What is xAPI?

The Experience API (or xAPI), in general terms, is a specification for learning technology that makes it possible to collect data about the wide range of experiences a person has both online and offline. 

According to xAPI.com, this API, or application programming interface, is a protocol that captures data in a consistent format about a person or group’s activities from various technologies. Different external systems are able to securely communicate with each other by capturing and sharing this stream of activities using xAPI’s simple “vocabulary.”

Why is this Useful?

Your learners acquire knowledge, skills, and abilities in all different types of environments. Some of these include:

  • Attending in-person or e-learning classes
  • Reading books, both print and electronic
  • Practicing on their own, in person or via devices
  • Speaking with mentors and peers, both on and offline
  • Reaching out to strangers on the Web or social media 

These can happen in any order and can be repeated. Indeed, all of these represent efforts to master what employees set out to learn—both formally and informally. 

Historically, the only part of this process that L&D professionals could track was whether learners showed up to an in-person class or passed their e-learning course. According to the ATD, many learning leaders subscribe to a 70-20-10 model of learning: most talent development teams cannot track learning by experience (70 percent) or learning from others like mentors or peers (20 percent) in any meaningful way. As such, they’re limited to measuring the formal learning experiences (10 percent) that are recorded in the learning management system (LMS).

Enter the xAPI specification, which offers the ability to track up to 100 percent of learning experiences.

How does xAPI work?

xAPI is a simple, lightweight way to store and retrieve records about learners and share this data across various platforms. These records, known as activity statements, can be captured in a consistent format from any number of sources, known as activity providers, and they are aggregated in a learning record store (LRS)

Because the x in xAPI is short for “experience,” you can track classroom activities, usage of performance support tools, participation in online communities, mentoring discussions, performance assessment, and actual business results. The goal is to create as complete a picture as possible of an individual’s learning experience and how that relates to his or her performance.

API stands for application programming interface, a common method for software systems to interact and share data. xAPI activity statements can be generated by activity providers and sent to the LRS, or they can be sent from the LRS to other systems.

xAPI image

Many current applications offer APIs to make their data available in other systems, and vice versa.

An xAPI activity statement records experiences in an “I did this” format. The format specifies the actor (who did it), a verb (what was done), a direct object (what it was done to) and a variety of contextual data, including score, rating, language, and almost anything else you want to track.

Some learning experiences are tracked with a single activity statement. In other instances, dozens or hundreds of activity statements can be generated during a learning experience. Instructional designers control the level of reporting needed in activity statements. 

How is xAPI different from SCORM? 

SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model) is the industry standard by which e-learning courses hosted in an LMS communicate to the LMS. SCORM stores data about certain simple things of interest to the instructional designer: course completion status, total learner time spent on the course, scores, and perhaps location.

While this is perfectly acceptable for learning that takes place within the LMS, it falls short when tracking learning happening elsewhere. SCORM doesn’t track all those other ways in which learners learn—offline, informally, in classrooms, or on the job, for example.

If you want to learn more about innovative technologies to automate and streamline your training development process, check out this case study.

xAPI allows learning leaders to evaluate learner performance on the job—not just on a test—delivering valuable insights into the effectiveness of skills acquisition or performance improvement programs. This data is also put into the context of the learning activity, providing a more complete picture of the whole learning experience. With such detailed data, L&D professionals can tailor learning activities to the unique needs of each learner.

If you have something to track that cannot be handled by SCORM, xAPI is a viable option and it’s not difficult to get started. 

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