What is xAPI?


After taking an in depth look at SCORM, we have dived into another frequently asked question; What is xAPI?

Recently, we published an article that answered the question “What is SCORM?” in some detail. If you have arrived at this article not having read it, I would suggest you have a quick skim through it to get a bit of an understanding of what SCORM is.

Once you are done there, I suggest you grab a couple of scones, a tea, perhaps, and we’ll dive right in.

What is xAPI?

xAPI is the next significant evolution of SCORM, it’s SCORM after a Red Bull. It’s SCORM with wings. But to say that is really not doing justice to the power of xAPI.

To be completely honest, it’s probably easier to think of xAPI not in terms of it being a much better version of SCORM, but as a completely unique and new beast. xAPI is to SCORM, what a space shuttle is to the original Wright Brothers plane. They both have wings, but really, the similarities end there.

xAPI symbolises a change in thinking when it comes to learning. xAPI allows us to track people learning how THEY want to learn, rather than tracking if they have completed learning we’ve given them. We know that learning about how people do things, how they learn, when they do things and who they interact with all contributes to their ability to learn and their ability to complete their jobs. We know that understanding people's activity is valuable for being able to give them what they need any point in time.

For example, ever notice how when you spend some time researching something online, such as “How do I make the best gin and tonic cocktail?”, all of a sudden you start to see information about gin popping up on more sites you visit and your social media platforms?

Yes, Big Brother is watching, and in this case trying to influence you to buy some Hendrick's gin and a very sharp looking martini shaker.

This is an example of your activities online being tracked, and then you being presented with appropriate information.

That’s sort of the idea of xAPI. But tracking what you do, we are able to analyse the data we gather and make decisions on how to best support you with learning in your role. It also allows us to look at the data for a group and analysis what activities correlate with what outcomes.

For example, let’s say we have people who are in a data entry role. There is a group in the team that seem to consistently have better productivity than everyone else. With xAPI we could track how activities affect performance. After analysing the data we could find that the high performing group generally do not look at their emails until after 10am. Or maybe they start their day watching a few TED videos. This information is valuable in working out how to support the rest of the team to perform better.

What is Tin-Can API?

This was the name for xAPI during its development. If you hear this term, it’s talking about xAPI.

What is Experience API?

Yet another name for xAPI. It’s like xAPI had some identify issues as it went through its 'early teens' stage and hadn’t yet found who it was.

How is xAPI different to SCORM?

While this is a common question, it’s probably better not to try and compare SCORM to xAPI. If you simply look at how xAPI does thing better than SCORM, you will only be tapping into a tiny part of the xAPI potential.

However, if you like comparison tables, there is a great one you can see here.

While SCORM would track and report what eLearning you completed in an LMS, xAPI is able to go beyond the LMS. It’s able to track a person’s activities across any xAPI enabled technology such as performing work tasks, what you produce as your work outputs, interactions with others, information you access, formal learning you complete, games you play, workshops you attend, essentially anything that can be observed and recorded.

The way I think about it is this; SCORM focused on tracking what role related eLearning people completed, xAPI focuses on tracking how people perform and learn in their role, so we can make better decisions on how to support them.

The other key difference between SCORM and xAPI is that while SCORM was contained to only work in an LMS, xAPI can be everywhere. You can ultimately store the data xAPI collects in an LMS (or an LRS), but the standard does not need an LMS to work as such.

Why is that a good thing?

SCORM's fundamental flaw is that it’s a model based on isolation.

It assumes that all learning will happen in the LMS and that success is measured through completion rates and assessment results. It also assumes that the most important things we need to record are things like what percentage a learner achieved in an eLearning course, how long it took them to complete it and how many times they attempted it.

What xAPI brings to the table from an eLearning perspective, is we can dive deeper into how learners behave in a course.

For example, we may find that people are taking significantly longer than expected to complete a piece of eLearning. With SCORM we would assume that this would be because it was harder than we expected. With xAPI on the other hand, we would be able to see that people were getting through it really quickly right up until we reached a page with a particular term on it. At this point, we could see that a vast majority of the learners would open a new browser window and would google that term and spend a significant amount of their time reading about that or getting sucked into the YouTube cat video vortex.

We would be able to make decisions based on this.

Does this mean all of my SCORM eLearning will be obsolete?

Not necessarily. There are ways to 'convert' SCORM packages into xAPI pages. But you can read more about this here.

But based on adoption trends, you will find there will be a time of overlap, where LMS systems will support both SCORM and xAPI, until a time when xAPI is the widely accepted standard.

While this is a while away, it’s important to start planning for this transition now.