TinCan API and Why it Matters to Learning Professionals

Designing Digitally


TinCanAPI - Designing Digitally

For years L&D professionals have been relying on the tried and true standard for tracking eLearning known as SCORM or Sharable Content Object Reference Model. The SCORM specification allows for communication and data collection between an eLearning participant and the learning management system (LMS) that monitors their progress. The problem, however, is that SCORM has limitations which don’t allow for the accurate tracking of much of the learning that currently occurs in the workplace. Organizational learning such as m-learning, offline learning, informal learning and other valuable tools are not capable of being tracked via the SCORM standard.


TinCan API - AKA - xAPI

TinCan API, more appropriately known as the Experience API or simply xAPI, is a learning technology specification which allows learning systems of all types to communicate with each other. It’s been a couple of years now since version 1.0 of the xAPI was introduced. Advanced Distributed Learning, under the direction of the US Department of Defense, put out a call for companies to improve on the old SCORM standard in 2011, and Rustici Software stepped up to meet the challenge. They released version 1.0 of the newly proposed standard in April of 2013. From its inception, this newest eLearning tracking specification was intended to be the successor to SCORM, and so far the promises are living up to expectations.

Tin Can API - The Basics

As many of us know, an Application Programming Interface (API) is a set of programming instructions that allow applications and specialized software to communicate with each other. APIs allow developers to write programs that work on specific platforms and share information. From the outset, Project Tin Can was developed as an open source standard, meaning any learning organization can design training that will interact with the platform. Here are some of the features of Tin Can or xAPI:

  • Collects and aggregates data on a range of learning experiences both online and offline

  • Uses a Learning Record Store (LRS) to store learning experiences as individual records

  • Tracks and delivers eLearning in a native application rather than a browser

  • Records learning experiences across multiple devices and platforms

  • Vendor testing and adoption is growing

Advantages over SCORM

From an instructional design standpoint, SCORM can be thought of essentially as the file format in which eLearning projects are published to the LMS. And since the SCORM standard is fairly narrow, the data collected and sent to the LMS is limited to test scores, pass/fail, completion status, etc. The xAPI on the other hand manages data differently. It can track almost any activity using its noun-verb-object “I did this,” and can then share that data as a record with the LRS, a learning record store that is unique to each learner. This allows the xAPI to collect data on a wide variety of activities and learning experiences, both formal and informal. To help us understand why this is such a huge advantage over SCORM, here are some interesting facts about the current state of corporate learning:

  • According to some experts, only 10% of learning is formal, while 20% comes from co-workers and 70% from work experiences.

  • Informal learning happens across multiple device platforms (tablets, smartphones, etc.), and isn’t tracked by an LMS.

  • Most informal learning takes place offline – again, not tracked by an LMS.

  • More corporate training is relying on dynamic data updates, trackable using xAPI, but not with SCORM.

Understanding the Learning Record Store

If we haven’t made it clear by now, the key to the extraordinary flexibility of xAPI is the Learning Record Store or LRS. The LRS maintains a record of individual learning events for each user of the system. It allows a device (or multiple devices) to track activities and create a series of statements in a standard noun-verb-object form, and transmit them to the LRS. Using this format, information can be gathered about a huge range of data. Some examples of LRS activities that can be tracked with xAPI include:

  • Watching an instructional video

  • Being mentored

  • Reading

  • Playing a learning game

  • Attending a lecture or conference

  • And of course taking an eLearning course

Just about any learning experience we have can be tracked with the xAPI standard. Individual Learning Record Stores within xAPI can even follow learners between different LRS systems, making formal and informal training truly the property of the knowledge holder.

If you want to learn more about the new Experience API and how it is changing the way eLearning is being developed, contact the experts here at Designing Digitally, Inc. We’ll help you to understand how this new standard can help take your employee training to the next level.