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Three Reasons Instructional Designers Need to Know about xAPI

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Categories: Guest Bloggers, Ideas

Posted 4 September 2012


So, I’m an instructional designer, with an emphasis on design.  I learned about acronyms like AICC and SCORM purely in self-defense, so my eyes wouldn’t cross when I talked to developers.  And honestly – it wasn’t that important for me to know that much about those standards because there was such a short list of things I could do with them.

But xAPI is different, and it’s important for IDs to start wrapping their heads around it.

There’s this thing that happened with SCORM – it could actually originally do a lot of different things, but as it got implemented, we started defining it very narrowly.

We basically put ourselves in a very small box:

We put ourselves in that small box and labeled it SCORM, and then decided it was necessary on the off chance that we might want to move a course from one LMS to another, which was pretty much missing the point.  Basically, it’s like someone having a $50K budget for a new car, and spending a thousand dollars on the actual car and the other forty-nine thousand on making sure we always have a parking space.

So here are three reasons why instructional designers need to pay attention to xAPI:

Reason 1: It puts the user in the center, not the course

SCORM and AICC and all the ways we’ve previously tracked data out of learning experiences has focused on attributes of the courses – the course completion or the test score.  Of course, there were end users involved, but the focus was on the learning material and not on the user.

The xAPI format (Noun, Verb, Object) makes the whole thing focus on the user, and not on the course.  This is a change of focus that is not only long overdue, but is going to shape the training industry model going forward. If you are a Learning & Development professional, you need to make sure you are getting out of the business of creating containers for information, and getting in the business of supporting people and businesses.

Learning has never just happened in courses, but there are more places than ever for our end users to learn.  We need to follow them, rather than expecting them to come to us.

Reason 2: The format is accomplishment-based

We’ve talked about WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) for years – it’s one of those things you always hear that you need to include in courses to persuade your learners to pay attention.  I’ve started to think that’s a really unsatisfactory view of the world – most of the people I know don’t need a sales pitch to do their jobs, or to learn something to help them do that. Instead, they need to know that the thing they are learning is actually useful and necessary.

I think we should talk about WCIDWT (What can I do with that?).  If I have that knowledge or skill, what will I be able to do that I couldn’t before?

People are carrying all the information in the world around in their pockets – they don’t need to learn more, they need to be able to do more.  Just the fact that xAPI’s reporting format supports the idea of doing, of taking actions points us in the direction that we need to go.

Reason 3: They are building the shape as we speak

All the people who build the technology to support the work that we do are looking at xAPI and deciding how to implement it.  Right now, it can do almost anything, but the parameters of use are being constructed as you read this. If you aren’t part of the conversation, then you don’t get a vote.

This time around, instead of building this:

I’m hoping for something a little more like this:

  • Susan Jones

    Okay, but this is 100% geekspeak. Links to what it actually is would be useful.

  • “We need to follow them, rather than expecting them to come to us.”

    I heart you, Julie Dirksen.

  • Meganbowe

    Hi Susan, Here’s what xAPI is:

  • Gary R Tucker

    In the early days of the Mobile Learning movement it was all
    about getting smart phones or pads into the hands of learners and instructional
    designers developing Apps or taking existing Apps and designing ways to use
    them. The Mobile Learning movement has
    stagnated in so many ways because we are stuck in that paradigm. Tin
    Can could be the catalyst that ushers us into a new paradigm of Mobile

  • David Glow

    Simple, perfect way to get folks to understand why TinCan is such an opportunity.

    Thank you for putting this in a language I can share with everyone and they will get it. Instantly.

  • alishahrazad

    Glad to see the community embracing xAPI, couldn’t have described it better. Thanks Julie.

  • Excellent Julie, A clear description. I am woefully not up to speed on xAPI – it is on my list for this month. I find it exciting that similar to the metrics we work with in marketing (I know, don’t hate me), xAPI has the potential to help us understand what people want and need to perform and in turn create the connections and context for them to succeed! “We need to follow them, rather than expecting them to come to us.” indeed!

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  • Dave Ferguson

    Another aspect of “what you need to include in your course” is that the helpful person providing this unsolicited insight is often:
    – a manager who doesn’t actually do the job
    – a “subject-matter expert” who used to do the job
    – a consultant who could not, would not do the job
    – an organizational mandarin who’s trying to amortize the LMS or other technology that’s burning up financial resources like a 15-year-old crappy car burns oil

    (The technical term for that last requirement is “feeding the elephant” — maintenance of a very pale pachyderm.)

    And of course there are zealots with titles like “learning professional” who insist on Methodology X or Certified Workshop Y or Learning Style Z as the sine qua non for learning, which in turn is measured by contact time–either between instructor and prey… I mean, learner, or else between learner and seat.

    All of which is to say, xAPI or no, without the change in mindset represented by your “what can I [the individual who actually experiences grief when the job doesn’t get done] do with that?”

  • Hey Dave — that’s one of the reasons I’ve been thinking a lot about accomplishment-based structures — I think it’d keep the focus on the things what pass your “Hey Dad! I…” test. Cathy Moore’s action-mapping works too, of course 🙂

  • Hey Susan — I was thinking that most people would already be readers of the xAPI blog – my oversight. I should have put in a bit of explanation, but I’m glad Megan responded with the link. Thanks!

  • So pleased it was helpful for you!

  • No hating on the marketing, Stephen! I think we could learn a *lot* from the way that marketing measures consumer reactions.

  • Absolutely Gary — that’s actually my biggest concerns with xAPI — is that people will primarily try to figure out how to make it replace SCORM without taking advantage of all the other possibilities it provides.

  • Thanks!

  • 🙂

  • Greg Rider

    I’ve looked at xAPI and explored its website. What I seem to be missing is how xAPI is different than simply the learner posting on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter: “I completed this course.”

  • Thanks so much for an instructional design perspective on why xAPI is relevant. I had a discussion a few weeks ago with colleagues about training industry trends. When I noted a growing sense from learners that training isn’t necessary because “I can look it up on YouTube”, several people balked. I think a mindset like WCIDWT is essential to engaging an audience that has the knowledge of the world at their fingertips. And I’m thrilled to see xAPI come along to facilitate that shift.

  • Thanks for giving voice to my long standing dislike of WIIFM and replacing it with WCIDWT!

  • dfwenigma

    I want to advance a rather anti-establishment reason why I think M-Learning has stagnated. It puts technology in the center. Instructional Design begins with an analysis phase. That phase takes into account the business objectives, the learner, etc. The objective is: get something done. But is that a good objective? I think the failure of M-Learning (and let me say I think it failed just like many technology driven efforts) is that we call it instructional design (ID) when really M-Learning was built around Instructional development. Therein lies the rub. We spend far, far too much time on instructional development.

  • One of the use cases I found compelling on the Experience API site was how if SuperStarEmployee A has logged all their learning activities (reading article X, attending conference Y, speaking to group QRS, taking courses 1, 2, and 3, working in these kinds of positions, holds these four professional certifications and licensures, etc.), and that person gets promoted or has stellar sales numbers, they can say, “this is a course of action others may follow with similar results” — and they can do all this because they’re logged in a single place (like an LMS) and can be tracked/reported on, and then used as a model for others who wish to follow a similar path, for example.
    All this is unequal to posting on facebook that they completed a given course. More like a CV.

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