For the better part of seven years, I’ve carried my xAPI hammer around blogs and the conference circuit. Along with countless other xAPI evangelists, I’ve been telling the story of what xAPI enables—or could enable, with the right supporting technologies and processes. We hammered home the deficiencies of SCORM. We hammered SCORM’s limitations. We hammered xAPI as the solution.
The problem is that our hammering has been too successful: Some practitioners consider xAPI to be the solution to any L&D problem. Given the current learning ecosystem, though, considering xAPI as a solution to any problem is troublesome. In fact, I believe that these three principles should guide xAPI evangelists—and their followers:
- xAPI is a necessary and appropriate solution for some L&D problems
- xAPI is an insufficient and inappropriate solution for many L&D problems
- The ability to discern the difference is an important skill for every L&D technologist or practitioner
At its core, xAPI is a communication protocol. As a tool, it helps connect multiple systems by ensuring they speak the same language. This is a helpful tool to have in the current expanding learning ecosystem. The boundaries of L&D are less clear all the time, with aspects reaching out to internal change management, marketing, sales, and human resources. xAPI could be used to connect all of these tools, whether they were initially created for L&D or not, from Slack to Salesforce to Oracle HRMS to WorkDay to Articulate.
Deciding where xAPI is most useful
So how does one discern which problems should be solved with xAPI?
To put it simply: xAPI is the suitable technology when two systems talk to each other about the things people do. This makes it very well suited for L&D, performance support, and other systems that express people’s activities. It is particularly valuable when one or both existing systems already makes use of xAPI.
Keeping this in mind, ask these questions to determine whether xAPI is a good fit:
Are you using multiple systems that already support xAPI?
If so, then xAPI would be a good fit because you won’t have to spend time or money outfitting existing platforms with a new standard.
Do you plan to track events that happen outside of a web browser, such as in-person coaching? And do you plan to correlate these events with experiences that happen within a web browser, such as taking an xAPI course in an LMS?
Again, in these cases, xAPI would be a good fit because it would help you connect the in-person and online experiences using a consistent expression. You could, for example, correlate coaching to course success—or simply gain insight into all a learner’s experiences.
Do you plan to track only completions of content launched within an LMS?
Here, xAPI would not be a great fit because you aren’t connecting multiple platforms. SCORM is likely already supported by your LMS and is well suited to tracking course completions.
Do you have multiple LRSs (learning record stores) that you are hoping to connect?
If so, definitely use xAPI. Each LRS will receive, store, and return data from learning platforms. If your marketing department uses one LRS and sales uses another, your L&D LRS can connect them; in fact, xAPI was explicitly designed so that you can understand learner behavior across the ecosystem.
From here, your challenge is to understand the subtlety of when xAPI is appropriate and when it isn’t. Rather than blindly follow the xAPI evangelists, consider these principles and questions. To further explore the xAPI decision, look for “Tips for Deciding Whether to Implement an xAPI Solution,” a companion Learning Solutions article that will appear next week.