An LRS for an Enterprise Ecosystem

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Would data narratives like this be compelling inside your company?

  • A dashboard to your C-level shows that 80 percent of your international sales reps who completed optional training ranked in the top 20 percent of sales for the following three quarters.
  • Reports provided to your instructional design staff show that “63 percent of learners were seeking the video to the three-minute mark in the course on disaster recovery training while they were taking the quiz.”
  • A report to the CLO shows that learning scenarios about your business-critical processes are 22 percent more popular than any other training event.

Would you be surprised to know that all of these data narratives and more can come from a centralized learning record store (LRS) database using the Experience API (xAPI)? As technology continues to advance in a steep upward curve, new technologies and specifications like xAPI are proving to be valuable in a number of diverse enterprise case studies. The potential power of xAPI, and its ease of use, is being proved more and more each day. Many medium to large businesses and institutions see a flexible and integrated learning-services approach as a viable option thanks to the work being done with xAPI.

“Summary of Top Findings” from the 2016 Brandon Hall Group Learning Technology Study, as well as my discussions and research with other industry-wide organizations, seems to support many new use cases that will extend the learning enterprise. The Brandon Hall study states: “48 percent of organizations surveyed list exploring new technologies as the top learning and development priority over the next 12 months.” The same study says, “The need to integrate with other systems is a big factor in why organizations switch learning technology providers.”

There definitely seems to be a refocused direction to learning enterprise technology thinking and approach. The most common systems that learning technology integrates with are human resource information systems (HRISs), at 37 percent; content management, at 29 percent; and talent management, at 28 percent (Figure 1). Looking ahead, 36 percent of companies say it is critical that their next learning technology platform integrates with a talent management system. Claire Schooley of Forrester Research recommends that every human resources and L&D team consider all the opportunities technology offers as they look for new and innovative ways to share information.

Enterprise learning ecosystem

Figure 1: Representative of the enterprise xAPI client case today 

These systems are the source of truth in today’s organization. Since you can establish training rules and workflows in these systems, it makes sense to integrate and manage training initiatives there.

What is xAPI?

xAPI is a simple data format that technology applications can use to record experiences. It can produce an activity stream (I, did, this), with timestamps second by second, of what happens during learning events. Rather than just completions and scores, all of the interactions during interactive multimediainstruction—time of day, length of sessions, accomplishments playing a game, reading an article, answering questions, or watching a training video—can all be recorded by xAPI. Note that xAPI is not just for eLearning. It can instrument live training devices, Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices and sensors, mission-critical software use and training, and more. xAPI is readable by both humans and computers, and it allows for simple integration and interoperability between disparate systems.

In terms of the new technology needed to implement xAPI, it uses a database called a learning record store (LRS) to store the data. From that LRS database you can evaluate your training (using both formative and summative evaluations), generate reports, and create a stronger link between training and performance.

For simplicity, let’s look at an eLearning or mobile learning example. Suppose I am taking an online course with video instruction followed by an assessment. Upon completion of the video and assessment, I have potentially generated many xAPI statements that not only give results but also insight into my behavior during the course. The following is not xAPI, but it is readable in a similar way: “[Nick]-[launched]-[the video activity (attempt 3) (date/time)], [Nick]-[sought]-[the video (at 00:23)(date/time)], [Nick]-[paused]-[the video (at 01:00)(date/time)] and [Nick]-[launched]-[the quiz activity (attempt 2) (date/time)], [Nick]-[selected]-[(C) question ID001 (incorrect)(date/time)], [Nick]-[answered]-[(C) question ID001 (incorrect)(date/time)], [Nick]-[selected]-[(B), question ID002(date/time)], [Nick]-[selected]-[(A), question ID002(date/time)],[Nick]-[answered]-[(A), question ID002 (correct)(date/time)] [Nick]-[mastered]-[quiz (8/10 80%)(date/time)]”

Did you notice that this was my second attempt and I changed the answer to question ID002 before I answered it? If I had referred back to the video in order to answer the third question, we would have that too.

Creating the link between training and performance is one of the areas where xAPI-enabled technology is a key to the future of learning and extending the enterprise. What if you could see the big-data views of how 50,000 users went through your training? Maybe you have complex branching scenarios that challenge users and can have multiple outcomes. Would you like to generate heatmaps showing how the users progressed through them? xAPI can inform your training evaluation in a way that the industry seems to have stopped asking for.

When interactive multimedia instruction was a young science, we wanted this kind of reporting.SCORM made the promise of capturing interaction data, but in its wider adoption SCORM became a mere shell of what was intended. SCORM is only about content interoperability, while xAPI is about realizing true content and data interoperability. With xAPI, it is the action and activity of the learner that matters.

Still, if testing is the only reason you are going to use xAPI, there is no need to move away from SCORM. None of the systems in use today needs to know xAPI in order for it to “speak” xAPI, and getting this to happen is fairly simple. In most cases, if the system is able to generate events, you can subscribe to those events and assign each an xAPI value. There are many emerging cases; Xerox presented one during xAPI Camp at FocusOn Learning 2016 Conference & Expo, for example. There have been other presentations at the xAPI Camps at Amazon, Autodesk, Lurie Children’s Hospital, and at Jisc in the UK. I will be discussing one of Riptide’s case studies during the xAPI Camp at DevLearn 2016.

How adaptable is xAPI? In a recent implementation, my team was working with the University of Southern California and a vendor to produce an HTML5 game using Phaser.IO. The Phaser.IO developer did not need to know xAPI to get xAPI reporting out of the game. At DevLearn, I may also be discussing the xAPI badging and achievements engine that we used in this program.

You can find a list of xAPI Camp presentations here.

What about your LMS?

Good news! You can extend your enterprise learning ecosystem with an LRS and you do not have to replace your LMS. I think the best thing LMSs could do is consider a managed LRS service themselves, because that would allow them to adapt to this new technology and serve their current clients more rapidly. To be completely fair to the LMS publishers, they have the real business problem of making sure a technology is solid before they can adopt it and offer it to clients. But how does that help you right now? Once today’s LMS clients come to terms with the fact that their LMS may have some deficiencies in providing a clear path to the learning ecosystem of the future, the next question is, “How can I get what I need now?” What you can do is start by standardizing real learning and training evaluation data using xAPI/LRS technology, and you have ample proof that you can do it rapidly.

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