Leveraging Existing Technology for xAPI Data

By Duncan Welder (Director of Client Services, RISC)

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Amidst all the excitement in the learning community about the possibilities of xAPI, the main question I hear from people exploring xAPI is, “Where do I start?” When faced with the opportunity to track almost any activity, it’s often hard to determine where to begin.

While there are some spectacular custom solutions using xAPI like the envelope-pushing development by Nick Washburn and the team at Riptide, and the amazing visualizations of xAPI data by the team at Yet Analytics, there are a number of ways to begin exploring xAPI using existing technology without a significant development project or cash outlay. First take stock of your existing learning infrastructure and decide what you may want to track using xAPI. Because xAPI writes an activity stream-type log of interactions into the Learning Records Store, it can be a great tool for evaluating the use of training and performance support materials.

Similar to a developing a post-class evaluation or customer/employee satisfaction survey, it’s worth deciding what data is valuable. If my answer on a post-class evaluation can’t drive change to the training process, there’s no reason to ask the question. With xAPI, just because you can track an activity doesn’t necessarily mean you should. This is especially true when you are just starting out; You may want to get started with a trial LRS that limits the number of statements you can store before moving into a paid, production system. One commercial LRS that provides a trial system limited by statement count is Saltbox. The ADL provides a free open-source LRS that can be used to get started and Rustici Software provides a trial LRS through the SCORM Cloud. If you haven’t explored the Rustici Resources for xAPI Developers, it is a great place to get started with a number of prototypes that include code and can be downloaded for testing.

With that said, what technology exists in your existing learning ecosystem that can quickly and inexpensively be used for gathering xAPI data?

Sharepoint

Do you already have content, documents or resources stored in a Sharepoint or other document management system? Rather than modifying the content proper to send xAPI statements, the Saltbox Sharepoint xAPI plugin allows you to track what documents are opened, when and by whom. Are you concerned that some content is underutilized and could be eliminated? Do you want to know what resources are being accessed that may warrant additional support material? While the Saltbox SharePoint xAPI plugin won’t allow you to see how a user is interacting with a document – like pages accessed or annotations made – it does provide good intelligence on usage of resources without investing in a an xAPI-enabled document reader or editing legacy content that may or may not be of value.

Websites

Do you host a website of training resources, such as links to content? Grassblade LRS has an xAPI connector for WordPress that allows a WordPress-based website to send xAPI data to any LRS. If simply tracking the flow of users through the website and documenting the resources they access is valuable information to you, the Grassblade xAPI Companion may be worth exploring. WordPress also has a native xAPI plugin available from WordPress.org.image07image09

If you are like me you regularly find on-line resources that you want to bookmark for future reference. When I save these as a personal favorite in my browser it does help me find that resource later but doesn’t help to share valuable content with my work team. In addition, there is no record of the resources I access. Rustici software created a sample ‘bookmarklet’ app that will write a record to the LRS when I choose to bookmark a webpage using the app. TorranceLearning has expanded the base example from Rustici with a simple user interface that allows a user to add some additional data like key quotes and ratings to the xAPI data. As a user, you have easy access to your bookmarked history for creating a Personal Learning Library. As an administrator, the LRS data can be queried to see pages bookmarked and what resources are recommended to others. This can be great insight for beginning to curate content identified by users directly.

Blogs & YouTube Resources

Do you have a corporate blog system for employee created content? Do you maintain a list of YouTube videos as performance support resources? Both blogs and YouTube videos can be tracked to your LRS. Consider adding a button to your blog page that lets a student determine if they want to send a statement that they read a blog to the LRS. This does require updating the blog application but there are a number of code samples online to make this easy.

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Blog record written to LRS

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YouTube activity written to the LRS.

YouTube videos are a great, quick and easy way to provide performance support. The downside, similar to personally favorited websites above, is that their use is generally not tracked. Granted, you likely do not want to track all the YouTube videos your employees or student groups access BUT – what if you could curate a library of select, valuable resources? The xAPI YouTube plugin available free from the ADL’s GitHub site let you open YouTube videos in an xAPI enabled player. When the videos are accessed, statements are written to show who launched the video, when it was launched and how much was watched and how much was skipped through by the user. Because you control what videos are being launched through the xAPI viewer, you eliminate extraneous statements in your LRS from videos that are not necessarily work related.
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YouTube activity written to the LRS.

YouTube activity written to the LRS.

LMS Data

Finally, there is a lot of traditional LMS activity that can be valuable to see within your LRS. Sure, your LMS is likely tracking many of these actions such as the registration for class, supervisor approvals of training, the accessing of documents, and course catalog searches. It would be better to have this data consolidated into the LRS, providing a robust ‘view’ of a student’s learning activities in one location rather than having to look for some data in the LMS and some data in the LRS.

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LMS data showing one student cancelling from a roster and a waitlisted student being enrolled automatically.

Granted, not everyone has access to update or modify their Learning Management System but for those who do or for LMS providers, like RISC Inc. (I promise that is my only shameless plug) that have added the sending of statements from the LMS natively there is good information to be found.

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Corresponding to the previous image, note that the registration shows a move from Enrollment Status of Pending (P) to Attend (A)

Keys for Success

Remember that part of our driver is to be able to sell xAPI internally by showing its value in an easy to understand and straightforward way. Utilizing these and other existing resources to begin wading into the world of xAPI data is a good low-risk option. But remember, the key to reporting is consistent entry of data. As you are exploring putting these tools to use, spend time exploring the ‘right’ vocabulary for writing statements. A number of communities of practice exist that are driving vocabulary constancy often focusing on verbs. If the tools you are using allow you to determine the statement being sent, certainly consider using these already defined terms. As an example, if different resources for tracking video playback use different verbs for starting a video (e.g. launched, played, started, experienced, etc.) it can be difficult to consolidate into reports. If one tool is using an employee’s email address as his/her Actor ID and another tool is using his/her employee ID, that poses another challenge for reporting.

As you embark on your exploration of xAPI, remember to start with the data you want to track and how that data will be used. Consider all the free and shared assets from the xAPI community as a starting place to get up and running quickly. Finally, continue to share your success stories as we see the L&D community evolve through the use of xAPI and other tools.


DUNCAN WELDER (Director of Client Services, RISC)

09c7f35ac1a7-2013headshotW Mr. Welder holds a Master’s of Education from Texas A&M University in Educational Technology and has over 19 years implementation of Learning Management Systems, domestically and abroad, to manage regulatory-compliance in high-consequence . Duncan has provided presentations to professional organizations including the Gulf Coast Process Technology Alliance, the e-Learning Guild and the Association for Talent Development. Mr. Welder’s career is founded in instructional design and e-learning. He is a certified as a Development Dimensions International facilitator, a Kirkpatrick Evaluator and facilitator of the Ohio State University curriculum development program. In addition to working in industry, Mr. Welder has held adjunct faculty positions at Bowling Green State University and the College of the Mainland.

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