Learning has long found its way out of the classroom and into pretty much every aspect of life and work. It has become flexible, informal and foremost – digital. For corporate L&D departments it is getting increasingly challenging to keep track of what, how and when employees choose to learn.
When it comes to showing how learning gets translated into business results it seems almost impossible to come up with more or less exact measurements. Every business LMS has the ability to track formal training and this is particularly important in areas such as onboarding or safety and compliance.
However, since learning also happens through other activities such as work assignments, coaching, networking and new projects, learning management systems need a little help in accounting for those experiences and their value for employee development. Furthermore, employees today learn from micro-content located in a variety of places and that is also not encompassed in the typical LMS reporting. We use mobile phones, simulations, games, and more.
There is, of course, SCORM (which has been used for almost 20 year already) but digital learning has come a long way since then. The next step is xAPI.
What exactly is xAPI?
xAPI is designed to solve all these issues by accessing all known learning mediums and storing the information from them in a ‘tin can’ (this was actually the initial name given to the project).
API stands for ‘application programming interface’ and while the name itself is not entirely self-explanatory we are all confronted with one of its functions every day. What an API basically does is create a language that allows various applications to communicate. In turn, there can be certain triggers involved – when one application transmits a certain piece of information, the other acts on it.
When you search online for a certain product, you’re no longer surprised when upon opening your social network page you are greeted by advertising for the exact same thing you’ve been looking at and some similar or complementary items as well. This happens because there is communication between your browser and your networking app, put there by thrifty marketing people seeking to encourage you to click on ‘add to cart’.
What xAPI means for corporate learning
For organizational L&D, adoption of xAPI promises to make the learning ecosystem more easily manageable and far more effective.
Taking a look at what corporate learning looks like today, it’s not hard to notice that there is a lot going on. Most companies are starting to move away from old school training and towards blended learning, there is a growing need for easy, open access to information, the workforce is made up of a younger generation with a very different approach to development and there is an increased demand for a transparent ROI of learning programs.
By bringing together all the various learning mediums and by collecting information about the entire learning process (not only who started a module, who finished it and what the test score was), xAPI comes to the aid of L&D professionals who can use that data to customize learning programs at an individual level, optimize the training paths and center them around the team’s KPI’s.
Since there are so many changes happening in business and employee turnover rates are at an all-time high, having the ability to pivot and adapt the L&D programs is an absolute must.
How it works
The X in the name stands for experience as what xAPI sets out to do is get and interpret information about learning as an ongoing process, not limited to formal instruction and hours.
There are actually four major areas that it gets data from: activity, learning, behavior and performance:
- For learning, the xAPI looks into the training programs, the online modules employees enroll in and the other resources encompassed in a company’s LRS. Up to this point, data collection is at the same level as with SCORM. For xAPI however, this is only step one.
- The activity part is about what people do every day on their jobs, the projects they take part in and the processes they need to follow in order to get things done.
- Behavior in its turn is a combination of the previous two. It looks at how learning impacts activity – the transfer of knowledge into everyday tasks.
- The measurement of this transfer, the results obtained on tests, quizzes or periodical appraisals is what makes up performance.
Collecting data from all these major areas allow xAPI to send a lot of valuable information into the LRS and retrieve it from there in form of comprehensive metrics and reports.
The promise of xAPI
Implementing xAPI allows L&D specialists to make very informed decisions about what the learning path of each employee should look like, identify performance gaps in real-time and intervene rapidly to correct it and above all build the necessary bridges between employee experience and the company’s key objectives.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.