Demystifying the Connections Between the LMS, LRS, and xAPI

If you’ve attended any learning conference in the last several years, you’ve inevitably heard the buzz around learning record stores (LRSs) and the Experience API (xAPI). With so many sessions and articles focused on the future potential for disruption that these technologies hold, many organization leaders are looking for ways to get started using this data interoperability solution in their own learning ecosystems. While leaders can clearly see the value of a seamlessly connected learning program on their roadmap, many are still having difficulty identifying a practical starting point.

To help demystify this emerging technology, we present three examples of actual projects in which we combined data from the learning management system (LMS) with high-powered analytics to solve today’s challenges.

The future of the learning ecosystem

With the introduction of so many new and specialized tools, apps, and microlearning options, the possibilities when it comes to designing a learning and development program have dramatically increased. While there has been much conversation regarding the evolution of the learning management system and its role in the learning ecosystem, the LMS will continue to serve as a hub of learning activity. By making xAPI and a learning record store part of your learning environment, you can collect data from across the tools and technologies that you use and translate it into a single, standardized data format. You can then bring that xAPI data into the LRS, which serves as a database and which offers real-time data dashboards and reporting tools for your organization, allowing you to get a 360-degree view of the complete experience of your learners.

Formal vs. informal learning

Many corporate clients that have switched to Moodle may not have previously had an LMS, or were utilizing an extremely outdated and limited system. Updating to a modern and flexible LMS like Moodle is their immediate focus, but it is important to be aware that there are some limitations in the type of learning that happens within the LMS. For many organizations, the LMS sits at the center of the learning ecosystem, but it is not the only place where learning happens. It is, however, the main source of formal learning experiences.

Formal learning is the structured, programmatic coursework that is generally prescribed as part of initial onboarding or ongoing professional development within an organization. However, this typically represents only a small percentage of the actual learning that takes place within an organization. It is the informal or experience-based learning that represents a much larger and more valuable part of employee development in an organization. The collaboration between employees, the mentoring that happens as a team grows, the articles and videos that an employee engages with on their own time because they are hungry to learn more—these are all day-to-day instances of informal learning; they are critical experiences that happen outside the LMS. xAPI and the LRS were created to help us capture this activity so that we can track the progress of employees as they gain valuable skills across the many technologies used in today’s modern workplace.

Collect and store information across platforms

The combination of these xAPI-powered technologies has opened a world of possibilities for the learning technologist. By offering significantly new and improved ways of understanding employee performance, training leaders are now able to improve outcomes that are relevant to the business as a whole, with real-time insight into skill gaps and employee strengths, improving efficiency and productivity across all teams. If implemented strategically, this can significantly increase revenue and lower training costs across an organization, making human capital management a critical value-add to key stakeholders at all levels of the business.

Powering your learning ecosystem with xAPI

The ideal learning ecosystem provides a way to connect, utilize, and apply data from multiple types of formal and informal learning experiences. By powering your learning with xAPI, you will be able to leverage data from across platforms, improve training programs and performance outcomes, and positively impact the experience of team members and business processes.

Here are a few client case studies in which organizations connected interoperable data across systems and used analytics to solve a specific business challenge.

Case study #1: Automated content recommendations to improve time to mastery and personalize on-the-job training

Business goal: Reduce the time to proficiency, amount of seat time, and resources used in a training program.

Approach: A military training project trained people as individuals for a task for a fixed period of time and then formed groups. In the group training, a certain amount of time was available to achieve a target level of performance.

The organization collected data during individual training from both an LMS and a simulation program using xAPI. The data from individuals was used to define groups and select scenarios for training. These groups achieved the desired level of proficiency 40 percent faster with 60 percent less content.

Additionally, they used data collected via xAPI to provide future training recommendations. By building a focused system that watched the data for a deficiency in performance, the system identified learning experiences that they could use to mitigate the deficiency. They then provided recommendations to users to assist their longer term skill development.

Outcome: People did tasks faster, and longer-term personalized content assignment helped to resolve deficiencies on the job.

Case study #2: Delivery of just-in-time learning content to meet risk management regulations in high-risk work environments

Business goal: Ensure that technicians have necessary knowledge of policy and procedures to operate safely.

Approach: Changing roles and information can lead to gaps in employee understanding and knowledge to accomplish tasks effectively, especially in a high-risk environment with lots of turnover.

The organization collected data about each technician and their role; course completion data from the Moodle LMS and informal data through a mobile app about resource use went into the LRS. They created a data dashboard of conformance vs. nonconformance for the organization at an individual, team, and work-site level to provide insight into both individual learning activity and overall workforce capacity.

Additionally, in order to mitigate risk in real time, they connected this learning data with location data in order to provide push notifications to the technicians and on-site management directly if someone was out of compliance.

Outcome: The right information, to the right people, at the right time to ensure an efficient, safe, and always-up-to-date workforce.

Case study #3: Early-alert retention program to improve completion rates in a distributed-workforce training program

Business goal: Provide the appropriate intervention to keep individuals engaged with their team and learning content.

Approach: Attention spans and time can be short when a workforce is distributed, making critical the identification of which activities and behaviors lead in the most engaging way to the success of employees in a skill development program.

To track formal and informal learning, the organization collected data in the LRS from multiple platforms including asynchronous learning in an LMS, synchronous in-person training, a soft-skill development game, and team member collaboration in a mobile communication app.

They used the real-time insights into the activity patterns of highly engaged team members to alert instructors to outlier behaviors of disengaged team members. This triggered personalized re-engagement interventions to drive improvement in team member experience and increase program completion.

Outcome: Increased program completion rates and employee engagement through personalized intervention success.

Future-proof solutions to business problems with the xAPI-powered LRS and LMS approach

There are many strengths of the xAPI approach to solving business problems with learning solutions. As we’ve shown here, “xAPI-enabled” means that technologies are made interoperable and use xAPI data to communicate and share data across platforms. This also means that if you design your modern learning ecosystem with xAPI and a learning record store, your ecosystem becomes extensible, flexible, and future-proofed. Whatever challenge you face, app or microlearning delivery tool you decide to adopt, or new compliance regulation you are required to meet, you can extend and connect your system in a modular way. Each of these tools and technologies becomes a building block, interconnected and fluid, creating a seamless experience for the learner and a powerful understanding of the experience of the organization as a whole for the business leader. All of this through data.

We want to leave you with some next steps, but first, a few thoughts. No matter where you are coming from in your organization, and no matter what current challenge your business is facing, an xAPI approach can help you solve your problem. The hard part to start with is finding the right piece of the problem, the right individual challenge, where you can have a measurable impact. If you can work with your team to identify a tightly scoped project for which you can design a proof of concept, you’ll be able to quickly demonstrate the value of an xAPI solution to stakeholders in your organization.

Consider the following challenges:

  • Onboarding—Many companies have fixed onboarding times. Could you combine assessments and self-guided learning to help people get to proficiency faster?
  • Resource use—Jobs are complex combinations of learning, performance, and supporting content. Can you collect data about learning pathways and use of resources in the LMS to recommend the best content to your learners?
  • Competency tracking—The greatest limitation to organizational performance is employee knowledge capacity. Could you measure the competency of your employees over time to predict when you will need to hire in advance of need?
  • Human capital analytics—Learning and training programs have a direct impact on performance outcomes. How can you use that data to improve the quality of the learning experiences provided to your team?
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs)—Every organization and every department has unique KPIs that their success is measured by. How can you triangulate data across systems to identify why successful team members are successful?

Next steps for creating your xAPI-powered learning ecosystem

To get started in adapting your learning ecosystem to benefit from xAPI-enabled products and services, you need to build the right technology foundation. This foundation needs to include two main components.

The first is an LMS that offers the ability to externally launch xAPI activities, log events, and send data to an LRS. Moodle does this through free plugins you can add to your site. You can enable the ability to launch xAPI activities in your Moodle site via the free xAPI Launch Link plugin, and you can add the ability to produce xAPI statements from across learning activities via the free xAPI Logstore plugin.

Once you have your LMS making xAPI data, the second component you will need is an LRS to serve as the data hub to collect data from across your systems.

The next time you are at a learning conference, keep an eye out for products and services that use xAPI. If you have set up an xAPI-enabled LMS like Moodle and an LRS, you’ll be set to fully leverage these products.

There are bound to be additional needs that will surface at your institution where an off-the-shelf product or service won’t suffice, and this is where a conversation with companies who build custom applications using xAPI becomes helpful. Once you clearly identify your target goal, they can help plan and build an application that fits into your xAPI-enabled ecosystem.

As xAPI technologies continue to come to the market, it’s important you are ready to take advantage of the benefits they can bring to your organization. By helping you to deliver educational materials at the time they are needed, at lower costs, and—most importantly—in a way that engages learners to better support your outcomes, xAPI is sure to become a critical part of your learning and development programs.

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