xAPI: Where It’s Come From, and Where It’s Going Next (in 2017)

25 January 2017 by Ben Betts

Is there anything quite so unoriginal as a blog written in January about the year that was?  Fortunately I never claimed to be original.

As we look back on 2016, the report card for xAPI looks pretty good. Gone are the ‘must try harder’ comments of previous years, replaced instead with a steady-stream of innovations, implementations and improvements.

Overwhelmingly I feel like 2016 was the year xAPI started to move from a ‘programmer-only’ adoption phase and into some more mainstream places where non-developers could start doing things. This was particularly evident at the DevLearn 2016 conference, where a packed program of xAPI sessions played out to standing-room only audiences.

On the governance side some big leaps were taken; an updated version of the spec was delivered, an alliance with IMS Global to bring the two sides to the table around the potential convergence of xAPI and Caliper was forged and progress was made on some foundational pieces in semantic interoperability. ADL also did a review post recently (told you this wasn’t a very original idea!) summarising much of the work that’s been done.

One area we’ve been particularly interested in is certification and the conformance piece – what does it take to be a certified Learning Record Store? Well, thanks to some great work in 2016 it looks like 2017 will be the year certification makes its way into production, courtesy of the newly formed Data Interoperability Standards Consortium (DISC).

Growth In The Marketplace

There are a number of signs, both anecdotal and quantifiable, that the marketplace for xAPI technology is growing. For instance, our Learning Technology Manager’s Guide to xAPI was our most popular free resource of 2016 in terms of downloads. We only released it with about 6 weeks of the year remaining.

Venture Capital started flowing into some of the xAPI early movers: Watershed LRS raised in excess of $3m, Rustici was sold for $30m and Yet Analytics has raised more than $2m. Not insignificant amounts of funds for vendors specialising in a technical specification in the learning space.

One of the key metrics the VCs of this world look towards is the traction a product has with end users. Well, if we’re anything to go by, this last 12 months has shown that traction in droves.

The amount of data we are storing on behalf of enterprise customers has risen exponentially. In one of our Datacentres we processed 1TB of just xAPI data between by between January 1st and January 15th. That’s quite a lot of statements for a couple weeks work.

Those same VCs will also be interested in Monthly Recurring Revenues of our xAPI products. (They tripled last year, since you asked 🙂 )

This increased level of interest and traction is starting to show fruits in terms of use cases and value delivered to clients. Our most high-profile project, our work with Jisc, has significantly lowered the barriers to adoption for UK universities looking to implement better student retention systems based on predictive models.

A conservative estimate would suggest non-continuation costs UK universities something in the region of £300m each year in churned tuition fees. This is a significant problem globally, not just in the UK. By releasing much of the technology and infrastructure involved Open Source, Jisc are priming the marketplace to challenge the recent rises in these figures.

This is a billion dollar problem being addressed by moving towards standardising activity data using xAPI and establishing a single source of data contained using a Learning Record Store. And this is just one example of how xAPI can be useful in the real world.

Is xAPI Adoption Fast or Slow?

I’m still challenged from time-to-time to counter the assertion that xAPI adoption has been slow, or that the specification is some sort of fad that will fade away (flipped classroom anyone?).

On the contrary, I believe the adoption rate of xAPI is probably unprecedented in our industry. SCORM didn’t really get a kick up the arse until the Department of Defense issued an instruction to use SCORM in 2006 (that’s 9 years after it was first released).

DoD only issues instructions when it believes a technology has reached sufficient maturity to support mass use. And right now, an update to that 2006 instruction is coming down the line with xAPIs name on it (see https://www.adlnet.gov/dodi/ for more details). Look for this to be made official in 2017.

As it’s just 3 years since version 1.0 of the xAPI specification, I think it’s fair to say we’ve come along quickly. Three times faster than previous similar initiatives to be really precise.

That isn’t to say that the xAPI is perfect or that there isn’t a lot more work to be done. There is a huge amount of work to be done, not only in conformance and certification, but most importantly in improving the semantic interoperability (the way we talk about data, using data) of the xAPI.

Where we are increasingly encouraging companies and institutions to adopt more complex methods of storing and analysing activity data, so we must also take responsibility to ensure that the data collected is connected, meaningful and reusable. There isn’t enough of this right now.

Join the Movement

If you’re interested in finding out more about the work that DISC are doing, visit the DISC website. You’ll also find further details about how to get involved in the xAPI community (such as where to find the next xAPI Camp), on the Connections Forum website.

And finally, if you’re generally looking to get started with the xAPI and/or finding a suitable LRS for your organisation’s needs, then download our Learning Technology Manager’s Guide to xAPI for all the advice you need.

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Ben Betts
Chief Product Officer

Ben Betts was one of the founders of HT2 Labs and his work with the company helped to define the ‘next generation’ of workplace digital learning platforms. Under Ben’s direction, HT2 Labs were amongst the first to put gamification into a Learning Experience Platform. They were the first to really grasp how social learning could be applied in the workplace. And HT2 Labs were the first to release an enterprise-ready Learning Record Store.

As Chief Product Officer, his focus is now on developing Learning Pool’s product portfolio and strategy. For the wider industry, he’s also focused on helping companies learn from employees’ collective experiences, on the role of self-directed learning in the workplace and on social learning, gamification and xAPI.

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