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Archive for the "Standards" Category

Part One: How We Decide to Do Work

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Categories: Ideas, Spec Effort, Standards, xAPI

Posted 21 September 2017

 

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the state of ADL and Rustici Software’s take on it. One of the real community leaders, Aaron Silvers, then shared his perspective, partially in response. If you read them both, you’ll see some overlap and gaps in our responses, but the thing I want to address is that it seemed Aaron was asking a question or making a request of me (Tim?) or Rustici Software in the process.

Important note for those unfamiliar with this space: I work at Rustici Software, a for-profit software company. Since we started working with standards in 2003, we’ve been active within the community and try to build software that spares customers having to deal with the standards. This website, like scorm.com before it, is how we interact with and provide resources to that community.

Aaron may not have been asking these questions, but in order to answer his, I have to explore two questions:

  • How does Rustici Software decide to do work?
  • How does Rustici Software decide which work to do?

How we decide to do work

There are two kinds of work that are clear yeses for us.

  • Work that serves two or more other organizations well enough that they’ll pay us enough to justify the work.
  • Work that we can do now because it helps us do our jobs better.


Number one might be pretty obvious to you. This is the essence of a products company.

Number two is a little less obvious, but just as true. Back in the SCORM days, one of the fundamental problems was that it was simply tough to tell what was going on when a LMS launched a piece of content. As good developers do, the venerable Mike Rustici added debugging tools so he could see what was going on. (Keep in mind, this was way back in the days prior to good debugging tools being built directly into the browsers.) Mike was solving a problem he had, but he quickly saw the broader utility of those debugging tools.

We listed that debugging log as a top feature of SCORM Engine from day one. We also decided that it was worth sharing with the world. We wrapped a little bit of code and interface around our core product (SCORM Engine), labeled it SCORM Test Track, and shared it. It’s been subsumed by SCORM Cloud now, but that capability brought thousands of people to Rustici Software and introduced them to things that we do well.

Those debug logs, and Test Track, have had real, lasting, positive impact, for both the community and for us at Rustici Software. If we’re going to do work that fails at number one (making money directly), then we want to have an impact.

ADL’s guiding hand

For most of the last 15 years, ADL has been the primary organizing force in the corporate elearning standards space. This force is realized in two ways:

  • ADL funds research of a specific type, with specific organizations, which causes things to happen to the eLearning standards.
  • ADL decides what is in – in scope, in the spec, in the agenda for the specification meetings. This is mostly good, because a community needs organization and leadership.

This had led to real and important work. Project Tin Can was a successful initial effort on our part, funded entirely by ADL, that led to what you now know as xAPI. Similarly, ADL funded the work that DISC did in 2016-2017 that led to an xAPI profile definition specification. This money from ADL provided incentive, and ADL’s guidance provided direction.

ADL has served as the arbiter, allowing certain things to become a part of the core xAPI specification, and pushing others into other areas (cmi5, for example). They also made decisions about which community projects to highlight, which ones to work from.

Our rules about taking work are somewhat different with regard to standards bodies. On multiple occasions over the last 3 years, work that Rustici has done and offered to the community in various ways (OSS or hosted service) has been passed over or recreated. This includes:

What should we do from here?

So here’s the crux of it: Based on the current budgetary environment in the US, ADL does not currently have the ability to fund additional research, nor do they have a large number of resources to do work in house. They have retained, however, their position of authority; they decide what’s in, or they do until they don’t.

At some point, we had to start asking ourselves this question: If ADL doesn’t explicitly approve work we’re doing for community use ahead of time with their funding, does it serve us or anyone for us to take on big chunks of work like this? Simply, under what circumstances are we willing to do work to support the community without being paid?

So I have a question for the community… for you, the reader who trudged through just this many words. If we stand up an xAPI Profile Server and a service to test for valid, well-structured xAPI Profiles, on our servers, evolving it at the pace and in the manner we see fit based on the problems expressed to us by our customers and the community, will you use it? Would you allow us to play a significant, central role in that way? And to ADL, would you approve of that?

My sense is that the community would like for us to build these things, but only under very specific conditions.

OK. I’m about 1000? words into a post and I’ve answered one question. But I’m going to stop here. The answer to this one precedes the answer to the second: How does Rustici Software decide which work to do? We’ll come back to that one in a post we publish next week. Until then, let us know if you’re open to using tools that we build.

Have a more nuanced response? Email it to us: info@experienceapi.com.

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IEEE LTSC xAPI TAG A-OK

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Categories: Announcements, Spec Effort, Standards, xAPI

Posted 15 September 2017

 

Shelly Blake-Plock announced last night via LinkedIn that he would be leading a Technical Advisory Group (TAG) for IEEE LTSC (Learning Technologies Standards Committee). This is good news, as Shelly is going to carry a real load in leading that group. In his own words, Shelly describes the work in this way:

Our initial purpose is to create an IEEE technical report as a reference and implementation guide for xAPI 1.0.3. More broadly, we’ll be providing an open place for discussion among xAPI stakeholders and we’ll potentially be making recommendations about needs to support widespread use of the specification based on our activity in writing the report.

Our start point is the xAPI 1.0.3 specification. We’ll discuss all aspects of xAPI such as xAPI Profiles and the relation of xAPI to SCORM and cmi5. The end point is open-ended and in our discussion we will work to define the scope of the TAG.

My version: We’re glad the initial purpose of this group points toward standardization. IEEE stamping xAPI would encourage adoption, particularly outside of the US. It would send a positive message to the community at large that xAPI is a real and complete and adoptable thing.

My priority for this group is to remain focused on the standardization of xAPI 1.0.3, rather than evolution. Broader conversations about profiles and other things that xAPI requires (e.g. evolution of the specification and surrounding specifications) are happening in many venues, and I hope this doesn’t spread the community too thin. Instead, I hope they can successfully take the steps that help IEEE consider it for standardization. This is just step one of many in that regard.

So, thanks to Shelly for leading this. We, as Rustici Software, will be sending along one of our experts to participate as well. Ben Clark played an active role in the evolution of SCORM during the 2000s, and was the true leader on Project Tin Can, which led to the advent of xAPI. He’s pretty well informed.

If you’re the adventurous sort, Shelly has invited all comers. His LinkedIn post will point you in the right direction.

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Responding to recent ADL funding news

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Categories: Announcements, Spec Effort, Standards, xAPI

Posted 6 September 2017

 

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks learning about some things that are happening with ADL (the governing body for SCORM and closest thing we currently have to a single steward for xAPI right now).

My first tl;dr

  • Some funding things happened at ADL, but ADL will continue to do work on xAPI and with the xAPI community.
  • If ADL is limited in its ability to support xAPI or SCORM, Rustici Software and others are willing and able to step in and do what is necessary (even if there isn’t consensus about exactly what that would be just yet).

Wait. Even that was too long.

A better tl;dr

SCORM and xAPI are both still just fine. Use them exactly as you were planning to before you read this.

Now the long version.

The closest thing we have to news is this. ADL’s funding has been reduced substantially in the short-term. Basically, this means that ADL will make cuts on a temporary basis, and several people who have worked there over the last few years won’t be in the short term. (There are some great people considering their futures, if you’re looking for some expertise.)

ADL’s budget is included in the proper FY18 budget, at a level that is slightly smaller than prior years, but still significant ($11M+ as I read it). Supposing that comes through in February of 2018, they would hire people (familiar faces or new ones) and continue with the same or related work.

Truthfully, we can’t predict what the priorities of that organization will be in the short or long term, but we never really could. Until they say otherwise, I believe that ADL will continue to provide the infrastructure that supports xAPI and SCORM both. This includes the websites that have resources and examples. At Rustici, we have some comparable resources available, and we’ll continue to offer those. If ADL finds itself unable to do certain things at some point in the future, Rustici Software will fill the most important gaps.

Other people and organizations are stepping up and expressing their care and interest in contributing to the evolution and support of xAPI. This can be nothing other than good news. (OK, quietly, and for a small group of us, this can be a little confusing and frustrating. We have to navigate the different bodies and their respective merits. But that’s a problem for a few, not for the many. A service Rustici provides to its customers is absorbing this angst on their behalf.)

Ultimately, what we need as a vendor community and really an L&D community is consensus. We need to agree about how content and LMSs communicate at runtime, and we need to agree about how two systems talk to each other about the things people do. In the end, standards and specifications are a documented form of consensus.

Standards bodies provide some rails for reaching and documenting that consensus. I think ADL’s done a great job of this over time. For as long as there is good, consolidated, effective leadership in these communities, we greatly prefer to defer to and serve that leadership. Should ADL’s leadership wane, Rustici Software would increase our participation and influence consistent with our views on what is best for the community.

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Recently, ADL (the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative) launched the xAPI Adopter Registry, which lists xAPI Adopters and Conformant LRSs. We’re thrilled to be one of the first companies included on the xAPI Adopter Registry and the only company so far to have two conformant LRSs–both SCORM Cloud and SCORM Engine passed the xAPI LRS Conformance Test Suite.

So why is this so exciting?

The registry is a valuable resource for the eLearning community because it promotes adoption of the Experience API and provides a core list of products and companies that have received xAPI conformance certification. The LRS Test Suite is extensive, covering 1,300 strict criteria that ensures true adoption of the xAPI specification and therefore guarantees interoperability across eLearning systems.

Personally, we have been involved in the learning standards community since 2002 and in that time have come to understand the true value eLearning specifications provide in ensuring interoperability. With xAPI, we are excited about the possibilities for new ways of learning and are here to both encourage adoption and help add other companies and vendors to this growing list.

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Why cmi5?

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Categories: cmi5, Deep Dive, LRS, Recipes, Standards, Statements, xAPI

Posted 11 May 2017

 

The part of the xAPI community that loves the freedom to live outside of an LMS, the vast majority of it, loves cmi5. They just don’t know it yet.

This is the story of how I came back to an LMS, after having never really used one. The story about a little specification that took forever, but in the end provides a wandering community with just enough fencing to get them back on a path. But the part they’ll really like — it can be any path.

That fence is constructed between the following posts:

  • Launch: have to have it for endpoint + credentials
  • Statement Guidelines: have to be able to recognize a statement and understand how it was intended to be understood
  • Session: we always want start and end anyways
  • Flexibility: allows you to take any trail you like

Launch

Don’t think of the LMS as an LMS, instead, think of it as a “cmi5 launching” system.

Everywhere I looked there was launch staring me back in the face. I couldn’t get away from it. (Believe me, I’m the revolutionary in a company who lives and breathes SCORM and LMSs, and I tried to get away from launch.) Repeatedly on calls with clients wanting to create products with xAPI, I would say, “Sure you can capture any data you want, that isn’t a problem, but the hard part is getting the endpoint, and even harder, the credentials.”

It turns out that in practice, so many of the clients I was working with had these systems that told their learners what types of learning and training they should be participating in. These clients were excited about xAPI, and they were already bringing their learners to the list of tasks available to them. cmi5 is providing a standard way to handle this across different systems and experiences.

Statement Guidelines

Presuming you have your endpoint and credential problem solved and the data is flowing into your LRS from your content, as well as from all your other xAPI-enabled sources, then the next problem hits — the xAPI flexibility problem. This is the problem that an xAPI recipe was initially intended to solve. A consumer of xAPI data needs to have a way to identify the semantic meaning of a statement as a whole so that it can “understand” that statement. cmi5 pays particularly close attention to this concept and provides a means to identify statements with specific cmi5 meaning that the launching system (or any reporting system) can use to frame the context. Beyond specific cmi5 statements, it provides a templating system for how other statements can include basic information, allowing all of the statements in an experience to be tied together efficiently. Although sometimes we prefer a path less taken, most often we want a well worn path with a pre-defined destination. Spelling out how to detect and use a cmi5 statement in a massive pile of data makes it much easier to develop and much faster to execute for the reporting system.

Session

I work with and on eLearning standards every day, particularly xAPI, and despite the best efforts of the community to date, it feels like gaining widespread adoption of profiles and recipes has been a slow, uphill push. The thing that I found, however, is that every non-trivial type of experience we want to explain with profiles and recipes all start with the actor “initialized something” and end with the actor “finished something,” and it didn’t matter what the “something” was. The session concept in cmi5 has these markers and can provide a shell for other profiles and recipes that are defined in the future to live inside of. There is no reason for anyone else to worry about how to create those types of statements and indicate these types of events. We can just wrap them in cmi5.

Flexibility

So far, a lot of adoption of xAPI has been from people that love to trailblaze, and they are critical to the process. But for every one of them, there are lots of people that like to start on a well traveled path, take small excursions into the thick, and then return to that comfortable path. cmi5 is perfect for both because it allows you to send nearly any statement you want (yeah, yeah, not voided; I said nearly). You can stick to the well defined statements associated with common LMS concepts such as completion, success (pass/fail) and score, or you can use cmi5’s concept of “allowed” statements which is virtually any other statement. You can have your cmi5 content send statements across several different profile types, or invent your own.

:::::::::::

The amazing thing about a path is that it is exciting for each new traveler, even though inherently none of it is new. The reason to love cmi5 is that all of these fundamental concepts necessary to start making robust end-to-end applications of xAPI have been codified in one succinct specification by original pioneers in the xAPI community. We’ve had four years of xAPI wandering, and now it is time for LMSs, rapid authoring tools and less traditional eLearning platforms to all find a path to success. cmi5 can be that path.

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