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Q & A From My 2/26 Training Industry Webinar

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Categories: APIs, Events, Standards, xAPI

Posted 8 March 2013

 

Attendees of my Training Industry webinar on February 26th had quite a few questions about xAPI, but I couldn’t get to all of them during the webinar. So, I’ve compiled your questions and I’ve answered them.

Even if you didn’t attend the webinar, you’ll still find lots of good info here.

I received several questions all on related topics, so I decided to lump them all together and provide a single answer.




I was hoping to get a little more in depth about the API.

Q: I was hoping to have more technical detail. This was a very superficial treatment of xAPI.
Q: I wanted to learn the technical details of xAPI and or tangible examples. I don’t feel these were explained.
Q: Learn more about the API it-self.
Q: More technical detail on implementation.

A: The best place to feed your inner geek is in the developers section of tincanapi.com. You might also be interested in the Technical xAPI Webinar from December 2012 that you can watch on the presentations section of the site.




What’s with the name “xAPI”?

Q: Gotta ask……what the history on the name ‘xAPI’?
Q: Why is it named ‘xAPI’?

A: In 2010, ADL awarded Rustici Software a research project to define an experience API for communicating learning activity. We conducted this research project under the codename “Project xAPI” which resulted in the “Experience API”. The xAPI metaphor evokes the simplest form of communication technology, two xAPIs tied connected by a string. For more on the name “Experience API” vs “Experience API”, read “We Call It xAPI”.




So how’s this thing being used in the real world?

Q: I was hoping to see more usage models.
Q: I would have enjoyed more practical scenarios from a trainer’s perspective
Q: I was interested in knowing more about Experience API global possibilities. The webinar was great, the only thing “missing” in my opinion was real examples from the industry.

A: This would make a great follow-up webinar and it will be part of my presentation at Learning Solutions next week (Mar 13-15, 2013 in Orlando) if you happen to be there. We’ve also set up our next webinar to talk about this very topic. Register for it here. In the meantime, we’re always happy to chat about xAPI, so give us a call if you want a sneak peak (you’ll hear me say that a lot in these answers I suspect).




Tell me more about the personal data locker concept.

Q: Also @Mike I would love to hear more about the Watershed personal data locker (or where to find more).
Q: where does personal locker live?

A: We created Watershed as a proof of concept to demonstrate at DevLearn last year. You can find it live at http://watershed.ws. It’s a very rough, early stage application right now, but we think this is where the industry is heading. The personal data locker would live in the cloud, maybe at Watershed, maybe somewhere else. It’s too early to tell just yet.



Q: Are there any formal trainings on xAPI anywhere? I am in Missouri.

A: Not any formal training programs yet. But feel free to give us a call if you have questions, we’re always happy to talk xAPI. We also offer services designed to help organizations best capitalize on the new capabilities xAPI offers.



Whoa, wait a minute, does it cost me money to use xAPI?

Q: Are there free options to leverage xAPI? I see Rustici charges 15k/year, what is that for?
Q: Will there be licensing fees associated with using the API, or is it an open standard?
Q: Is xAPI a truly open system or was it developed by one particular vendor?

A: xAPI is a completely open and free spec to use. Anybody can implement the Experience API in their product free of charge and without obligation.

ADL (part of the US government) awarded Rustici Software (a private company) a research grant that resulted in the initial version of the Experience API. Rustici Software does not maintain any proprietary control over the Experience API specification. It is now in the hands of ADL who is shepherding it through an open working group that anybody can freely participate in.

Rustici Software sells products that implement the Experience API and that make it easier for others to implement the Experience API (private company, remember, we need to at least try to make money). We also offer a freely-accessible LRS through our SCORM Cloud product that anybody can use free of charge at the moment.



Q: As a learner, can I record a private face-to-face conversation with a mentor, expert, peer, etc. as a learning experience?

A: Certainly, if you so choose. That’s a great part of xAPI, anything can be a learning experience. Now of course, that can be both a blessing and a curse. In the longer version of my presentation I talk about how great it is that we can now use all the great Khan Academy content on YouTube as learning events. However, that also means that somebody could choose to record a Harlem Shake video as a learning experience. There are some significant challenges and opportunities ahead as we start to capture informal learning events.



Q: Because your daughter gets mad and wants to beat the girl in Michigan does not mean we should have adult learners play games.

A: Sure, and there is no causal implication in that statement. xAPI isn’t just applicable to adult learners, it is equally important for K-12 and higher education. xAPI doesn’t say anything about how you *should* train your learners, rather it removes the artificial constraints of current systems so you can decide.



Q: Can xAPI work in the extended enterprise i.e. between suppliers, partners and customers but still keep data separate?

A: Yes, from a technical perspective, xAPI enables the transfer of data across entities. LRSs will have the responsibility of maintaining permissions and appropriate segmentation of data. I think the tougher questions are political and bureaucratic.



Q: CHICAGO BEARS!

A: Um, no, Go Titans!!



How can I use this in my existing system?

Q: I have taken a basic idea about the possibilities that xAPI offers. Next step is to research deeper about the integration with our LMSs.
Q: How does the xAPI tie into established LCMS systems?

A: For most people, adopting xAPI will have to wait until your vendor chooses to implement xAPI functionality into their product. For those with some development capabilities, the ability to customize their systems, or the ability to add new systems, there is some more flexibility. There are some commercially available tools that allow you to add xAPI functionality to existing tools (hint, hint, this is how we make money).

The first step to incorporating xAPI into an existing system is to determine whether it is an experience provider (a generator of xAPI statements), or a Learning Record Store (a consumer of xAPI statements). In some cases, a system could be both a provider and a consumer of statements. In some cases, the distinction is non-obvious. Take an LCMS for example, you could easily use xAPI to collect analytics data about how the content authored in the LCMS is being used in other systems. Or, take an LMS, one could easily have an LMS publish a xAPI feed of the learning experiences tracked within it to an external LRS.

A great thing about xAPI is that you can start using it now, even if your existing LMS doesn’t support it yet. Since xAPI statements are portable across systems, you can start storing statements in any LRS right now, and then when your LMS is ready, those statements should easily transfer into the LMS.



Q: Does an employer request/require a Learning record Store?

A: I assume this question was asked in the context of a personal data locker that would store all of my experiences. Yes, I can imagine a world where an employer would ask you for your resume, references and proof of education/training from your personal data locker.



Q: Embedding a new method of tracking to content is great, but it still needs to be captured. Doesn’t the record store still require a single point of storage for users activities and how is that different than getting data out of a typical LMS DB?

A: Great question. Yes, the LRS still requires a centralized storage mechanism. There are two big differences, however.

First, an LRS is required to allow other systems to extract data from it in a standardized way. Typical LMS databases are proprietary to that system and may or may not be accessible to other systems. A standardized data extraction mechanism means that a specialized data analysis tool could be written that would work on any LRS for example.

The second difference is that statements can be easily ported across systems and thus live in a decentralized set of systems.



Q: How can you prove that an experience has actually happened and that it has not been faked?

A: Another great question. A basic xAPI statement takes the form of “Noun Verb Object”, or “I Did This”. You can imagine a statement “Mike Graduated Harvard”. xAPI also has an additional concept of an asserter (or an “authority” in the spec). An asserter is the person who is saying that the statement is true. So you could have similar, but very different statements: “Mike Graduated Harvard, as asserted by Mike” and “Mike Graduated Harvard, as asserted by Harvard”. In the 1.0 version of the spec, there will be a way to strongly sign statements so that the identity of the asserter can be securely verified.



Q: I would prefer a weatherstripper changer know how to do it, before he gets to my house. I don’t want him watching the video while he learns “on my nickel”.

A: I do to. But when the weatherstripper is you, it sure does come in handy. If one of my employees needs to know something, I’d much rather them have that information at their immediate disposal than have to spend a lot of time finding it.



Q: Is there a published report defining the ADL’s Training and Learning Architecture?

A: You can learn more about ADL’s TLA at http://adlnet.gov/tla.



Q: Is there any social network interested today in implementing the LRS part of xAPI to permits people put their learning experience into their profile ? LinkedIn, Facebook, …

A: There have been some conversations with companies that would make this list, but I don’t think they have risen to the level where we can expect anything anytime soon.



Q: Is this API capable of passing course completion data from one application into another? For example, Adobe Connect to Plateau LMS.

A: Yes, absolutely. xAPI can communicate anything that SCORM can communicate.



Q: It sounds like the data about my learning activities that ends up in the LRS will complement the kinds of material I save in my personal eportfolio. Will the xAPI interface with my eportfolio tool so I get the complete picture in one place?

A: There are a lot of synergies between eportfolios and xAPI. I don’t think that the Experience API itself would have a direct linkage in the standard, but I do expect that ePortfolio products and xAPI products will start to tie themselves together.



Q: like the healthcare electronic record

A: Yes, there are a lot of similarities between xAPI learning record and electronic healthcare records.



Q: Nashville, TN

A: Woot! Nashville in the house! Come down to Franklin and have a beer with us sometime.



Q: Is there any effort to create a common repository for activity verbs/targets (standards) so we can do better correlation/analytics across apps and services?

A: Yes, all of us standards geeks know this is a real need. There’s lots of talk about how to best make it happen.



Wow, a bunch of questions about how xAPI relates to other standards.

Q: We have observed that most companies are still on SCORM 1.2, having totally ignored SCORM 2004. Are you gentlemen sure the world is ready and willing to change once again? Most companies just want to get their current version to work and be fully adopted in their enterprises.

A: We’ll see. I think there’s a big difference between the jump from SCORM 1.2 to SCORM 2004 and the jump from SCORM to xAPI. The achilles heel of SCORM 2004 was that it introduced a lot of complexity, but didn’t offer enough additional value to justify that complexity. xAPI should actually be simpler to implement yet introduce a lot of new capabilities that organizations are clamoring for.



Q: You mention SCORM a lot, but is there a relationship with QTI? for example: A few years ago I wanted to have a “Simulation” question type in QTI where I could send variables to a Flash based Simulation (as the question type) and record results back from the Simulation – does xAPI mean I can now do that sort of thing?

A: There is no formal association between xAPI and QTI, but yes, you can use xAPI to record interactions within a simulation.



Q: Understanding of xAPI versus CMI5

A: SCORM contained several important bits of functionality: it allowed for content to communicate results to an LMS; it allowed for content to be packaged up, described and imported into an LMS; and it allowed for an LMS to launch that content. The Experience API by itself is only a replacement for that first function, the communication of results.

The AICC is developing CMI 5 as an extension or profile of xAPI that will include the other bits of functionality that SCORM included. This will allow for robust and interoperable implementations of existing formal training models using a modern xAPI-based framework.



Q: Additional thoughts on how Experience API will co-exist with SCORM and/or AICC in a corporate environment – how communications might work between these and the LMS.

A: I think you will continue to see SCORM and AICC stick around for years to come. There is so much content built on these standards that they won’t go away. Much of this content will never been converted, however SCORM players will easily be able to make xAPI statements and perform a sort of automatic up-conversion.



Q: Does SCORM still work for tracking online learning courses?

A: Yes, of course. Nothing about SCORM has changed. The introduction of an new spec like xAPI is analogous to the introduction of DVDs to the world of VHS tapes. You can still put a tape in a VCR and it will work just fine.



Q: I would like to understand if xAPI will replace SCORM 2004 or is an additional API?

A: It is an additional API that you can use instead of SCORM.



Q: Is LETSI the same as xAPI?

A: No. LETSI was an organization formed a few years ago with the intent of taking over stewardship of SCORM and thus likely creating the next generation of SCORM. LETSI is still around, but ADL has not been able to grant it stewardship of SCORM for a number of very annoying legal, political and bureaucratic reasons.


Q: ROLL TIDE!

A: Um, no, Go Dores!



Q: So the Experience API captures lots of data, but how do you report that? How will API tools help mine the data (which could be pretty voluminous)?

A: Making sense of large volumes of data seems to be the great computer science challenge of the moment. The smartest CS minds in the world are solving this problem for Facebook and Google right now, surely they’ll have it licked before we get enough data for it to matter, right?

More seriously, I think the problem comes down to identifying the questions you want to answer and then looking at the set of activities that contribute to those answers. The problem is a lot easier to manage when you ask specific questions rather than general ones. We’re formalizing a methodology that we’ve been working on with clients to help organizations extract useful information from an LRS.



Q: There is a great amount of flexibility in the verbs but how do you handle portability of data without a well defined set of standard verbs?

A: There will be a well defined set of standard verbs as well as the ability for people to publicly define the meaning of extensions.



Q: Training at the time of need reduces the value of experience.

A: Possibly. But isn’t it a good thing when people can learn faster?



Q: We usually work with Moodle. What about the integration with it?

A: You can monitor the Moodle community’s discussions of incorporating xAPI in their issue tracker. The feature is currently listed as part of their development backlog. Our SCORM Cloud product offers a Moodle plug-in that will allow Moodle to support xAPI at a level of functionality similar to SCORM.



Q: What does the acronym API refer to?

A: API stands for Application Programming Interface. It is a set of commands that two computer programs can use to talk to one another.



Q: When do you anticipate 1.0?

A: Version 1.0 of the Experience API is set to be release for public comment on April 26, 2013.



Q: When you peel back layers of an onion, you just get more onion.

A: Yes you do. I can easily keep peeling back the onion for a couple hours. I tried to squeeze the highlights into twenty minutes.



More about Learning Record Stores

Q: Why do I need a “Learning Record Store”?
Q: Why does the learner need a Learning Record Store?
Q: Will LRS’s need to be purchased separately?
Q: Will there be vinyl 45s and LPs at the Learning Record Stores?

A: We invented the concept of a LRS almost by accident. It started off as a way of simply being precise in how we wrote the xAPI spec. The original conception of an LRS was “the part of the LMS that accepts and stores xAPI statements”. The concept of an independent LRS that operates outside the context of an LMS was an unexpected creation. As we began to present xAPI to the world, people began asking how they could get their hands on an LRS and a new market was born.

That is all to say that you don’t necessarily “need” an LRS, nor to you “have” to purchase one separately. LRS functionality will be a part of a number of larger systems, most commonly LMS’s. You “can” purchase a separate LRS, and there are a lot of advantages to doing so.

And, oh yeah, lots of vintage vinyl in the LRS!



I want more!

Q: Resources to learn more on xAPI. I missed a good portion of webinar and hope it was recorded and will be provided on demand.
Q: You should mention github loads of resources.
Q: Would like more details on how/where to begin.

A: Some helpful links:

Recording of this webinar

Other webinars and presentations

Articles on xAPI from throughout the web

Resources for Developers

What is xAPI?

Current adopters of xAPI