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In the past we used to buy our music on CDs, load it into a CD player and play it. Now music is more likely to be purchased as a digital download or, increasingly, streamed as a service. This new way of doing things has taken time to catch on. There have been technical and cultural hurdles as well as new and innovative products; it’s been a real time of change for the music industry. During that transition period, many people chose to continue to buy music on CDs and rip them to their computers rather than buy directly online. It took time for both the culture and infrastructure of the industry to change. The same is true for e-learning. The prevailing model of e-learning delivery is that courses packaged as zip files are uploaded to an LMS. With the modern internet and xAPI, that process is no longer necessary. Digital learning resources can be hosted on the internet and launched from an LMS, email or intranet. They might not even need to be ‘launched’ at all; they might simply be ‘accessed’ by the learner.

Launch is not part of xAPI

For this reason, the packaging and launch of content is not included within the xAPI specification. It’s not that this is a gap in the specification, it’s just no longer needed. Other mechanisms such as single sign on can be used to move learners between systems if required; xAPI is used to get the tracking data back to the Learning Record Store (LRS) for centralized reporting and analytics. That said, whilst launching packaged content is no longer technically needed, it’s still very much part of our mindset and the most common products in the L&D toolbox. From the SCORM era, authoring tools and LMSs, are very much set up to create and receive packaged content. We will one day be able to move on from packaged content, but it will take time to change the mindset of the industry and for new products embracing this change.

Our launch spec

In order to support the transition, we wrote a set of companion guidelines for packaging and launching xAPI content and published it just before the release of xAPI 1.0.0 (April 2013). You can read that document here. The guidelines were intended to be a temporary but working solution that the community could use for a short time until either we transitioned away from launch as a concept or the community created a more long-term specification. The launch specification saw wide adoption amongst authoring tools that needed content package creation and launch for xAPI. It’s become the method of launching xAPI content, but has stagnated and is not on a standards path. So much for a temporary solution!


In Spring 2016, the cmi5 working group released a production version for authoring tools and LMS vendors to implement in their products. Originally managed by the AICC, which no longer exists, cmi5 is now being looked after by ADL who are also responsible for xAPI. You can read the quartz release version of cmi5 here. cmi5 is similar to the launch guidelines but adds a number of additional useful features, such as the ability for the LMS to tell the content where to return a learner at the end of the elearning course if the course was launched in the same window. While cmi5 is focused on elearning and is primarily designed as a replacement for the AICC elearning specification, the launch and session mechanisms it employs can be used for virtually any xAPI experience. While cmi5 is still in the early adoption phase, it is now our recommended approach to the concepts of packaging, launch, session capture, and scoring for elearning products wishing to leverage xAPI. Be sure to ask your vendor whether they have cmi5 support or when they will.


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