Your LACE reporter Fabrizio Cardinali, CEO Skillaware, live from DevLearn 2015, MGM Grand Las Vegas
Don’t worry…be XAPI !
That was the tune this year at DevLearn Conference & Expo, a learning technologies event held annually at the MGM Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. DevLearn is known to draw the leading learning technologies vendors, developers and technical opinion-makers from all around the world to celebrate innovation in learning technologies. In that respect, this year’s event was no different. I will note, however, that amongst the 1000+ attendees, you could spot only a few belonging to the always-experimenting EU research and the always-developing Asian government groups (a noticeable reduction compared to the multi-ethnic presence at DevLearn in former years).
Starting from a full house at pre-conference workshop “XAPI-Camp” (despite a 500 USD additional charge to attend) well organised by Megan Bowe and Aarron Silvers from makingbetter.us, to several well-positioned hot spot speeches at the main conference, to the long list of vendor exhibitions during the 2-day expo, and finally at the 50+ tables and projects showcased at DemoFest, XAPI was “the thing” to have at DevLearn last week.
Much like in the early days of SCORM-inflated abuse, XAPI turned out to be the sole common denominator to make platform vendors, corporate buyers, and service and content providers realize that, yes, they will need interoperability standards in order to make the corporate learning ecosystem they all dream of a reality.
“XAPI-compliant” was the magic phrase this year, making top gear corporate buyers smile and nod their heads when demoed new solutions, though of course no one informed them that in reality there is no body available (yet) entitled to (fully) certify such compliancy…
As a long-time learning standards rider and recurring learning technologies start-upper, I myself thought “XAPI readiness” was the natural thing to add in the top line of our glossy new corporate brochure prepared for the U.S. launch of our (insistently European) new LT solution at the event (Skillaware™, an innovative performance support and learning analytics platform blending XAPI, DITA and BPMN-based interoperability standards to support rapid and enterprise-scale workforce on-boarding during the rollout of new software platforms and procedures).
SO, what was the worry after all such XAPIness?
Well, what concerned me was the intrinsic questionable nature of LT standards…OK, I know XAPI is still just a spec as long as ISO, CEN or at least IEEE don’t elevate it to an official standard, but it might just as well be dead before finishing the 5 to 10-year standardization roadmap that would require anyway. So let’s agree to call it a “candidate” de facto standard for the time being.
First of all, some think learning standards are an oxymoron. I don’t fall in this category. Reason being that, as a solution vendor, I tend to favor the technical interoperability aspect of LT standards over the pedagogical one underpinning the solution, which by definition should continuously adapt itself to learning situations and learner needs rather than standardize itself.
In the (technical) sense, XAPI is a huge leap forward from SCORM. Its intent is to reduce everything to a simple yet all-encompassing, highly granular triplet using nouns, verbs and objects, which any “data producer” can share with others consuming it, describing what is happening around the (learning) world in which the learner is performing.
In terms of being capable of tracking any user doing whatsoever, from reading an article in an e-Book to entering a (physical) classroom to utilizing a performance support aid while using a software tool (…and if the latter sounds like Skillaware’s SkillAgent™, you’re right!), XAPI has made great effort in fine-tuning the monitoring, evaluation and analysis of learning in the real world, not to mention evidence and outcomes related to it.
In fact, XAPI’s triplet statements can be sent to any 2nd party repositories, called learning record stores. They can also be sent (and here is the magic) to any independent 3rd party consumers wishing to track and analyze user activity and performances in real-time, not only so they can offer better and more appropriate buying or traveling advice, but also in order to better adapt the surrounding (eco)systems and solutions, all towards the goal of continuous performance appraisal and improvement.
So where are the cons?
The issue is that because the concept is so useful and simple, it will become attractive to any vertical, along the lines of how the first generation specs of LT interoperability (e.g. Content Packaging and Learning Design) became very interesting to the (then) emerging e-Publishing and social networking markets.
But…and yes, there is a but…while other digital market saw success and a tenfold increase in market share, none of the first generation LT standards (nearly all of which, by the way, were invented and funded in the EU) made it to the mainstream digital market, aside from a niche adoption for LT interoperability. EPUB, MPEG and many others have been hugely far more successful than LT specs, despite the fact that they were more limited in terms of the initial intent and capability of their inventors and developers.
While it advances, XAPI will become both a huge opportunity and threat for the learning technologies industry, its stakeholders and their everlasting quest to become (truly) mainstream in the digital kingdom.
With the advent of XAPI, digital learning can now migrate everywhere and everywhere can potentially offer learning experiences.
At the same time, however, anyone will be able to claim to favor learning the right way. And in the end, the muscle power of the endorsing stakeholders, the public support and backing of initiatives, and finally the overall satisfaction of the end buyers will make the real difference on how fast a spec will be accepted, aligned and made mainstream. Hopefully, the market remains open and not in the hands of a single vendor.
Despite ADL is increasingly backing up what seems the next generation for learning technologies interoperability amongst its providers and XAPI is building up its best status for having that stewardship managed, LT communities are still arguing how to pass from mock-ups and pilots to real-field applications: there is a long road ahead and many miles remain to be crossed (e.g. the means to access registries of shared verbs vocabularies amongst all).
And what if someone wakes up and just gets it done, while we LT professionals continue debating and questioning as usual?
What will happen if eventually the Ciscos and Huaweis of IoT will agree that standardizing user activity tracking with and amongst their IoT magic boxes is not a bad idea after all? Or if the Siemens and Rockwells of the industrial world start understanding the crucial value of learning analytics interoperability to empower the rapid and extensive learning curve their smart manufacturing plants underpin?
They might just do it and blow the lid off of the LT industry while it sits and questions instead of uniting, taking action and implementing without again arguing if XAPI is really the best format for exchanging (learning) analytics.
After all, it does not matter if what you are proposing to track is a “learning” activity by anyone else’s definition. If you are able to standardize and showcase the way you track interactions across different vendors of the value chain, be it with an e-Book or entering into a physical or virtual (class)room, you have a gold mine of opportunity ahead.
Smart standards, after all, are still developed by (smart) humans. And smart technicians tend to protect, preserve and show off their work, rather than converge and align to embrace someone else’s achievement.
Learning & Development departments across corporate America are feeling the pressure to improve their HR performance appraisal and improvement processes, but they are still far less stressed compared to their manufacturing or retail counterparts. And signals are that the latter will act upon user activity tracking and analytics exchange standardisation much faster and much more unite than learning stakeholders which are delaying action as usual, arguing on if and what is better to embrace.
LT standards can’t afford such delay, nor can they afford the sort of brotherhood-killing dualism we lived in the SCORM-IMS days. Believe me when I say that the question is not who is going to survive between XAPI or Caliper or whatever the different learning communities might think of…. The question is if “learning” will survive “analytics” if IoT and cyber physical become mainstream before the LT industry takes action.
At the end, the winner takes all. I’t might take learning too.