keysWe live in an increasingly knowledge-based economy, where talent is our most precious asset. So, imagine if we were just 10 percent better at improving the value of that asset and at improving the performance and productivity of our workforce.

There’s so much untapped potential in the L&D industry, which has been stagnant during the last 15 years. Why? Because we don’t have practical methods for measuring our progress to know whether the programs we develop are effectively changing behaviors and improving performance.

But, that’s changing thanks to the addition of learning data and analytics—which is the key to measuring results and developing a culture of continuous improvement that will drive L&D to fulfill its potential.

Broadening Our Horizons

How much of what you’ve learned has come from an e-learning course via an LMS? Probably not that much, right? So, if we believe in the value of creating a data-driven culture of continuous improvement, the immediate challenge we face is that learning happens everywhere—through countless channels, people, and other sources that can’t be tracked inside an LMS.

And now, thanks to emerging and evolving technology, we can track it and pull it all together. xAPI (a.ka., Tin Can API) is the key innovation making this possible. With xAPI, you can track any learning activity wherever it happens. A broad set of detailed learning and performance data can be collected in a Learning Record Store (LRS), which can then be easily analyzed to drive a culture of continuous improvement and demonstrate L&D’s impact on the organization.


xAPI: Past, Present & Future

Rustici Software maintains a list of nearly 200 xAPI-conformant providers on its website. Even though this self-reported list doesn’t include every xAPI-conformant provider, that’s still a lot of adoption. So, why doesn’t xAPI feel very “big” yet?

Let’s start by zooming out to understand the role of interoperability standards within an industry. Standards increase efficiency and enable mass markets. For instance, when everybody adopts a common protocol, vendors can adhere to that protocol and sell their products without needing to customize them each and every time.

Conversely, standards also can confine a market and the products available within an industry. Selling a product that requires more capability than what a standard offers can make selling that product extremely difficult and means that product can’t participate in the mass market.

In our world, the only standard we have is SCORM, which was created in 2000 and hasn’t evolved much since then. That means the vast majority of our market operates under a 17-year-old model!

Even though many well-known, established companies in our space have been quite successful with that legacy model, their products are still designed within (and confined to) that small, old box.

xAPI expands that box, removing the constraints of SCORM and introducing a modern model that takes advantage of all the technical progress we’ve seen during the last 17 years.

Companies that are successful “inside the box” may find that competing outside that box scary or disruptive. Legacy LMSs or e-learning course providers may find changing their models difficult. Plus, there’s little incentive for them to adopt xAPI, as their legacy products don’t take advantage of its enhanced capabilities.

On the other hand, there’s quite a lot of xAPI adoption happening amongst many small, innovative, and agile startup companies.

Customers at large companies are starting to take note. Between 2013 and 2014, we heard a lot of hype about Tin Can and saw a lot of proof-of-concept implementations and prototypes. During 2015 and 2016, we saw a lot of companies conducting pilot implementations to see if an xAPI/LRS model would work in real organizations.

In 2017, we are going to start hearing about the company implementations that have been deployed at scale. We’re also going to start seeing case studies of large organizations that have moved to LRS-centric ecosystems powered by xAPI (out of frustration with their legacy LMSs, poor learner experience, and bad customer support). These companies are directing their procurement efforts toward the small, responsive vendors who are forging the next generation of learning systems.

xAPI’s market penetration still has a way to go to achieve widespread adoption, but the technology and providers are ready for mainstream adoption.


What’s an LRS?

Originally conceived by Rustici Software during the initial Project Tin Can research, an LRS was “the part of the LMS that tracks who has done what.” As the term grew in popularity, it took on a life of its own, and people started envisioning standalone LRSs that could serve as the hub of a next-generation learning ecosystem.

An LRS is now defined in the xAPI specification as “a server (i.e., system capable of receiving and processing web requests) that is responsible for receiving, storing, and providing access to learning records.”

You can use an LRS to track all your training and learning data, no matter where it occurs or how it’s initiated. Because learning happens everywhere, an LRS-centric model encourages you to use a wide range of amazing tools and resources to provide the best educational experiences for your learners.

An LRS often can ingest data about behaviors and performance, which allows you to perform powerful analytics about whether the training you’re delivering is actually affecting business outcomes.


Three Types of LRS

The emerging LRS market is shaping up to have three LRS product categories:

  1. Embedded LRS. This LRS is typically part of another system. It often adds xAPI functionality to an LMS or a sophisticated learning experience provider. (Example: Rustici Software’s Engine)
  2. Data Storage LRS. The primary role of this LRS aligns with the technical definition from the xAPI specification; it receives, stores, and provides access to learning records via xAPI. These systems are primarily technical tools with an interface designed for technical people. (Example: Learning Locker)
  3. Learning Analytics Platform. ALAP is a tool that contains an LRS, but layers a rich reporting and analytics toolset on top of it. A LAP is designed for learning professionals and facilitates robust analysis of all the data collected by xAPI. (Example: Watershed)


Building a Culture of Continuous Improvement

If L&D adopts a culture of continuous improvement, driven by data and analytics, we’ll have an enormous impact on our companies and on the world. That’s why it’s critical we start using data, not just to measure learning, but to link learning to performance.