The excitement around xAPI has grown steadily in the Learning and Development community. The xAPI specification provides learning practitioners a never-before seen view into student behaviors and a common language to tie those behaviors to performance on the job. Unfortunately, many of the early ventures into xAPI have focused on either:
- Using xAPI to replicate SCORM-like learning measures.
- Or grand-concept and often awe-inspiring custom projects that, while exciting, can be difficult to translate across industries or replicate locally.
Having spent the past couple decades working in learning for high-consequence industries such as energy, manufacturing and oil & gas, the possibilities of leveraging xAPI for compliance and quality management are almost overwhelming. We finally have the ability to tie production targets back to human performance and correlate performance to training or other developmental experiences. xAPI can be used to document procedure and standards adherence, as well as providing data for just-in-time performance interventions. For these industries that have traditionally moved slowly in regards to training technology adoption, competitive organizations can no longer wait to embrace xAPI and see its impact on the bottom line.
xAPI for Procedure Management
Let’s first look at procedure management. The requirement to establish and follow written operating procedures is seen in many regulatory references from domestic law, such as OSHA’s Process Safety Management requirements, to international standards such as ISO. Currently procedure management is largely a paper-based operation in process industries. Consider an xAPI enabled procedure checklist that a user completes on an intrinsically-safe mobile device. Every xAPI statement includes a time and date stamp to ensure each step is completed. The person (or people) performing the job are identified as the xAPI actors providing documentation for compliance. What if a user needs assistance during the course of the procedure? Well, that brings us to using xAPI to track resource usage.
xAPI to Track Resource Usage
One concern with creating or curating learning content is if and when it is being used. xAPI helps resolve this issue. Every electronic training resource accessed can be tracked with xAPI. You can start tracking many types of resources such as YouTube videos, WordPress-based websites or documents stored in a SharePoint site today at little cost and without intense IT support. The ADL’s free YouTube wrapper available on GitHub allows you to start sending xAPI statements for every video you make available to students. The statements can indicate any time a video was paused, or if the user skipped forward and back and by how much. RISC’s PDF Annotator allows L&D professionals to find out what documents are being accessed as well as pages where students make note or highlights. This information can then be used to guide improvement of resources or identify resources that may need to be retired. Beyond tracking which resources are being used, xAPI provides a structure to see how and when they are being used.
An Example of Field Resource Usage
Continuing the example above, if I access a resource, say a piping and instrument diagram, while in the middle of a procedure my need is different than an engineer sitting at his or her desk accessing the same document to plan a process update. The fact that I needed that support during execution of the procedure may raise the flag to review the proper procedure or provide additional support materials. Recently, I used an augmented-reality headset that had a ‘phone a friend’ function so that the user could access a list of subject matter experts and connect with them through an audio/video call from the headset. If these interactions were captured with xAPI, the SMEs’ performance could be compared to see who is closing cases, elapsed time spent, or even tools used like remote camera access so the SME can ‘see’ what the user is seeing in the field. Student use of the device functions could be analyzed to identify areas where training is needed or employees are in need of additional support. Reporting could be similar to the analysis of xAPI data from threaded discussion forums to help identify star performers.
Of course, these are all examples of trending or analyzing xAPI data and making a decision from that analysis. Because xAPI statements are always historical, it is easy to overlook the fact that the real-time writing of statements can be used for real-time support. For example, consider a distributed control system that sent an xAPI statement when a console operator made a set-point change. This can be compared against an operating variable reading to provide real-time guidance. Does an increase in fuel gas flow result in incomplete combustion in a heater? If so, provide performance support right at the moment of need to help the operator bring the condition nearer to the ideal standard and perhaps flag him or her for follow up training.
The Business Value of xAPI
Wait, why xAPI again? That’s a good question. We can do many of these things now. My car today will tell me how many rapid accelerations and harsh braking are experienced every time I drive. Theoretically, it could make recommendations to avoid these behaviors to improve fuel efficiency. With a little scheming, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility for that same application to even send a message to my learning management system assigning me an, “Efficient Driving Fundamentals” class. What xAPI does for us is establish a common language for all our business systems to speak to one another. xAPI eliminates the disparity between proprietary system and ensures interoperability as long as everyone is adhering to the same standard and its defined protocol.
So, what is next? It’s up to us. There are already systems using xAPI to track traditional learning interventions, to document or evidence a student’s ability completion of a task or performance assessment, but we are just scratching the surface. L&D now has ability to move itself from a group often seen as a necessary compliance expense to a critical business function directly impacting the bottom line – and doing so with data. Now, what challenge can you apply xAPI to solve?