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eLearning Authoring: Taking the Next Step with xAPI

Viewpoint: Peter Berking

Authoring tools five years from now will have the following xAPI-enabled characteristics:

  • They will focus on performance-based assessment rather than multiple-choice testing. This includes stealth assessment, where the learner is constantly being compared behind the scenes (possibly without the learner being aware of it) to a “gold standard” of interaction with the content, based on the path and responses an expert takes through the content. Rather than a simple test score result, a much more nuanced profile of the learner’s ability will be available through use of xAPI statements and data analysis engines. Test scores will be replaced by probabilistic statements such as “Mary performed at 83 percent of the level of an expert.”
  • Adaptive, personalized content will be standard. xAPI will be the key to create a feedback loop that captures and analyzes the user’s performance. This allows the content to determine optimal topics, media objects, learning paths, etc. for the learner based on their past performance.
  • Authoring tools will achieve bi-directional communication between the content and the LRS. This means that a designer can insert a dashboard into the authored content that pulls data from the LRS about who is doing what with the content and how well, so that the learner’s interactions are “socialized” with other learners. Instructors or moderators, etc. can then monitor learner progress and intervene appropriately.
  • Media objects (graphics, video, text layouts, etc.) and interactive functionality objects (widgets, scripts) will provide standard xAPI data communications capabilities within the scope of their functions. For instance, videos will contain the code to be individually configurable to report durations and locations of pauses via xAPI. The authoring tool (providing the overarching “container” for these objects) will then overlay the xAPI-enabled sequence, tracking, and communicative aspects to interconnect and manage them as a single learning experience and allow it to communicate with external systems
  • Authoring tools will focus not only on learner performance tracking, but iterative, continuous content improvement through xAPI-enabled capture and aggregation of usage patterns. In fact, one of the key purposes of the authoring tool will be to author, integrate, and automate formative and summative evaluation of the learning experience.

Viewpoint: Steve Foreman

In the near future (I hope):

  • Authoring tools will provide more robust support for xAPI. One way this could work is by enabling authors to define any interactive object as an xAPI trigger. Once an object is defined as a trigger, the author would use a natural language xAPI editor to select one or more predefined statements to associate with the trigger. The author would use the selected statement or customize it. Advanced authors would be able to create xAPI statements from scratch.

    • Behind the scenes, the tool would automatically convert the natural language statement into JSON format as required by xAPI. Authors would be able to toggle to a JSON view of the statement just like current tools allow authors to toggle between text and HTML in a WYSIWYG text editor.

    • The predefined statements would be intrinsic to the object defined as the trigger. For example, answer options for a multiple choice question could be defined as triggers. Predefined statements might include “<user> selected <answer text> to <question text>” and “<user> answered <question text> in <x> seconds.” The values in a dropdown list might have similar predefined statements. A drag-and-drop object might have predefined statements such as “<user> dragged <object label> to <placement label>.”

    • You will be able to track any user action in a lesson, assessment, game, simulation, eBook, or app. How might this new, fully configurable tracking capability affect your instructional designs?

Conclusion

In a few short years, we expect that authoring-tool xAPI functionality will grow significantly. In this article we have described a few ways this might happen. Enhanced xAPI support is likely to manifest itself in the true spirit of authoring tools, so that you, as author, will not have to know much about the technical details of how xAPI works. You will be able to create more complex xAPI-enabled instructional designs faster and easier. You may not even realize you are using xAPI. You will simply use xAPI-enabled authoring tools to design and build more effective and engaging learning experiences, free of technical distractions and complexities.

Want more?

In addition to the xAPI Camp pre-conference certificate workshop on Tuesday, September 29, concurrent sessions addressing the uses of xAPI (including ones by the authors of this article) are featured on the program at The eLearning Guild’s DevLearn 2015 Conference & Expo, September 30 – October 2 in Las Vegas. Register today!

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This is heady stuff. I'm very glad that technically competent developers are thinking ahead. Couple of things: Good writers always spell out the term the first time they use acronyms. I really do hope developers work with instructional designers when they build these programs - users can always tell when things are built by techies alone.
Performance based assessment is KEY! I so agree with Peter Berking on his point. Some are there. Storyline 2 includes this but the LMS system we use does not allow xAPI as of yet. We have found a company that does an assessment within an application but are looking for others who can do the same function for comparison.
The article starts with "Authoring tools enable instructional designers (ISDs) without programming skills to create eLearning products." As someone who essentially knows nothing about programming, I'm curious to know how eLearning is built using programming? Up until recently, I assumed that all eLearning was built using authoring tools. I imagine that, by using programming, you can create much better eLearning since you're not limited to what the authoring tool can do. Can anyone explain this to me?

Thanks.
klwilcoxon: Kevin, what acronym did I miss when I edited this? If you mean SCORM, you can mouse over it or tap it (on a mobile device) to get it spelled out, since it's in our glossary. If you mean xAPI in the title, I seldom spell out acronyms in the titles (creates more problems than it solves). If it was something else, let me know and I will fix it. Not looking to confuse or bewilder anybody. -- Bill the (apparently) Inconsistent Editor.
Navedahm20: In response to your question, instructional games and simulations are sometimes developed using Java, C++, Visual Basic or other programming tools. Frequently, eLearning programs are created using web development tools such as HTML, HTML5 or Flash, XML, CSS and JavaScript. This is especially true in some of the more advanced vendor shops. Higher level authoring tools provide a friendly developer environment, hiding the technical complexity while often rendering HTML, HTML5 or Flash, XML, CSS and JavaScript behind the scenes as final output.
I like these ideas, in fact, in our Taipei city project, we are now developing an authoring tool for learning planning with hierarchy. And how to design xAPI statements when authoring is actually deciding what/how to report/analyze later. This is discussed in this post: http://classroom-aid.com/2015/01/20/xapi-profile-implementation-and-reporting-design/

While all these are possible, there shall be a crucial factor coming before they are possible to happen -- the community effort to build/agree with a consistent recipe/profile to describe some specific activity. -- Jessie
I'm very excited to read this because I can reveal that the future you envisage is actually here today :)
Our authoring technology called Conducttr was designed from the outset to create multiplatform experiences, track learner behaviour and personalise experiences. Without any programming knowledge anyone can create interactive experiences for teams or single learners and in real time read individual activity feeds such as "Robert's score increased from 5 to 10" or "Robert subscribed to character Janice using email".
All the activity data can be securely exported and mined; learner data can be exported with personally identifiable information removed for additional privacy.
Anyone with some programming skills can integrate Conducttr with existing systems or platforms.
We'll be at the DevLearn conference booth 146 or drop me a line now
Nice info!
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