By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll be able to clearly articulate the differences when it comes to xAPI vs SCORM. One of the most critical pieces of information to understand when addressing these two specifications is that Tin Can API (xAPI) was created to address the gaps in the SCORM specification but these are not the same thing. SCORM was created to address content interoperability between LMS’s, while xAPI was created to address data interoperability between any digital system.
xAPI vs SCORM
What is SCORM?
Many of you reading this are probably familiar with SCORM. You probably even use it everyday!
SCORM is a technical specification that says how content should work together via different LMS’s. The whole idea of SCORM is that you should be able to take any SCORM course package and use it on any LMS that you choose. This is what we like to call content interoperability.
So what kind of data can we get by using SCORM? The sad truth is – not much. Many organizations usually simply get completion data or scores. If SCORM is implemented correctly, there is much more data that can actually be captured around behaviors within a course. What type of data are you currently getting from your L&D efforts?
But, even if you are getting some nice data from your SCORM packages, what about the other learning that is happening? xAPI came in to fill that gap of gathering learning from anything digital (not just a course), and to allow you to get some seriously impressive analytics!
What is Tin Can API (xAPI)?
What is Tin Can API anyways? Well, it’s important to note that Tin Can API is the old lingo for Experience API, or, xAPI. xAPI is a technical data specification created by the ADL to track digital learning experiences. These digital experiences are captured via an activity stream in an actor, verb, object format. This specification is also known as the Experience API, or the old term, Tin Can API.
An example of a single experience in this format could be: “Patricia Watched Anti-Theft Training Video.” Through this type of data, we can track anything digital that Patricia experienced. The next action we see from Patricia may be: “At 9:30PM Patricia launched the Anti-Theft Training Video Patricia Paused Anti-Theft Training Video at 00:30.” Since Patricia works 7AM-4PM, this means she is viewing training content on her own time. Why did she pause the video? Maybe this is an anomaly and she paused the video to take a break, or maybe you see that 46% of your other learners are also pausing around this area. This may be a good observation to look into further.
Gaining Better Contextual Learning Data with xAPI
The contextual data you get from your learners can point to a more advanced use-case for the business. Patricia is a Loss Prevention Officer at a large retail store and works to reduce theft. After checking your learning analytics, you see that Patricia’s store had 3 theft incidents in February. Right after these incidents, you see that she watched the Anti-Theft Training Video. You observe she had 3 theft incidents, has watched the video 4 times, and you see that she is actively searching your knowledge base for more anti-theft training information. At the end of the year, you see that Patricia had no more theft incidents after March where she completed her training and because of the training, thieves were being caught successfully even into the holiday months. The business is better off as no merchandise was being stolen and you decide to test a new training program based on Patricia’s high-performing success.
Maybe not surprisingly, but some of our customers have told us they can’t even tell if the learner is viewing the video that they may have spent thousands of dollars to create. This is where xAPI can come in to inform, where SCORM just isn’t able to.
Where Does xAPI Data Get Stored?
Ultimately, xAPI puts all of this data in one place (the learning record store). This affords you the flexibility to begin taking advantage of learning analytics never before available to the learning and development function. Correlating learning events to performance and business outcomes is now a reality, and companies have started doing it through xAPI. These analytics hold the types of data that L&D has only dreamed about until now, and the types of insights that SCORM was just never able to deliver.
Want even more information about xAPI? Read the xAPI Ultimate Beginner’s Guide here.
Benefits of xAPI vs SCORM
There are many benefits when it comes to using xAPI to get analytics around your learner’s behaviors where SCORM can’t.
Below are just a few!
Understand the Learner’s Journey
xAPI allows you to understand the experiences of your learners as a whole, or drill down and understand the experiences a single learner has gone through. An example of this might be seeing that your learners are going through your course fine, but all of them are getting #5 in an assessment incorrect. This is something that may need to be explored. Another example may be that you see all of your learners are fast clicking through a training course. Through further investigation, you might find out that you need to add more interactive multimedia to keep your learners engaged.
This type of detailed data hasn’t been available with SCORM. It’s possible that your e-Learning gets you scores from assessments, but you may not be able to see how quickly your learners are going through the course and how much time they are spending on each page. This is where xAPI dominates.
Support Performance and Learning through Automation
A great benefit of xAPI is that you have a ton of insightful data to start building automated rules around the learner’s journey. What exactly does this mean? You might build a rule that if a particular learner gets a question wrong, that will trigger a popup with some contextual help for them. Maybe if a learner scores less than a 50% on the customer service section of a course, that will trigger an email to them where they can take additional training on that particular topic, or schedule a 1 on 1 session with an expert. The possibilities are limitless here and will be based on your organization’s goals.
Building automated rules based on learner’s actions? This just isn’t possible with SCORM.
Baseline Training and Current Performance
Another great application for xAPI is the ability to baseline current training and individual performance. Some of our customers simply start off with xAPI by seeing how learners are currently performing with the current training in place. They analyze this data, and then determine improvements that need to be made to the training to help make it more effective. Behaviors of top and bottom performers can also be analyzed with xAPI learning analytics. What behaviors do my top performers take that my bottom performers are not taking? This may help shape the learning journey that you have your learners take.
Track Learning Outside the LMS
We all know that learning doesn’t just happen within the LMS. xAPI allows you to track learning activities happening within and outside of the LMS environment. This might be learning happening within a social portal, a document management system, a CMS, etc. All of this learning is then reported to a single place (the learning record store), in a single format (xAPI).
SCORM is virtually useless when it comes to evaluating informal learning activities.
Understand Online and Offline Learning
xAPI can be used with offline activities too! There are methods that can be used to capture this offline learning. One of the most common ways is getting the data into the learning record store once the learner comes online. Online learning is simple to capture, and the team at Riptide has never failed to get xAPI data yet (even from proprietary systems).
A Brief Case Study
A client of Riptide (let’s call them Client X) offers revenue management solutions for all kinds of organizations within the global hospitality and travel industries, and was an early adopter of xAPI. Since data analytics is core to their business, they initially opted to build their own LRS. Incidentally, they used a well-known Riptide xAPI case study for the US Government DoD called REAPER to get initial stakeholder buy in. Riptide did not find out about the impact of REAPER on their adoption of xAPI until we met them during a vendor selection process in 2017.
For Client X, xAPI/LRS had become business critical and once they started operating at scale they began having performance issues. This initial LRS implementation proved the ability to do revenue forecasting for themselves and their customers. But, as they increased the volume and velocity of data and considered moving the LRS more central to the ecosystem, their “homegrown” LRS solution started to struggle. During their vendor selection, conformance and LRS performance became very important. We asked the customer directly, “why are you using xAPI for this?” Their reasons for using xAPI were interoperability, limiting data transformation, and the fact that xAPI is a big data, activity streaming technology. Since Client X is a big data analytics company at their core and they were already using Elastic/Kibana in other parts of their business, Riptide’s Storepoints technology stack made sense to them.
Client X faced a need for a scalable and stable LRS. The LRS they built simply could not scale with the amount of data being collected, nor could it handle the amount of querying they wanted to do. They also wanted to start creating rules around xAPI data and use modern stream processing techniques. For instance, if a sales person passed the channel sales training course, this should trigger an alert to Salesforce to provide the extra percentage of commission they were now eligible to earn. They were also encountering a problem with data integrity. Their team historically relied on customer behavior data from Salesforce and their revenue forecasting application and used Salesforce as their Source of Truth. But Salesforce data proved to be unreliable due to data hygiene, siloed systems, and fragmented analytics. According to this Salesforce data and other system data, the team had reported that they were getting 60% learning engagement.
Solution & Outcomes
1. Based on the new xAPI data and insights, the team discovered that they did not have 60% engagement, but instead 17.31%. Looking at new methods to increase engagement, and time-to-value for primary users is now their top priority.
2. Client X uses xAPI for troubleshooting and analyzing patterns across performance support tools vs. learning vs. product data. They use the LRS data to triage help desk tickets and understand from the performance of the user prior to submitting a help ticket if software training may be indicated or if there really is a potential bug in the software.
3. Client X C-level reporting for correlation to outcomes includes:
i. eLearning course – connection to performing task in software
ii. Virtual course – connect to performing task in software
iii. In-person course – connect to performing task in software
iv. Help content – was task immediately completed in software
v. ShowMe – was task immediately completed in software
b. Performance Impact
i. Aggregate interaction data, completion data, satisfaction data, recall data, application data
ii. Connect data to results seen in software
iii. Build aggregated index of “behaviors frequently performed that can predict Positive adoption/performance
Client X chose Riptide as a solution due to our Storepoints big data xAPI/LRS implementation and our experience as a systems integrator. At the C-level of Client X, the LRS is moving to a centralized position within their ecosystem. Client X will now have the data to validate if and when they move the needle on their desired key performance indicators and metrics. During Q3 of 2018, Riptide will begin to help integrate more systems and work to incorporate more big data techniques.
Want more in-depth client case studies? Let’s talk about them!
To Wrap It Up
Making the switch to xAPI is as simple as starting with a basic proof of concept. Let us show you how easy it is to get powerful learning analytics. Set up a short introduction with us to learn more!