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Stay Current at the Experience API (xAPI) Camps

by Michael Hruska

April 13, 2016

Spotlight

by Michael Hruska

April 13, 2016

“The training and development world increasingly needs to support their on-the-go workers and extended learning ecosystems using whatever creative and flexible methods make the most technical and economic sense. The xAPI can serve as both a bright new future as well as an innovative way to breathe new life into legacy platforms that aren’t easily updated or replaced.”

The Experience API (xAPI) continues its expansion into the marketplace of learning and beyond. Further, its potential to enable learning ecosystems that act more like GPS (the Global Positioning System) than an LMS (learning management system) is also building deep conversations about how to accelerate its proliferation.

Like any good specification or standard, the xAPI should operate in the background; but during adoption, discussion needs to be in the foreground. We don’t talk about how electricity gets from the power plant to the inside of our walls: Our tools just plug into the system. This is where the xAPI is going, but first we need real dialogue about potential, design, and examples.

The adoption of the xAPI is gaining momentum from a variety of activities put on by key industry players. Activities around the world, from those sponsored by the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative to the xAPI Camps hosted by the Connections Forum, are moving the work along.

Entire products built from the ground up on the xAPI have appeared, including robust commercial learning record stores and more. Even further, a new nonprofit, the Data Interoperability Standards Consortium (DISC), has emerged to shepherd data interoperability with the Experience API and beyond over the long term. The recent acquisition of Rustici Software and the investment activity in its spinoff Watershed LRS are further evidence of the moving market and value creation potential around the xAPI.

One campfire at a time

If it were up to Aaron Silvers and Megan Bowe of the Connections Forum, there would be a perpetual campfire conversation around the xAPI and what people are doing with it. To move in that direction, the Connections Forum has hosted a half-dozen xAPI Camps in North America since March 2015, with four upcoming in 2016 (including one in London next week). More are planned in 2017.

The xAPI Camps serve as clearinghouses for knowledge centered on real and potential needs. People interested in becoming users and early adopters of the standard have been attending the camps in order to share their experiences around solution, product, and technology development. Their goals have been to increase their knowledge and to decrease the effort needed to implement the xAPI. Sean Putman, vice president of learning development for Altair and a presenter at past camps, says, “There are some great projects underway providing use cases which will help L&D professionals understand the benefits of the xAPI.”

Each camp attracts people like Sean. He says, “I am trying to help L&D professionals who are uncomfortable with programming start to use xAPI. I am also giving some best-practice tips, where pertinent, to help people new to xAPI get the most out of their tool of choice.” Janet Effron, a data scientist at HT2, says that in her experience, “it was really helpful to hear a variety of industry perspectives about needs as well as about barriers with respect to using learning data.”

Enabling ecosystems

Regular xAPI Camp attendee Ben Betts, CEO of HT2, feels that there is a better way to connect learning to performance and business results than the current LMS-centric technology model. He says, “We’re trying to enable more organizations to switch away from monolithic ‘one-system-to-rule-them-all’ learning technologies to an ecosystem of tools and practices that best fits their learning culture.” This ecosystem-based approach of best-of-breed technologies in organizations continues to be a common theme of conversation at camps.

Ben says of the work at HT2, “We’ve created an open-source learning record store that can act as a repository for all of the organization’s learning and performance data, no matter in what system it originates. We’ve lowered the barriers to adoption in terms of cost and commitment.”

Discussion of the vision and functionality of learning ecosystems, adaptation, and resiliency carry over from the camps to the hosting conferences, such as The eLearning Guild’s events: the just-concluded Learning Solutions and Ecosystem Conference & Expo, the upcoming FocusOn Learning, and this fall’s DevLearn Conference & Expo.

Big ideas

The xAPI enables some potentially huge affordances. A recent paper published on research funded by the US Army shows a 40 percent reduction in time for teams to get up to task using the xAPI and adaptation. (Editor’s Note: To read the paper, you must register with the site; registration is free.) That is a potentially massive measurable ROI!

Having a “quiver” of xAPI-enabled products working in concert potentially supports many new capabilities for organizations of all sizes. “The xAPI provides a foundation on which to build an organization’s Mission Control for all human capital data. More than capturing learning data, xAPI provides a means of capturing the data of formative experience,” says Shelly Blake-Plock, CEO of Yet Analytics. Implications for fields such as competitive intelligence and econometrics are also under discussion.

Adam Menter, a learning strategy program manager at Autodesk and recent host of an xAPI Camp in San Francisco, has big ideas for what organizations can do. “We are trying to better connect our learning ecosystem, both inside and outside our walls, to enable more effective and personalized learning experiences,” Adam says. The Autodesk ecosystem is massive, and it touches many lives. Adam’s talk at the February xAPI Camp focused on the potential of that ecosystem and the importance of understanding the intersection of humanity, technology, and community. Many organizations have the same goals for their ecosystems.

Practical problem solving

The xAPI can enable big ideas, but many participants at the recent camps are also having conversations around simple projects that were produced quickly. Tracking and visualizing progress and learning paths in simple ways is easy with current LRS capabilities and tools.

Robert Gadd, president of OnPoint Digital, says, “The xAPI provides easy-to-implement and flexible approaches to solving many of the real-world problems. xAPI-based tools and techniques regularly serve as a trusty Swiss Army knife to help us overcome issues ranging from integration to information consolidation to tracking across any formal learning assignment or informal learning interaction.”

Improving the future

“The xAPI presents an incredible opportunity to gain insight into what works and what doesn’t in learning, and from that understanding, to improve design,” Janet of HT2 says.

Looking toward the future, Robert says, “The training and development world increasingly needs to support their on-the-go workers and extended learning ecosystems using whatever creative and flexible methods make the most technical and economic sense. The xAPI can serve as both a bright new future as well as an innovative way to breathe new life into legacy platforms that aren’t easily updated or replaced.”

People at camps are willing to share and are helping one another to build a bridge toward future learning ecosystems. If you can’t be in London on April 22, then join the conversation June 7 in Austin! Register for the June event by April 22 and save $100!

Want more information?

Try these videos from the February San Francisco xAPI Camp: http://connectionsforum.com/autodesk-san-francisco-february-2016/

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