What Is xAPI? for a Practical Explanation of This New Learning Technology Specification, Look No Further

By Torrance, Megan; Wiggins, Craig | Talent Development, February 2016 | Go to article overview

What Is xAPI? for a Practical Explanation of This New Learning Technology Specification, Look No Further


Torrance, Megan, Wiggins, Craig, Talent Development


Think about all the ways that your learners acquire knowledge, skills, and abilities. They attend classes, take e-learning courses, practice, read books, talk with mentors, practice, troubleshoot their errors with experienced peers, share information on social media, practice some more, and finally master what they set out to learn. Historically, the only part of this process that talent development professionals can track is whether learners showed up to class or passed their e-learning course. If you subscribe to the 70-20- 10 model of learning, think of it this way: Most talent development teams cannot track learning by experience (70 percent) or learning from others like mentors or peers (20 percent) in any meaningful way. We're limited to measuring the formal learning experiences (10 percent) that are recorded in the learning management system.

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But now, a new technology specification offers the ability to track up to 100 percent of learning experiences. How is this possible? Let us explain.

Intro to xAPI

xAPI is a simple, lightweight way to store and retrieve records about learners and share these data across platforms. These records (known as activity statements) can be captured in a consistent format from any number of sources (known as activity providers) and they are aggregated in a learning record store (LRS). The LRS is analogous to the SCORM database in an LMS.

The x in xAPI is short for "experience," and implies that these activity providers are not just limited to traditional AICC- and SCORM-based e-learning. With xAPI you can track classroom activities, usage of performance support tools, participation in online communities, mentoring discussions, performance assessment, and actual business results. The goal is to create a full picture of an individual's learning experience and how that relates to her performance.

API stands for application programming interface, a common method for software systems to interact and share data. xAPI activity statements can be generated by activity providers and sent to the LRS, or they can be sent from the LRS to other systems. Many current applications offer APIs to make their data available in other systems, and vice versa.

An xAPI activity statement records experiences in an "I did this" format. The format specifies the actor (who did it), a verb (what was done), a direct object (what it was done to) and a variety of contextual data, including score, rating, language, and almost anything else you want to track.

Some learning experiences are tracked with a single activity statement. In other instances, dozens, if not hundreds, of activity statements can be generated during the course of a learning experience. Activity statements are up to the instructional designer and are driven by the need for granularity in reporting.

Where did xAPI come from?

In 2008, the Learning Education Training Systems Interoperability Federation set out to collect and investigate requirements for the "next generation of SCORM." It leveraged Advanced Distributed Learning's (ADL) community to submit requirements in the form of more than 100 whitepapers that would later become essential artifacts and sources of requirements for xAPI. Rustici Software, a pivotal partner in the development of xAPI, has archived these whitepapers for posterity.

In 2010, the ADL Initiative began investigating new standardized experience tracking capabilities that could support emerging devices and technologies used for learning and performance today and in the future. In 2011, ADL asked for help developing the practical successor to SCORM. Among the inspirations for the new project were activity streams, which laid the groundwork for the xAPI's "I did this" statement structure.

The name for the project was "Project Tin Can" (as the requirements were intended to be based on a two-way conversation with the community), but ADL later officially named the specification the Experience API. …

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