xAPI and the Interoperable Ecosystem: Are You Dreaming? Open Learning Specification News Roundup

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Imagine a world where every learning counted. Every new fact you now know, every concept you now grasp, every rule you now follow. A device attached to you keeps track of all this. It feeds a personal system, a detailed history of your learning throughout your life. Meanwhile, you build a better understanding of what it is that you want to know more about. Which skills you are most keen to master. As you build clearer learning goals, the system sorts your history by “Competencies.” It has a way to link every learning action you have taken to the Competencies it helps. A link either based on a certain, preset theory; or on a statistical model that adapts and improves over time. The results of your performance and assessments also feed the file. As a result, you know the best actions for your learning goals at each time.

An ecosystem of teachers, learners, designers and developers will be able to use your data. That’s if you allow it, and in ways that guarantees safety and privacy to the state of the art’s ability. Your learning history can laser-focus the education of resource-deprived learners in the world. And the best insights on pedagogy and technology will be at your disposal as well. You will always own your data, decide who will use them and how.

Sounds good? Too good to be true?

The bad news is: It currently is. As this stage this world is largely hypothetical.

The good news: Less and less so with each passing day.

Recent developments are opening the way for efforts to organize the world’s learning. The road is not smooth, riddled with big technical challenges as well as petty squabbles. But as good ideas evolve and popularize, tired assumptions fade too. The most important one: A growing interest for decentralization. People want more autonomy over their feeds, their data, their algorithms. A call for Open Source to play a bigger role, but one where evidence precede success.

A brief history of interconnecting everything

There is a key difference between xAPI and previous attempts to bridge all learning and LMS Data. This time, many companies are betting their future on it. Also known as “Experience API” or by an attempt of a genericized trademark, its goal is not far from LTI’s or SCORM’s. But if previous attempts focused on the specifications, xAPI brought along the LRS. Learning Record Stores, as tech-agnostic, data-focused technologies, give xAPI a purpose beyond syntax.

For a brief moment it seemed xAPI’s fate would follow that of previous attempts. (In no small part due to the cult-like proselitism from many believers, yours truly included.) It might stay alive for a while, a few years even. But hype and maketing budgets would soon fade. Some of the most visible advocates were the ones telling us. The marketplace is not excited, and there is no way to see it getting on it anytime soon.

Lambda Solutions, Zoola Analytics, And The Curious Case Of xAPI Underachievement

It seemed that we were looking in the wrong direction for a while.
-Sometimes you don’t need marketing to keep something alive. If it’s up to the U.S. Department of Defense, xAPI will remain active as a strategic asset. Even if nobody knows about it.

Amid Low Adoption, DoD R&D Will Keep xAPI Alive And That’s Good News

Today, xAPI is a technology in need of both awareness and demystification. It is a language, simpler than English, with reasonable rules. (Check out this handy official xAPI Statement builder.) It helps store data as statements that read like simple tense sentences. These and other clear facts are key to make xAPI look appealing and non-threatening. Still scattered, efforts big and small to spread xAPI are ongoing. Its pace of adoption likely to pick up at a moment’s notice. One thing it certain: It has never been easier to make your EdTech xAPI-ready.

How To Make Your EdTech Product xAPI Compliant

Going forward: Is all learning Analytics?

There is a couple of pieces missing in this puzzle. Better and more forceful marketing. More (or a first?) successful business case. Adoption that extends beyond the EdTech bubble. Why no big game or entertainment studio has paid xAPI enough attention?

The community, if there’s one to speak of, must also brace for rapid adoption. And the many issues it would spark, among which we can include:

  • An explosion of variations over the standard syntax. Many vendors already have their own xAPI “flavors.” While borne out of good intentions, they could jeopardize the very interoperability.
  • Limited availability of xAPI skillsets. This is especially critical among teachers, for whom time constraints is a big hurdle. But maybe not as big as mindsets or organizational culture.
  • A mismatch between solutions and demand across the chain, from strategy to assessment. Or we could end up with dozens of tools, but only few xAPI-ready authoring apps. Or robust LRS with limited LMS compatibility.

Which brings us to a poignant threat: Under the current technology, the top LMS seem the weakest link in xAPI. Open or propietary, most do not provide xAPI understanding out-of-the box. In Moodle, the only open tool available is the Logstore xAPI plugin. Its maintenance comes courtesy of JISC, a private digital education entity in the UK. Or it used to. Last November, they announced new versions of the plugin would no longer be released. At least until Moodle HQ restores the ability to automate plugin updates. Blackboard also relies on proprietary, third-party tools. Canvas LMS and Sakai have little development, thinly documented to show for it.

As troublesome as it may be, one of the most heartening news for xAPI came from a Moodle Partner. eThink Education and HT2Labs, developers of Open Souce LRS, LearningLocker, sealed an agreement. This will offer seamless integration for eThink’s customers.

But there is perhaps a hidden gem which can help offset most, is not all the risks. A new wave of instructional designers, who can add an “xAPI layer” to the content teachers use. They can take advantage of already compliant authoring tools, H5P the most notable. Or adding small tweaks to ordinary content. Then data collection can begin en masse. The icing on the cake? Properly designed and Teachers can be spared from most of the technical hoops.

Building This Missing xAPI Layer Will Make You Rich If You Figure Out How

Interoperability and Open Ecosystem news roundup

We will continue to follow the most important threads, subtopics and actors. Ask us for more specific info, or send us a tip!

xAPI thought leader Megan Torrance continues her quest to educate, inspire and onboard more patient zeroes. Namely, instructional designers. Her latest training materials offers sound xAPI skills as much as a detailed game plan.

CEO of LearningLocker developer HT2 Labs, Ben Betts, talks LXPs. (LMS by another name?) Learning Experience Platforms seems to grab the company’s focus from its Open Source LRS, reportedly the most popular today. “We don’t really know who uses it,” Betts tells.

Proprietary LRS Watershed makes a similar claim. Part of the origin of xAPI itself, at present time it features zoom in charts, better search and more controls for heatmaps.

Moodle Workplace, the LRS? The upcoming non-open corporate product teases an “internal Learning Record DataStore (LRD).” Was the change in the acronym deliberate? Brian Carlson, CEO of the largest Moodle Partner, eThink Education, seems to have confirmed Moodle will not provide full-blown LRS capabilities, but it might include a LRS-inspired feature or two.

Following its partnership with neighbor eThink, creator of the “most visual LRS” Yet Analytics showcases updates to its flagship Store. New default dashboards and sandboxes, and a “Stacked Leaderboard Data Card” are notable features. Find a Yet Analytics LRS demo here.

Turning on to xAPI authoring tools, H5P does not take the endless praise for granted. It has debuted new exciting interactive types: Branching Scenario and 360 Video. xAPI compatibility also continues to expand, in what the team has called “the biggest release ever for H5P.”

H5P is not the only popular tool with xAPI capabilities. Users of Articulate Storyline can follow this guide, released last January, to generate xAPI statements and connect to an LRS.

Moonami LogoThis Moodle Technology related post is made possible by: Moonami a company that provides a full range of Moodle services that combine the flexibility, scalability, and power of Amazon’s world-leading cloud platform (AWS) with fanatical Moodle support. Click here to learn more.

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