eLearning Is Changing Forever. Are You Ready?

Last year there was a major shift for eLearning. Did you feel it? Chances are you didn’t, or at least you didn’t recognize it at the time. However, the shift happened, and the ramifications will ripple out over the next decade. All from something as innocuous as a tin can.

Allow me to take you back a few years to January 2007, when a much larger shift happened in the world. Clad in his trademark black turtleneck and blue jeans, Steve Jobs introduced us to the iPhone. To be sure, it was not the first smartphone; however, the iPhone started the mobile revolution. The smartphone market exploded. Google and Microsoft introduced their own software for phones. Three years later, when Jobs introduced the iPad, he accelerated the momentum. In the US, more than 56% of adults and more than 90% of high-income people have a smartphone.

The rapid growth of mobile computing, in the form of phones and tablets, has caused major issues for learning professionals. Learning developers realized that Adobe Flash®-based courses are history because they won’t play at all on iPads or iPhones and don’t work all that well on other mobile devices. Many companies see the value of giving people more choices for how to take training.

And yet, despite this rapid innovation in our computers, the two major eLearning standards – SCORM and AICC – had their last major renovations in 2004, more than two and a half years before Jobs presented the iPhone at Macworld. SCORM and AICC are 20th-century technology. Something new was needed.

Tin Can

That something new came in the form of “Project Tin Can” by Rustici Software. Rustici was given a grant by Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL), the group that oversaw the development of SCORM, to come up with something new. The result was dubbed the “Tin Can API” by Rustici, and it has been formally adopted by ADL as the Experience API (xAPI).

It doesn’t sound like much of a shift; it sounds as though xAPI is just the new SCORM. Ah, but it’s more than that. And it is so revolutionary that the eLearning world may be turned on its head. The xAPI provides nearly universal flexibility. No longer will eLearning be tied to “learning objects” such as courses or modules or exams.

The xAPI can track any learning “activity” — this can be traditional courses or exams; however, it also can be learning through any website, application, game, simulation, social media, eBook, or even a virtual world. From there the activity itself can be broken into different steps for even more granular tracking — for exams, each question can be tracked; for modules, each slide can be tracked; for eBooks — each chapter can be tracked.

But Wait; There’s More.

Traditionally, eLearning was tracked by individual users taking training. Now these “actors” can be more than just users — instructors can be tracked when they teach a course, a team or group can be tracked when they complete a group activity, course authors can be tracked when they create new training.

Not only can you track almost any activity by almost any actor, but you also can create “verbs” to describe what they did: completed, experienced, launched, mastered, answered, shared, scored, passed … There is virtually no limit to the verbs that can be used to track training — even “tracked,” if you’re so inclined.

There is even more that can be added to this tracking. The “authority” of the system tracking can be asserted. “Context” for the activity can be added.


xAPI introduces us to one more acronym: the LRS, or learning record store. This is the repository for tracking all the activities. Think of it a bit like the central transcript in a traditional learning management system — if that transcript were only one table that contained everything users did.

This LRS can then be accessed by other systems, such as reporting tools or even traditional learning management systems. It can live inside or outside the LMS or transfer records to another learning record store — making the data very portable. (Imagine if every LMS used the same data structure for transcripts; migrating data would be a snap!)


With this understanding of what has been introduced, let’s look into the future.

Imagine a world where your courses live on a content server accessible by computers, phones, tablets, and gaming platforms. Your training is available via eBook reader or a native mobile application. You provide the opportunity for users to submit their own training when they watch a video on YouTube or read something they find through a Bing search. Attendance at a classroom lecture is recorded by scanning a QR code on attendee badges. The LRS captures all this.

Your HR system talks with your LRS to update users’ learning activity for performance reviews. A new person is hired at your company and brings his or her own personal learning history from previous employers as well as his or her university transcripts. Your business analysts use a reporting tool such as CloudMills, ZeroedIn, or even Crystal Reports to analyze the data in your LRS and provide custom reports with details you’ve never been able to get from your LMS.

As an eLearning professional, you are no longer tied to the software. The Experience API gives you that freedom.

Stay tuned for my next post: What can you do with a Tin Can?

Next Post