xAPI is not magic: VIII - Implications for IDs and Conclusion

By jPablo Caballero | January 23, 2017

xAPI holds great potential for Instructional Designers. Hopefully, as xAPI matures, they will have to worry less and less (or nothing at all) about the technical details.

A specification that is born in the L&D community and that focuses on stating and recording facts about experiences -mostly learning experiences- shoud naturally pique the interest of Instructional Designers. However, xAPI is really a technical specification, and for a long time discussions have centered mainly on technical issues. Some IDs have expressed concern about this, feeling a bit uncertain as to how they can take advantage of xAPI. Fortunately, as xAPI gains greater adoption and the technical side of things mature, it is becoming easier for non-technical to get involved in xAPI initiatives.

In many organizations Instructional Designers have a hybrid ID + Developer role, using rapid authoring tools to develop eLearning modules, but they usually don’t have programming skills. Indeed, this is extremely common. The traditional team has been replaced by an ID that -in many cases- has to do everything. Authoring tools are already getting up to speed with xAPI, IDs can expect to find options to publish with xAPI tracking in some way or another. So, in these types of scenarios, a solo ID/Developer developing traditional eLearning modules (so to speak) with these tools, should not find much difficulty in applying xAPI.

However, a more interesting potential of xAPI for IDs is that can help them get feedback faster about how their learning strategies and contents are working, thus enabling shorter design/implementation/improvement cycles. Also, the ID will need to think more about the data that needs to be reported and why, and what indicators or patterns should the data analysis team look for. The more interesting xAPI applications will push Instructional Designers, and will probably require a lot more communication and cooperation with the technical, business and data analysis areas of the organization.


Here is a quick review of the the main points addressed in this series of posts about xAPI potential and reality:

  • xAPI is a specification. A set of rules on what behaviors to implement in certain systems. It is not a piece of software, so it does not do this, or that.
  • xAPI indicates how to express and transport data in a very concrete, yet incredibly flexible, way. Data must first be gathered so it can later be expressed and transported as the xAPI spec prescribes. But the act of gathering data is the responsibility of the system that is to be integrated in the xAPI environment. In xAPI parlance, that system is the Activity Provider which is, most likely, a learning experience.
  • With xAPI, the records of activities (statements) can be generated at one point in time, and stored later, at a different point in time. This makes it possible to track things that are happening while the system has no connection to the Internet. However, xAPI just makes it possible, it doesn’t do it per se. It is the responsiblity of the system to implement that functionality (check the connection, and buffer the statements locally if no connection is available, and send them when the connection is re-established).
  • With xAPI, it is possible to express activities that are not digital (interactions in the classroom, etc.) However, the expression itself (the statement) is digital, by definition, so there must be a system somewhere that allows somobedy to enter or create the statement in a digital form.
  • To correlate learning data with performance data, it is necessary to have gathered and stored both types of data. If you are only gathering learning data from learning modules, and nothing else, there’s no way you can correlate that with performance data, because you don’t have it. xAPI cannot work miracles.
  • LRSs and LMSs are totally different types of systems. When they are implemented as separate/independent systems, one does not replace the other. Also, they can be integrated (the most likely case is that the LMS implements LRS functionality too).
  • It is theoretically feasible to imagine that individuals could own their personal LRSs and control their experience data. In practice, however, it would be very difficult to achieve this in a easy/usable/general way.

xAPI is great. There are people and organizations doing amazing things, adoption is increasing fast, and the future looks bright. But, when reading about xAPI, be aware of the language used. Keep in mind that xAPI is an enabler -an extremely powerful and well thought-out enabler- but it does not bring about solutions magically.