Life in a Post-SCORM World Part 2: Courseware Tools & LMS

sketchnote TorranceMegan Torrance (CEO, TorranceLearning)

 

In the Winter 2016 xAPI Quarterly, I answered two questions I often field from instructional designers who are just getting into xAPI. Those two questions are the start of a journey. They help you define a business case for using something more flexible than SCORM, and they’re going to help you move down the path in terms of designing learning interventions.

Before long, though, you’ll need to actually create those learning interventions and that’s where the next two questions will help In this article, I’ll share answers to the next two questions.

  1. “Can I do this with my current courseware development tools?
  2. “Can I do this with my current LMS?”

I’ll share them with one important caveat: The landscape for learning tools is expanding fast so my answers in March 2016 may well be very different by March 2017. That’s a good thing and I will enjoy seeing this article become outdated as the industry moves forward.

Can I do this with my current courseware development tools?

If you’re creating an xAPI-enabled learning intervention that looks like eLearning, a logical question to ask yourself is “Can I use the tools I already know how to use?” The answer is a qualified “maybe.” Depending on the tool you use, you may; although you may not be satisfied with the results today’s products can create until you do a little lifting on your own.

Sean Putman has reviewed a number of the popular development tools, and provided tips and hacks for getting the most out of them in an xAPI environment. If you want to know what you can do using xAPI with the following tools, this is a helpful place to start:

Keep in mind that many leading eLearning courseware development tools were built for a SCORM-based world and still need to operate in that world. In some of the tools, their xAPI statements enable more detailed reporting than their SCORM transactions do, but depending on the tool, that may not be enough to support all of your experience tracking hopes and dreams… at least not yet.

In a recent project here at TorranceLearning we backed ourselves into a use case for xAPI from an unexpected place. What started out as a simple Storyline project ended up with such complex branching and specific needs around data reporting for assessments that we decided this was a good time to bring out the xAPI. We used a hybrid solution for this project.

Storyline handled a lot of the “course-ness” that this particular situation needed:

  • Built-in menus
  • Navigation
  • Animations

We embedded JavaScript web objects for all the more complex interactions that used xAPI, like:

  • More advanced conditional branching based on prior answers and navigation
  • Basic parent/child grouping of activities

Basic Parent/Child Grouping of Activities

  • Capturing user browser and internet connection data

Capturing user browser and internet connection data

And, finally, we leveraged our LMS and its embedded LRS to handle some of the heavy lifting around:

  • User Authentication
  • Enrollment management
  • Ecommerce
  • Session state awareness
  • A completion record in the user’s history so they knew they were “done” with this activity
  • Reporting

In the end, the three-pronged experience is fairly seamless to the user, and the integrated LMS/LRS makes it relatively seamless to the client. Our reporting tools pull both the Storyline data and the embedded web objects with the xAPI data into the same sets of reports. So, it can be done and it doesn’t have to be all xAPI  

All that said, an eLearning course is not the only form in which your xAPI project can take shape.

You may build performance observation rubrics, checklists, Internet of Things-enabled environments, mentoring programs, structured job shadowing, and there are any number of other creative ways to help your learners acquire and use new skills. These aren’t courses; they are learning interventions. It’s unlikely that you’ll use eLearning tools to build such interventions. Your existing software vendor these projects may have made a way for you to add your own content. Sadly, it is unlikely that such tools are xAPI-conformant.

Why? Here’s my suspicion:When something new comes along that looks like it will replace SCORM, a SCORM replacement doesn’t look all that interesting or relevant. Unless you’re steeped in SCORM or an xAPI Camp groupie, xAPI just didn’t pop up on the radar. I suspect this because history is a good teacher:  many tools providers didn’t build SCORM into their products because when SCORM emerged a decade ago, existing tools didn’t naturally follow a SCORM way of doing things where we tracked score, time, location, answers and the almighty “Complete” record. It took a long time for tools to emerge that did SCORM well.

Nowadays, some tools providers are savvy enough to provide APIs (application programming interfaces) to enable their products to communicate with other software products. For example, lots of software may participate in single-sign-on environments and integrate with your sales automation, human resources, ERP systems, manufacturing software, customer portals and the like. In this case you have (at least) two choices:

  • Encourage your provider to adopt xAPI (for which they should be eternally grateful to you), or
  • Export your data from the tool, massage it into xAPI statements, and pass them along to your LRS.

(And, the answer may be the first option for now until the second option is in place.)

This then leads us to our second question for this article …

Can I do this with my current LMS?

Assuming you currently have a learning management system (LMS), this is probably a good point to have a conversation with your LMS provider about the extent to which they have adopted xAPI. You may already have had this conversation. The answers you get will fall somewhere into this range:

  1. x-what?
  2. We’re evaluating our best approach for adoption.
  3. It’s on our roadmap.
  4. We have partnered with [insert vendor name] LRS to provide our xAPI users with a solution.
  5. We have built and integrated an LRS into the LMS alongside our SCORM and AICC databases.
  6. You’re kidding, right? We were xAPI from the start.

Answers 1 and 6 are pretty rare, although 6 is already starting to happen..

Answers 2 and 3 are, for all intents and purposes, the same: “No, we haven’t adopted xAPI.”ore and more LMSes will be driven by the demands of their clients to adopt xAPI at some point. For the vast majority of LMS products, this is today’s answer in 2016. Vendors balance the demands of a production-scale legacy SCORM environment with the newfangled technology that most of their customers are only dipping their toes into.

The difference between answers 4 and 5 gets down to the nitty gritty question of how it operates for the administrative and reporting end of things. Most end users won’t notice the difference, unless they have employees to manage or they run reports. As of March 2016, there are only a few players among the hundreds of LMSes on the market who can answer with  4 or 5. If you’re in the market for an LMS with xAPI conformance, your software selection process has never been easier.

If the answers are 4, 5, or 6 … then, yes, your current learning platforms can support what you’re doing with xAPI. If your answers are 1, 2, or 3, or you’re not happy with how your provider handles 4, 5 or 6, you can start your search for an LRS provider.

______________

In a future column, we’ll look at some of the decisions you’ll make as you choose an LRS provider, and the decisions those providers will ask you to make along your journey.

What questions would you like to see addressed? Drop me a line at mtorrance@torrancelearning.com

 


For more on navigating your path through the LMS and LRS environment, this is the slide deck and sketchnote from a session at the Learning Solutions 2016 conference.


MEGAN TORRANCE (President, TorranceLearning)

ffc5a30bb7e0-torrance__004_II_sq_crop21-120x120Megan Torrance is the Chief Energy Officer of TorranceLearning, an elearning design and development firm outside of Ann Arbor, MI. She has spent over two decades knee-deep in projects involving change management, instructional design, consulting and systems deployment. Megan thrives on design excellence and elegant project management. And coffee. She and the TorranceLearning team have developed the LLAMA project management approach, blending Agile with excellent instructional design techniques. TorranceLearning projects have won IELA and BrandonHall awards, and the 2014 xAPI Hyperdrive contest at DevLearn.

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