What is xAPI

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If you’re part of the majority in the learning and development ecosystem, you might be wondering: What is xAPI? Maybe you’ve heard the term through the grapevine, haven’t quite grasped the concept but are excited to learn more – or maybe you’re just completely stumped!

If you find yourself lacking in actionable summative and formative evaluation data, whether it’s to prove competencies and improve training, or to evaluate ROI and success/performance metrics, then xAPI is how you can get there without being locked into a proprietary maze. This is a brief article that will explain xAPI in a non-technical manner – it’s not scary!

Let’s get started in non-tech speak:

A Brief History

We think it’s important to note that the initial and forward development of xAPI technology has been a community effort. There is a workgroup of contributors that have dedicated time and passion into the specification, originally called “Project Tin Can”. Riptide is one of the founding contributors of xAPI, and you are welcome to participate or become a consumer. Within this specification is a resounding commitment to interoperability (ability for digital systems to exchange information and make sense of it). A proprietary solution may provide you good reporting but requires you to be locked into their solution, and if you decide to switch, it is difficult (or costly) to bring your data with you.

What is xAPI?

xAPI is a simple but powerful format that uses an activity and verb structure to describe activities. The structure in simplest form follows the pattern: Actor, Verb, Object or Jack, Did, This. If you add some context to the activity, like learning objectives or indicators of competency, you can string along all the things Jack did as an activity stream. The xAPI activities are stored in a database called a Learning Record Store (LRS). It is easy to get comprehensive xAPI activity streams from anything digital. By evaluating the xAPI, you are able to gain insights into Jack’s performance and even react or adapt to Jack’s performance. See, right now, you probably don’t really know Jack. xAPI can give you actionable data about Jack and data insights about the effectiveness of your training in all of your learners.

xAPI is a simple but powerful format that uses an activity and verb structure to describe activities.

xAPI, in it’s essence, stands for: EXperience Application Program Interface.

The X stands for Experience. An “Experience” is understood as any behavior, or experience, that a user has. This can include almost any metric you can imagine that can be tracked digitally. In addition, experiences can be tracked and collected across various systems (Youtube videos, Sharepoint, simulations, games, augmented reality, virtual reality, LMS, HRIS, internal documents, etc).

An “API” is simply a way for systems to connect and share information. So, as you can guess, xAPI is essentially a way that allows for any type of activity to be tracked in a meaningful, contextual way. And systems with proprietary activity (performance) data can talk xAPI to an LRS as well. The communication can even go both ways – through an LRS, systems may communicate, or trigger events between each other about experiences/behaviors.

The xAPI specification allows for devices and learning technologies to be interoperable by giving them a common data language to speak – xAPI. This helps to mitigate all the data transformation from data being gathered through multiple sources and mediums. It is also BYOD (bring your own device) friendly and gathers data from any type of device – whether it be computer, tablet, smartphone, etc. Anything digital can use xAPI reporting, and this is how xAPI allows for the future-proofing of your learning ecosystem.

What is a Learning Record Store?

An LRS (Learning Record Store) is essential  to the correct use  of xAPI in tracking and collecting these experiences. The LRS is the endpoint for xAPI data and where the data is stored. This is what allows you to get xAPI data from various systems to reside in a single location and a consistent format. The LRS also allows you to be able to view your data in visualizations such as analytic dashboards. So, when you think “xAPI,” also be thinking “LRS” – they are like two peas in a pod!

What can xAPI and an LRS do for me?

The current state of L&D gathers very little engagement, evaluation, or interaction data. It’s very difficult (if not impossible for some) to get business results and ROI for training. In my last article, 3 Reasons You Should View Your Learners as Customers, we discuss some possibilities for L&D with gaining greater evaluation data. Implementing xAPI tools in your organization brings your L&D program up-to-speed with the rest of the business functions that are already quantifying success and adaptive techniques through data and data-driven decisions (such as marketing and sales). It is now possible to bring quantifiable, and meaningful reports that tell a compelling story to the C-level table and show what’s currently working, what’s not working, and the progression that you make in your L&D sector.

We hope you are now open to the possibilities of xAPI in your organization and the benefits that it can offer your L&D team. We would love to help you on your journey to define quantifiable success!

Want to learn more about xAPI? Check out: Experience API (xAPI) The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide!

xAPI Workshop


  1. Ken

    Interesting overview on xAPI and especially enjoyed the beginner’s guide.

    • Christy Puller

      Thanks for your feedback Ken! I’m glad you enjoyed the xAPI Guide.

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