Tin Can and the future of tracking learning

Tin Can and the future of tracking learning

As a blended specialist we have been keeping an interested eye on Tin Can, the standard that is set to replace SCORM and finally allow blended to become as seamless as our multi device, multi-platform lives.

A lot has been said about Tin Can in the e-learning and learning tech community but its merits have not been embraced by the wider L&D community. This is a shame as it presents a great opportunity for enriched learning in the modern working environment.

Tin Can API (or  Experience API) allows on and offline learning to be tracked cohesively in one learning record, a highly attractive feature in our multi device, networked world where teams are disparate, stretched but reliant on great training.

This blog is therefore written to introduce Tin Can, xAPI to a wider L&D audience and propose why it is different from other frameworks such as SCORM.

What is an API?

Tin Can is an API which stands for application programming interface. An API acts as the conduit for two systems to talk to each other.

What is Tin Can?

Tin Can is an API that allows learning experiences to be recorded and tracked and reported on from different devices, both on and offline.  This makes it a natural replacement for SCORM which has become highly popular as an e-learning standard and one of the few that became known in the wider L&D world as oppose to the technical e-elearning and digital specialists in the learning sector.

Tin Can is different in that it is capable of encompassing offline experiences alongside online training, creating a new and amazing opportunity for capturing learning journeys.

Why do we need Tin Can?

SCORM, and perhaps AICC, are standards you are likely to know if you are tasked with buying, briefing or administering e-learning content that sits on a learning management system (LMS).

The original AICC was not purpose built for e-learning. It came from a training committee working within aviation. It had various iterations as digital became more mainstream. SCORM was ultimately launched as the web matured but aside from an update in 2004, it never kept pace with how the web was evolving or how we were beginning to use and interact with digital devices.

SCORM cannot easily track activity that occurs outside an LMS, rendering it meaningless in such a multi device world where people want to do training on their commute or outside of the office but where organisations still need to track learning progress. This makes it almost redundant in a world where tablets and smartphones are crucial and increasingly used to access sophisticated web content. Analytics show that mobile browsing in increasing year by year with some websites reporting up to 70% of their overall traffic coming from a mobile device.

The rise of cloud storage and the ability to have courses accessible on demand has also rendered the existing standards as inefficient for modern use. However, some LMS’s have been placed in the cloud but this should lead to users being able to access courses wherever and whenever they want.

This has in part, been made possible through organisations becoming more comfortable with having lots of content in a wide range of places rather than fixed behind a firewall where systems can’t talk to each other. Removing such fixed firewalls opens up the flexibility of the systems and the ability for different systems communicate and in doing so, creating the possibility of tracking a consistent learning journey from a range of different places.

Perhaps, the most important point about the current standards is that they only apply to e-learning which is placed on a LMS with all tracking done within the LMS. This does not take in to consideration any of the myriad of ways that an individual might take on learning, all of which can build up to an effective blended learning experience. Tin Can has the ability of taking offline experiences and learning and track it alongside traditional face to face formalised learning and online e-learning as well as social learning etc. For the first time, all learning outside of an LMS can be tracked as one consistent learning journey.

What makes Tin Can different?

Tin Can is designed to evolve more than SCORM and other standards but there are certain things that will be evident from other standards straight away.

With Tin Can xAPI, content can be hosted anywhere including e-learning which no longer has to be necessarily part of your LMS. You can point to it. This makes externally hosted content from other suppliers now trackable, potentially opening up far more content from other providers.

You don’t need a full LMS or need to launch the course from a LMS in order to track it. A learning record store (LRS), which is not tied to an LMS, can be utilised instead.

Any activity that can output a Tin Can or xAPI statement can be launched from anywhere. This introduces the opportunity of apps which make the user experience enriched when using a tablet or smartphone.

Tin Can allows activities to be tracked without having to be previously programmed in to an LMs. Learners can therefore choose their own content and construct their own learning journey in addition to those prescribed by management or mandatory to their role.

What does Tin Can mean for learners?

For an individual, the biggest advantage is that, for the first time, the user will own their own learning data and will be able to post up things that they have experienced or completed regardless of where the activity took place. This allows a scalable learning log which will be useful for accreditations such as continuing professional development (CPD). It may also be useful to show future employers in much the same way as a CV is currently used to show working history.

The obvious result of moving to a Tin Can standard will be an increase in the amount of data that will be collected via a wide range of channels, devices, both on and offline.  The challenge is then how we manage to process this data.

This will be reliant on certain channels allowing a Tin Can output but this will surely happen as the standard become known.  For example, podcasts, journal articles, kindle files, videos, online courses may include an output.

What sort of information can be recorded in Tin Can?

Like AICC and SCORM, xAPI records time, completion status, score and pass/fail but it can also record experiences; a game changer over e-learning.

This works on an actor-verb-object statement format. SO in addition to something like Bob completed the course, Tin Can will also allow statements such as Bob read an article or Bob listened to a podcast or Bob visited a conference.

This opens up the opportunity of racking an almost endless number of potential experiences being trackable as part of a learning journey.

How much is Tin Can being supported?

Tin Can is out there and is currently being utilised by some technical teams who are exploring its potential. It will only reach this potential if it can be embraced by the wider L&D community and become a part of an accepted specification for blended learning programmes.

For this to happen, those tasked with briefing and buying such programmes need to have confidence in specifying it from their suppliers. For this to happen, there needs to be a wider organisational acceptance that SCORM has moved on and no longer represents the best of breed approach to tracking. For example, some LMS’s may be the remit of hardened IT staff who need to be enlightened and buy in to the wider potential rather than being reluctant in having to learn and use yet another framework.

Until Tin Can wins such hearts and minds throughout all areas of L&D, IT and senior management teams, it will struggle to reach this potential. This may be accelerated by new ways of presenting the outputs in things like dashboards. This will graphically demonstrate the journey and the effectiveness of the standard that will then encourage it to be an ongoing part of the spec for learning content and technology.

Most of the main e-learning authoring tools allow Tin Can statements and some native iOS apps allow content to track rather than the LMS.

It is still early days but in time it will replace SCORM and true multi-device and multi-experience tracking will become not only a reality but a natural, accepted convention reflecting at last how we really learn.