For those of you that attended the 2016 DevLearn show, you may recall that xAPI was everywhere as organizations started to look at moving from meaningless to meaningful performance metrics.
It finally felt that xAPI was about to go mainstream. One year on, and xAPI has indeed gone mainstream in the intervening months; however that increased adoption has not been without its problems.
So, having just about managed to settle back in from a whirlwind trip to Vegas for DevLearn 2017, I wanted to share my experiences from the show and highlight some of those issues – and how organizations might go about rectifying, or better yet, avoiding them altogether…
xAPI is Going Now Mainstream
At Learning Pool (formerly HT2 Labs), we have been beating the xAPI drum for a long time. So long in fact, that sometimes it feels like it is never going to be as widespread or as widely adopted as the SCORM specification has been.
We speak with a lot of people who get it and a good number of them want to use it. But there’s actually only a relatively small number of organizations (at least compared to the numbers using SCORM) who actually take the next step and work it into their workflow.
But DevLearn 2017 was different.
xAPI is Actually Being Deployed
A lot of the conversations we have had at other shows this year revolve around what xAPI does differently, why organizations should want to use it, and how they can pitch it internally to gain wider support.
There are of course a lot of organizations that have been using xAPI for a while now, but they tend to fall in the early adopter category – with only the most forward-thinking of of organizations and learning professionals trying out a technology they identified as being important to their future success.
xAPI was still broadly thought of as ‘novel’ by the majority, even within a lot of the organizations that had already deployed an LRS: Not many saw xAPI as just the way that data is recorded in a modern learning ecosystem, which would be a clear sign of the technology moving out of the early adopters and into the early majority section of the adoption curve.
This year, we spoke with a lot of people that already knew the benefits of xAPI and how to use it, and wanted to show off what they were doing or to ask us how they could expand beyond whatever project they had already set up.
With our recent release of Learning Locker Open Source v2, we had countless discussions around with people discussing how they had installed an LRS, connected data, and were delivering actual reports to their stakeholders using it.
It was fantastic! We were able to advise on things like which activity providers might be useful, how to connect data to outside BI tools such as Tableau or PowerBI, and talk about what new reporting capabilities would actually matter to people.
That sense of action carried over to DemoFest where I counted a minimum of 4 presentations using xAPI in one form or another. In fact, one of my favorite moments was seeing a demonstration that was using the Open Source Edition of Learning Locker and knowing that we (Learning Pool (formerly HT2 Labs)) had not worked with that person at all on that project.
As much as we enjoy helping others get up and running with xAPI, it was wonderful to see somebody able successfully set-up a complex implementation of Learning Locker and collect data useful and interesting enough that they would present to a room of hundreds of people, all without having to reach out to us at all.
In fact, one of the complaints we heard from various people is that a lot of the sessions and pre-show workshops focused on evangelizing xAPI rather than hard and fast examples and instructions that they could execute on when they got home.
People already understood why they wanted to use xAPI, they wanted to learn how.
xAPI’s Capabilities are Being Explored
The flip side of more people using a technology, is that more edges are found and people ‘just want it to work’. Innovators and early adopters don’t mind tinkering, but the majority group is not looking at xAPI as a fun project, but rather as a tool that can help their business.
And so we heard from those people the issues they were having, which tended to fall into two buckets:
- The first, unsurprising, bucket of questions and issues were around how to connect with xAPI
- But the second set – security concerns – were rather surprising to us; not because we were unaware of them, but because we heard it repeated so much – whereas only a handful of people have ever brought it up with us before.
How to Connect with xAPI
Many people right off the bat want to start integrating tools that are not yet xAPI compliant. And while cmi5 (another topic that came up repeatedly, showing people were moving beyond just the basics) promises to make those connections easier, the truth is a lot of platforms have not yet jumped on board the xAPI standard.
Some of these companies are taking a wait-and-see approach. Others are actively working on solutions. Others still are doing everything they can to NOT support xAPI as they see it as a threat and there is one LMS platform in particular that takes this approach which came up over and over again (but that’s a post for another time).
And while you can connect to non-xAPI enabled platform (in fact, every one of our Enterprise LRS plans include us providing at least 1 such integration), the fact is that is that it doesn’t ‘just work’. Fortunately, that is something that will likely sort itself out as platforms and 3rd party integrators make those connections happen sooner than later.
xAPI Security Concerns
The sheer volume of people raising these issues was surprising to us – not because we have not considered them before (and indeed worked with clients to mitigate such issues), but because we have never heard some many different people bring it up to us in so many different ways.
Although it may seem odd to say so, this too was fantastic! It proved to us people were beyond questioning whether they should use xAPI and had moved onto questioning how they would use xAPI correctly, for their use case and their restrictions.
This was another sign that xAPI had moved to the early majority group and beyond those early adopters who were just happy to tinker.
While we were thrilled to get the questions that we did this year, that is not to say we had the answer to every issue on the spot. Indeed, some of these problems are complex, and a lot of these conversations will be on-going.
While some of these issues can and will be solved on a case-by-base basis, we – as an LRS vendor – know we need to make it ‘just work’ to keep the momentum going on xAPI.
There Is More Work To Do
If you spoke with any of the HT2 people – Ben, Nicole, or myself – at DevLearn, I hope we inspired and helped you as much as you did us. We had a great conversation Friday by the pool on what making it ‘just work’ would look like for some of the unique use cases we were presented.
Some of that work we will handle as an LRS provider. Some of the work will be done by the xAPI community continuing to improve on standard. And some of that work will be done by the platforms that want to bring their reporting capabilities up to scratch.
At Learning Pool (formerly HT2 Labs), one of our key aims is to help organizations do things for the first time: we are a Place of Firsts. So although we can’t guarantee we’ll be able to help you on the spot – as many of your ideas and issues will be new to us – we will do all we can to help you achieve your own ‘Learning Firsts’.
To talk further about xAPI and/or Learning Locker and they can help transform your business please reach out any time.