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xAPI eLearning LMS SCORM

Some causes of slow xAPI adoption

Back in 2015 we published an article on elearningindustry.com about Rustici Software’s Experience API, aka xAPI, aka Tin Can API. It was one of many such articles in the wake of xAPI’s launch in 2013, and gave an explanation of how this new learning data tool worked and the great variety of systems it could theoretically gather and aggregate learning data from.

Excitement about xAPI at the time wasn’t exactly at Bitcoin-like fever pitch, but it did lead us to write some slightly breathless paragraphs like this one:

“If the global learning community chooses to adopt Tin Can / Experience API, it will enable us to liberate learning content and activities from the confines of the Learning Management System and track learning activities across a hugely diverse range of platforms. The data gathered will give a far richer picture of the real-life impact of learning.”

So, now it’s nearly 2020 and we can begin to answer the question, to what extent has the global learning community actually adopted xAPI? Has it changed the eLearning landscape? Is it the logical next step in the evolutionary chain of eLearning standards that began with AICC and progressed through SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004?

An ideal source of information is The Elearning Guild’s September report, The State of xAPI Adoption. A look at their research findings should allow us to get a handle on the answer. Here’s a quick summary of the Elearning Guild’s main survey findings. It’s not a very long report, so interested readers can just as well head over and read the report itself.

Their sample of 535 survey respondents comprised 18% providers of learning products & services and 82% organizations that create learning solutions (and/or purchase them) for training.

20.7% said they didn’t kow what xAPI was.

47.6% said they were interested but have not used it at all.

15.3% said they were doing proof-of-concept-type experiments with xAPI but have not yet used it in the real world.

6.4% have used it in fewer than 5 live projects delivered to learners.

3.9% have used it in 5 or more projects delivered to learners.

3.4% have decided they will not use xAPI.

2.7% said they used xAPI in all their L&D projects.

Among non-adopters, 80% cited a lack of knowledge of skills as a barrier to implementation.

The stats are fairly clear: most L&D practitioners are aware of xAPI but have not yet implemented it.

Our reckoning before reading the report was that uptake is low because of:

The expense and hassle of acquiring and implementing an indispensable part of any xAPI-enabled ecosystem: a learning record store (LRS), without which xAPI has nowhere to deposit its learning statements and cannot perform its function.

A lack of clear data about the benefits of using xAPI, hindering leadership buy-in.

Most eLearning is still LMS-based, and learning activity in most LMS is already trackable with SCORM and learner analytics plugins or native LMS features.

They might be using an LMS that does not (yet) support xAPI.

The report confirmed all of these, plus other insights such as ‘challenges are often more conceptual than technical’, implying that xAPI is poorly understood or misunderstood due to its overwhelming flexibility and scope. In terms of mass adoption, it's still a Wild West frontier in L&D where so far only the brave and the visionary have so far dared to tread.

A case study by Watershed LRS of Visa's xAPI implementation throughout its global digital campus offers an example of a large organization that has grasped the emerging standard with both hands. It states that Visa have observed behavioral change including an increase in 'learning streaks' (learning binges, basically), and cites improved user experience, improved communication, and analytics that support and enhance the learner experience as factors in the observed increase in engagement. The implementation project took four years of sales cycle, piloting, implementing, refining and simply waiting as different areas of the project progressed. 

Mike Rustici himself said of xAPI's adoption rate: " ... it just takes a really long time for technology to take hold in the enterprise."

The sunlit uplands of xAPI ubiquity where data routinely streams into LRS from libraries, YouTube, web browsers and forums are still a long way off. The concept of xAPI is brilliant and powerful – it’s just that the L&D world hasn’t caught up yet.

For xAPI adoption to increase, the learning gap needs to be addressed – but also the doing gap. The time for explainer articles like our 2015 one is over, and for those interested in implementing xAPI it’s time for doing rather than reading and chin-rubbing. One initiative for this is the xAPI Cohort, a free, vendor-neutral, hands-on team learning environment delivered via web meetings. Through such initiatives and the efforts of L&D professionals everywhere, perhaps one day the Experience API will become what its name suggests: something the L&D world is experienced with rather than has just read about.

It also helps to read case studies of xAPI Adopters - and Rustici's blog has a whole bunch