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What is xAPI (TinCan) and How Does It Work?

How are learning experiences tracked and recorded?

In most companies, it’s a real challenge.

If a team member completes an online course, reads a book, and attends a workshop, are these learning experiences being tracked?

Probably only partially.

It’s easy to track the completion of an eLearning course in a Learning Management System (LMS). What about learning that occurs outside of an online course? Is there a way to track both online and offline learning experiences?

Most often, the data for offline learning is not collected.

As modern businesses rely more heavily on data analysis to drive their bottom lines, the world of corporate learning has desperately craved a new way to prove ROI.

Enter xAPI – technology that was built to do just that. To track and record all learning experiences, whether they happen online, in a formal office setting or by casually reading a book in the park.

Learning happens everywhere. And xAPI is the technology built to capture it all.


What is xAPI?

xAPI is a simple learning technology that collects data on a variety of learning experiences an individual has, both online and offline.

The xAPI technology (originally called TinCan) was developed by Rustici Software. They believed that learning occurs in far more places than a single eLearning course – videos, books, games, interactions with other people.

While traditional learning content standards only tracked online experiences, Rustici Software created xAPI as an improved alternative, expanding insights to include all learning experiences.

Now, organizations can track any learning activity an individual completes. The activities are recorded and can be shared across multiple platforms within an organization.

As modern business decisions are increasingly made by analyzing data, xAPI provides extensive insights to help explain the ROI of learning programs.

While the most popular content authoring standard is still SCORM 1.2.over the past five years, xAPI has gained ground as the new trend for modern learning programs.

How is xAPI different than SCORM?

If you’ve been developing eLearning programs for awhile, you’re probably familiar with SCORM. This specification has long been the standard for eLearning content development and learning management systems.

The core difference between xAPI and SCORM is how learning activities are tracked.

SCORM is fairly limited as it only allows tracking of online learning, such as an individual’s progress or completion of an eLearning course.

xAPI is much more robust in its tracking ability, where even offline learning activities can be collected and shared. More robust tracking provides deeper insights about learner progress and outcomes.

How xAPI Works

xAPI captures data in the form of “statements.” Each “statement” is made up of three elements: noun, verb, and object.

  • Noun – most often, this is the person performing the action
  • Verb – the action the person is performing
  • Object – the specific piece of content or event the person completed

For example, Andrew (noun) completed (verb) IT compliance training (object). Another example, Caryn (noun) read (verb) Supply Chain 101 Handbook (object). These three elements are placed together and recorded in a Learning Record Store.

What is a Learning Record Store (LRS)?

The common misconception is that a Learning Record Store (LRS) replaces a Learning Management System (LMS). Most often, this is not the case.

An Learning Record Store (LRS) should be viewed more as a component of an Learning Management System (LMS).

The LRS is the place where the learning records (statements) are stored. If you are using xAPI, you’ll need an LRS that follows specific rules to properly track learning experiences.

The good news is that many of the major Learning Management Systems (LMS) integrate with LRSs, allowing you to fully maximize the power of xAPI tracking.

Pros of xAPI

  • Richer data collection: This is xAPI’s biggest selling point. Not only can you track eLearning completion, you can track offline experiences as well. This includes informal learning, blended learning, real-world learning, simulations, and many more.
  • Deeper insights: More data means more data to analyze! xAPI allows you to see the full story of a learner, helping you recognize gaps and opportunities to improve your learning program. These insights can also help highlight ROI, improving plans for future programs.
  • Simpler reporting: Detailed data collection allows managers to easily pull reports across teams and departments.
  • Newer content standard: xAPI may be the content standard of the future. With more flexibility and deeper tracking, it may be a good time to consider giving it a try.

Cons of xAPI

  • Less common than SCORM: SCORM still dominates the learning world as the go-to content authoring standard. While xAPI is becoming more popular, it is still not as widely accepted as its competition.
  • Doesn’t improve appearance: xAPI has nothing to do with visual design. It will not make your learning course look cool. It is solely a back-end tracking mechanism to improve learning data collection.
  • Doesn’t work with all LMS: Most of the major LMS have xAPI capabilities. But some of the smaller or older LMS companies haven’t moved over. If you’re looking to start using xAPI, make sure to check with your current LMS provider and ensure they have xAPI capabilities.

Our Take on xAPI

We’re 100% for it!

If you have the choice to begin using xAPI, we suggest you give it a try. You’ll benefit from richer data and deeper learning insights that will improve the future of your learning programs. Give it a spin!

About the Author:

Andrew DeBell is a training consultant and digital marketing strategist at Water Bear Learning. He helps companies develop creative, well-designed learning programs, infusing marketing principles into each step of the design process. Give him a shout on Linkedin to learn more.


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