Top 4 questions about xAPI

As digital learning continues to evolve, many people have begun to wonder how L&D professionals will step up their systems and begin including more robust options for integrations, tracking, and reporting. Fortunately, over the last few years Experience API, or xAPI, has been developed and is lending a hand in creating a more powerful dynamic between learning platforms and reporting mechanisms.

Four most frequently asked questions about xAPI

  1. What is xAPI?

Simply put, Experience API is a software specification that allows elearning software to speak with other pieces of software - most notably databases. It was created in 2011 after Advanced Distributed Learning determined that the existing protocol - SCORM, which had been in use for about a decade - was no longer meeting the needs of the industry. After a year of research xAPI was announced, touting the ability to, among other things, allow those deploying learning platforms or specific courses to track information gained throughout the course, while also providing a way for a course or specific module to be launched externally, without requiring users to launch and log-in to a Learning Management System (LMS).

Here’s a good use case for this: a consumer-based software company wants to embed training right into their product, but they don’t want their customers to have to navigate and log into an LMS. Instead, users click  on a help icon in the software, which automatically directs them to a training module or video. Behind the scenes, data is tracked about which users are accessing learning content, which content they’re viewing, and - the real magic - correlating that data back to their actual system use and purchasing habits of that software.

  1. How is it different from SCORM?

There are some key differences:

  • SCORM only supports one-way communication - you can track and record what’s happening in a training course.  xAPI is two-way.  You can both record what’s happening in a training course and also pull data back into a training course.  
  • SCORM requires users to be logged into their LMS to gather information. xAPI can be initiated from any application or website, of course, including from within an LMS.
  • SCORM is designed to track responses to questions in a course.  While xAPI can track just about anything - what you click, how long you watch a video, what you type, etc.
  • SCORM is uniquely designed to track activity within training. xAPI can be applied much more broadly in any system or application. For example, you might track what transactions are reversed in a POS system to identify further opportunities for training.

  1. Does it work with my LMS?

The official answer here is, “it’s more complicated that that.” Many of today’s LMSs include what’s called an xAPI launcher.  This means you can launch a learning asset with xAPI code and a session will be initiated on what’s known as a Learning Record Store (LRS).  An LRS can exist within the LMS itself (but rarely do), or can be a completely separate database, but without it there is nowhere to store and retrieve the data it collects. To learn more about what you need in a modern learning infrastructure check out this guide.

  1. Does it work with my courses?

Again, the answer here is officially “it’s more complicated than that.” Some tools, such as Storyline and Captivate have basic xAPI functionality built-in, whereas with other tools and frameworks xAPI hooks may still need to be added. Today, even tools that have some xAPI functionality tend to only mirror what SCORM does. And, ass noted above, you’re not realizing the value of xAPI if you just approach it as a substitute for SCORM functionality.

If you have an existing course that you’d like to modify to use Experience API it will need to be edited and revised in order to make it work, which could be a costly (both in time and budget) endeavor. It would be wise, in those cases, to make sure that your purpose for wanting to implement it on the existing course is truly beneficial and isn’t something you’re hoping to undertake simply because it’s an industry buzzword. However, if you do need to go down the re-creation route, recreating a course and deploying xAPI provides a great opportunity to develop a more interesting and informed learning solution.

Are you interested in learning more about Experience API? Check out our recorded webinar 5 things you can do with xAPI that will change your life and get inspired!