Five Steps for Learning Leaders to Get Started With Experience API

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"What's the best way to use the Experience API (xAPI) in our learning organization?" is a common question I am asked as a speaker and consultant in the learning and development industry. Sometimes the question is asked with excitement, other times it is asked with uncertainty and bewilderment.

The simple answer: It depends. It depends on what you're trying to accomplish, your learning organization’s business model and if you need to do things differently.

The great news is that getting started is not complicated and doesn’t require a sizable investment. It does, however, require some knowledge and planning, so let’s start with a little background.

What is the xAPI?

The Experience API (xAPI) is a new e-Learning technology that allows learning content and systems to speak to each other in a manner that records and tracks all types of learning experiences. Whereas past iterations of tracking types of technology—most notably Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM)—measured a learner’s progress through a specific course or set of courses, the xAPI has the ability to measure diverse learning experiences.

The results of these learning experiences are stored in a Learning Record Store (LRS), which may exist in a traditional Learning Management System (LMS), or on its own.

Why the xAPI is Important?

The Experience API doesn't require a learning experience to take place in a specific online or offline medium, application, or system to communicate results from these experiences. This gives learning leaders the flexibility to deliver learning experiences in creative ways (e.g. systems in the workflow, social communities, mobile applications) while still being able to record and analyze formal and informal learning data.

What’s Included in the xAPI Ecosystem?

The xAPI ecosystem can be generally categorized into authoring tools (e.g. Adobe, Articulate, Claro) where formal e-Learning experiences are created, employee applications (e.g. CRM, mobile, social) where learning experiences occur, Human Resources or Performance Management systems (e.g. HRIS, LMS) where data can be exchanged, and Learning Record Stores (LRS) where learning experiences are recorded by use of xAPI statements.

Each of these categories in the ecosystem will either automatically, or through the use of "connectors," send, track and report on learning experiences through xAPI statements.

That’s it; a new technology standard that gives learning leaders greater flexibility in delivering, measuring, and analyzing learning experiences. 

So to help answer the question "What is the best way to use xAPI in our organization?" here are five steps to getting started with xAPI:

1. Determine if there is a need: When deciding whether to adopt this new learning technology standard, the first thing is to determine if there is a need from a few key stakeholders.

Are employees asking to access information through mobile devices, tablets, or systems they already interact with? Is it a struggle to get employees to complete e-Learning modules? Do they prefer access to information on demand? Since the xAPI is a "behind-the-scenes" technology standard, it enables you the flexibility to deliver learning experiences where employees want them, and requires minimal to no employee actions.

Learning Leader
Implementing xAPI does require looking at learning experiences differently and expecting more than reporting on test scores and completions.

  • Are you searching for new ways to deliver, track, and analyze learning experiences?
  • Are you displeased with the way technology is hindering your ability to support learning everywhere?
  • Are you frustrated with trying to measure employee effectiveness after training is complete?
  • Would you like to provide actionable recommendations to leadership?

If the questions above resonate and you feel you can make a difference than you are on your way! If you answered no to these questions and are comfortable with the way things are, investing in the xAPI may not be worth your time and resources.

Executive Leader
Part of evolving an organization involves gaining executive leadership buy-in. This requires listening for key indicators:

  • Do they think training can be more effective?
  • Are they frustrated with employee performance?
  • Are they looking for more tangible results?
  • Are they asking for new training ideas?
  • Are they okay with reporting on completions and test scores?

Key indicators open the door for discussions on changing current tools and systems to comply with the xAPI standard. If executives only care only about completions and test scores than it is a tougher sell, but it can be done.

2. Inventory sources of employee learning and measurement: Understanding where employees are learning and the tools they frequently use helps develop a xAPI ecosystem map.

Identify and rank internal applications and systems (e.g. Yammer, SharePoint) and external sources (e.g. SkillSoft, YouTube) used by employees for informal learning, collaboration, and sharing. The focus here is on creating a high-level list where employees are naturally interacting.

For example, you might know that employees regularly access information in, so this would be a great place for them to engage in learning experiences and for you to better understand what they access, how often, and in what order to help shape new learning experiences.

3. Select what competencies, behaviors and measurements are important to track: One of the benefits of using xAPI is the ability to record data on behaviors or competencies in action.

This step focuses on discovering the most valuable behaviors to track and matching them to the applications and systems that the behaviors occur in (Step 2).

For example, data about service technicians’ use of an interactive troubleshooting checklist shows behavior on the job. This can be as simple as tracking one or two behaviors or more complex tracking of many behaviors for use in establishing mastery of a competency.

4. Evaluate whether tools are currently xAPI compatible or need a "connector": This step requires a little research and some technical expertise. The objective is to identify whether the applications and systems you’ve identified in step two and three are currently xAPI compatible or need a connecter to convert data to xAPI statements.

Fear not, simply asking a vendor whether they are xAPI compatible, have APIs, or allow plugins is a great start. For example, offers APIs and SharePoint allows plugins. The xAPI ecosystem is growing, but if preferred applications and systems are not xAPI compliant or don’t have an available connector, then one can usually be developed at minimal cost.

5. Start a small pilot and expand: Start small by choosing one or two high value applications or systems and begin reporting the data into a learning record store. This step allows you start browsing and analyzing learning data. Adjust what you’re measuring and add systems as you discover new and interesting things about learning in your organization.

You won’t have life-changing results on your first iteration, but with adjustments and time you will identify many possible uses of xAPI to help increase learning effectiveness.

Moving Away from L&D’s Conservative Roots

We ask our employees to take chances, learn from experience, and explore new ways of doing things, yet, as an industry, learning and training is very risk averse and conservative.

However, the new xAPI learning technology standard is an opportunity for learning leaders to get creative and explore new ways to deliver, track, and analyze learning. The five steps are an easy and cost effective way to get started.

Take a moment before you go back to work and ask yourself "What if we could?"

John Delano is CEO & Co-founder of Saltbox, a company that helps organizations analyze learning data to increase employee effectiveness. He has over 20 years of executive experience in learning development, consulting, and sales with companies such as AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile, and BayGroup International. He can be reached via email or on Twitter.