, you would be satisfied in knowing that the only reason people are there is to ride the most insane breakneck ride in the park, and that is why the queued line is always so long. But, what if I told you that people actually go to the amusement park for a variety of other reasons. Some people really like an excuse to walk around and eat carnival foods, others dislike roller coasters altogether and really enjoy watching live acting, and others are obsessed with video games, but really just need an excuse to get out of the house. In order to identify what motivates people to go to the parks, their overall experience would need to be measured. Experience Tracking (The reason xAPI is also known as the Experience API) is a very real component of the xAPI offering. Objects that begin as strictly online E-learning, do not have to end that way. Interactions throughout the process are carried out on a variety of devices and in an abundance of ways allowing for an all-encompassing view of the learners’ involvements. If there is a social component of the learning mix, if there is a game that aids in the specific development of a particular course, it is now attributable to a single data node. As a whole, the intent of xAPI is to aid the flexibility of the entire system, as well as the way in which we measure our learnings.

What are the benefits?

Learning is no longer confined to typical methodologies, this opens up the avenues towards Social Learning, Mobile Learning, and Gamification. SCORM is not designed to track these learning approaches. SCORM is not going away, you can continue to use your currently established SCORM to track end to end utilization of various learning objects. However, in the xAPI Format, the administrator can view Learning objects from a broader perspective (as well as institute a variety of objects which were not originally considered part of the learning blend). Such as, if the user has asked for help on connected social media, contributed to the learning environment via discussion boards, or if the user photographs or screen captures relative content. This specification should be exciting to industry personnel as it extends the outreach of our user metrics. Further understanding our users and how they interact not only within, but also outside of their learning environment can provide a vital knowledge component that was once missing from our analytics in order to determine courses of action in our programs.

In Conclusion

Try not to be afraid of new technologies, the learning space is continuously evolving and as the tools get better, our abilities expand as well. As your program begins implementing social learning and gamification initiatives make sure the environment in which they are being provided is capable of fully measuring these features and their utilization. You don’t have to take your learning amusement park at face value, use xAPI to learn how users are crafting their own experiences and use this information to further establish methods for success within your implementation. As always, remember to join us here at the Gyrus Systems Blog as we continue to investigate buzzworthy components of the learning and development field multiple times a week; don’t forget to subscribe to our blog (subscription form on top right of this page) to have the latest blogs delivered straight to your email inbox.

 

References

"Tin Can API." Tin Can API. Rustici Software, LLC, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. https://tincanapi.com/overview/

 

The Hidden Cost of Open Source LMS

The availability of free software has increased over the years with the development and release of programming kits for apps and software, community and support forums, and freemium software that offers limited use for free, but requires paying to get all software features unlocked.

The LMS market is no exception.

Open source learning management systems have become increasingly popular, and on paper they always sound good.  They’re free: how can you beat that price?  The term free is usually a misnomer; there is almost always a cost associated with using open source LMSs.

Let’s take the following example: you’re an HR director for a small firm, and want to update your legacy LMS on a shoestring budget.  You search the internet for free LMS and click on the first search result for an open source product that looks good.  You view the demo and are amazed. This looks perfect! And it’s free!

“Learning management software this good should cost twice as much!” you cackle to yourself.  Excitedly, you grab the first IT tech who wanders past your door and make her watch the demo.  “This looks good,” she says, “but we’ll need to purchase another server to support this, we might need to hire somebody to rewrite the open source code for our business needs, and, hey, who’s going to be managing this project? How long will this project take? Who do we go to for troubleshooting?”

After a slight pause, punctuated with the dulcet chirps of crickets somewhere nearby, you realize that there’s slightly more to an open source LMS than just downloading and launching it.

Hardware, coding, project management, and support personnel are all needed to keep an open source product up and running.  These technical requirements sometimes aren’t clearly spelled out, but a total lifecycle cost of an LMS should be at the forefront of your mind when you start the selection process to make sure that a free LMS solution doesn’t cost more than the commercial off the shelf solution.

Getting that E-learning Course to Work When SCORM isn’t the Problem

If you’re reading this then we probably have something in common…we both know what SCORM is for. But just in case this term is new to you, let’s get start by getting that definition out of the way.

SCORM is an e-learning standard. It is the reason you can get your e-learning course from one vendor and still launch and track it from the  to be integrated with one another – to “talk” to each other.

That makes SCORM very important.

 It’s great when everything is working right. Students are successfully launching, consuming and completing courses and all of that activity is correctly recorded in the LMS . But it’s not so great when something goes wrong. And, sometimes the reason is because there is a problem with the SCORM set up. When your SCORM package isn’t tracking right, your vendors can help you test the SCORM to see if there is a problem. But what if there isn’t.

What if SCORM isn’t the problem?

You’re not out of luck. There are several other things you can check out. These things also play a key role in making your content work right. Let’s review some of the more common culprits which can give you a SCORM content headache.

  • Videos require a player (often “Flash”) to run. Over time, the player on your computer may have become outdated. Make sure yours is up to date.
  • The computer itself may be causing the difficulty. The easiest way to check this is to try launching the course from another computer.
  • The availability of bandwidth can never be ignored. Remember that this is a moving target. The speed with which your course is delivered to you is “subject to change”. These changes can be as simple as the time of day, moving to a different location, or other web applications “stealing” your bandwidth.
  • The course itself is a big factor. There are many variables affecting how a course will (or will not) run for you. Some contain video – others do not. Some are a very large electronic file – others are smaller. Some are SCORM version 1.2, others are SCORM 2004 or AICC. These and other factors can make a big difference on whether or not the course will run for you.


It can be frustrating when a course content stubbornly refuses to work as expected. Not being sure what to check can only add to the frustration. Try these basic “tests” to run down the problem. Even if it turns out to be something else, at least you can quickly eliminate these “usual suspects” and move more swiftly to the correct resolution.

Questions to Keep in Mind When Purchasing eLearning Content for an LMS

Many guides on buying eLearning content talk about the quality of the content, the experience of the developer, the number of courses the developer has available for purchase, references, and etc.  These are all very important topics that cannot afford avoidance, however there are some other questions that are important to keep in mind when purchasing content.  Reviewing these questions could help to save you from making a costly mistake.

  1. Pricing

    • Are you purchasing on a per user basis?
    • Are you purchasing unlimited use?
    • Are you purchasing attempts?  This probably does not occur very often, however it is important to confirm that each attempt from the same user does not count against your user licensing.
    • Are their options available for bundling course topics and reducing cost?
    • Does the price of content use in an LMS differ from the price of use in the provider’s delivery system?  Confirm you are purchasing content to reside within your LMS, it may be more expensive, but you have the added benefit of all training records in one location.
  2. Demo

    • Does the provider give a demo on the content you are requesting?
    • Does the provider give access to demo content to test functionality in your LMS?
    • Will there be a dedicated support person to troubleshoot potential issues in your LMS?
    • Ask for the option to view an eLearning course start to finish so you may judge the quality.
  3. Completion / Assessments

    • Is there a final assessment on the eLearning?
    • Are their ‘check-point’ assessments within the eLearning?
    • Can percent completion be factored into the pass/fail decision? This means that a viewer has to watch a percentage of the total content in order to pass the eLearning – they will not be able to skip ahead and take all the assessments.
    • Is there an ability to customize completion / assessment pass/fail scores?
  4. Extras

    • Does the content come with job aids?
    • Does the content allow for submitting feedback?
    • How and where does the content utilize bookmarks? Example: If the content is closed in the middle of a video, when reopened, will it start at the beginning of the video or where you left off?  Does the user have to physically click the save button to bookmark?
    • Are their help texts provided within the content?
    • Does it come in multiple languages?
    • Ask how often the content is refreshed (if you are purchasing content that requires refresher courses)?
    • Are there any accessibility options?
    • Ask about SCORM (1.2 or 2004), AICC, and xAPI (if applicable) conformance.
    • Does the content provider offer personalized certificates at completion?

Tin Can: Is Your Learning Management System (LMS) Compliant?

What does Tin Can compliance mean?  It means that your Learning Management System (LMS) has been updated to include the latest standard for learning content.  Previous SCORM standards created specifications for learning content that allowed interoperability between content authors and LMS providers.  This goal was admirable (and essential), and achieving it allowed companies to play in the same ball field, ultimately producing many quality LMS applications.

The ever-evolving technological landscape created new learning options that caused a paradigm shift in perception about how and where learning occurs.  Thus the premises upon which SCORM was based fundamentally changed, and SCORM and the LMS applications using it became obsolete.

Product obsolescence is a constant challenge for software development companies.  Balance must be achieved between price and product features, cost and release timelines, cost and product support, and many other priorities to keep software fresh, “not obsolete,” and well-supported.  Companies that successfully balance these requirements thrive by combining relevant and customer-driven software with quality product support at a reasonable price for their customers.

Companies that do not successfully balance these challenges create irrelevant or few new features and product support may be non-existent.  Customers and prospects soon migrate to other vendors.  Corporate survival under such circumstances is difficult and many vendors fail, merge with other businesses, or perhaps get bought out.  As with any enterprise application purchase, caution is the rule and LMS buyers should fully evaluate a vendor’s current product, release schedule, and customer support to remediate future negative results from the LMS purchase.

So how does Tin Can work into all of this?  The Tin Can specification became available mid-year 2012, with the official release being April 26th, 2013.  Many LMS vendors have already, or are in the process of, modifying their application to be Tin Can compliant, potentially indicating forward-thinking companies.  Tin Can compliance is an important “first filter” indicating whether an LMS vendor “has gotten it right” by prioritizing its development effort to become compliant.  If a vendor is not currently, or will not soon be, Tin Can compliant, it’s good reason to avoid them as your LMS vendor.

Here at Gyrus Systems we are proud to have included the Tin Can specification in our GyrusAim application as of April, 2013.  We look forward to continuing our 25 year legacy of organic software development by leveraging the Tin Can specification through the development of many revolutionary enhancements in follow-up versions.  Stay tuned for details!

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