Introduction to the xAPI – Part 2

This is part 2 of a 2 part article.  In part 1, we discussed the history behind xAPI, why xAPI was developed and some of the benefits associated with xAPI.  In part 2 of this article we will learn how xAPI works, define the Learning Record Store (LRS) and dispel some of the myths about xAPI.

How does xAPI Work?

Statements

xAPI utilizes the concept of an “activity stream”, which is based on work done by Google, Facebook and others.  If you have ever “liked” a photo in Facebook, you’ve generated an “activity stream”.

Jennifer liked Robert’s photo

xAPI statements consist of an actor, a verb and an object.  In the Facebook activity stream above, Jennifer is the actor, “liked” is the verb and “Robert’s photo” is the object.  In xAPI, the statements generally involve some sort of learning activity.  Here are some more examples:

Jack completed safety training.
Christie experienced the Great Wall in Second Life

Verbs

xAPI is very flexible.  It does not “require” any particular verbs.  A list of recommended verbs
can be downloaded from the ADL verbs page.  Or, you can make up your own verbs.  Here are some things to consider when choosing verbs.

  • Each verb has a description and can be translated to other languages.
  • The verb ID should be an “iri”, or international resource identifier. Generally, you can think of it is a URL.
    Ex: http://adlnet.gov/exapi/verbs/completed
  • If the verb you need does not match the description, don’t use it.  When reporting by verbs it is best to avoid confusion.
  • Different standards are being developed on top of xAPI and will have their own verbs.  For example, the AICC & ADL are developing the next generation of SCORM, called CMI-5.  It will have its own list of verbs.

Complex Statements

xAPI has many layers.  Complex statements can be developed that include both context and results. This can be very useful for analyzing delivery methods.

On an iPad, while offline, John completed Sales Training 101 with a score of 100.

In this example, the context is “while using an iPad offline”.  The results are that John achieved a score of 100.

The Learning Record Store

All xAPI statements are stored in a “Learning Record Store”, or LRS.  One nice thing about the xAPI standard is it requires the LRS be able to report the statements back.  So the LRS is the receiver and reporter of xAPI statements.

The LRS can be either stand-alone, or integrated in an LMS.  In the case of VTA, we have integrated the LRS right into the VTA database.

Common xAPI Myths

As with any new technology, there are some common misconceptions about what xAPI does and what it does not do.

Will xAPI Replace SCORM?

No, SCORM is still around and will be for many years to come.  If you have working SCORM content, there is no need to convert it to xAPI unless you have specific need for some xAPI features.  If you need a more flexible SCORM, fixing some of the problems we discussed in part 1 of this article, you will need to wait for CMI-5. I’ll discuss CMI-5 in a future blog article.

Will the LRS replace the LMS?

An LRS does only one small function of an LMS; storage of records. Instead,
the LRS and LMS can work together to provide a more complete history of your
students’ learning experiences.

lrsvslms

xAPI: LMS vs LRS

What’s Next?

Predicting the future is always difficult, but here are my bold and fearless predictions.

Better LRS Analytics

The volume of data being written to LRS’s is big…really big.  In the future there should be a clear market for reporting tools to analyze LRS data.

Additional Protocols

Additional standards or protocols will be developed that use xAPI as the communication and data storage layer.  This is not that bold a prediction; it is already happening.  The AICC & ADL are developing a new specification called CMI-5.  CMI-5 will use xAPI as its base and will
define LMS to content communication and launching.  CMI-5 is intended to replace both the  AICC and SCORM specifications.

 Additional Off-Line Content Players

These tools will allow for development of learning experiences that can be played offline, such as on an iPad, with the results synched to the LRS when you come back online.

Summary

In part1 of this article, we discussed the history behind xAPI, why xAPI was developed and some of the benefits assocaited with xAPI.  In part 2 we learned how xAPI works, define the Learning Record Store (LRS) and dispel some of the myths about xAPI.  If you’d like to read more, I’ve included some reference links below.

xAPI Specification

Tin Can Project

The Training & Learning Architecture

Art Werkenthin
Art Werkenthin is president of RISC, Inc. and has over 30 years' experience working with LMS systems in the Oil & Gas, Retail, Finance and other industries. Mr. Werkenthin holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and an M.B.A. in Information Systems Management from the University of Texas. Mr. Werkenthin is a member of the ADL cmi5 committee and frequently presents on cmi5 and xAPI. Follow him on Twitter @AWerkenthin for xAPI and cmi5 updates, as well as blog post announcements.