The Tin-Can API, called also xAPI or Experience API is a component of the Training and Learning Architecture (TLA) developed by ADL and realized by Rustici Software. The xAPI is designed to support the existing SCORM® use cases as well as enabling use cases that were difficult to meet with SCORM, such as mobile training and content that is accessed outside of a web browser. It introduces a new layer into the learning systems allowing educators to compose a delivery platform from various components. This new approach can significantly improve the current situation on the learning market which is divided amongst a couple of larger learning management systems (LMS).
The mobile market brings something new everyday. Many educators would look at new apps on their phones and wonder how to apply them in their everyday work – the teaching-learning transaction. At the same time, in the current learning environment, educators and instructional designers are bound by the LMS used in their organization and, consequently, by its limitations. Integrating new tools with the existing systems is complex, requires significant effort and often is outright impossible.
Language learning is a simple example of such limitations. Searching the app markets and stores, educators will find a wide variety of language learning apps. Many of such apps could be used to support learning and learners; however, the lack of connection or communication between the app and the LMS being used by the learners, combined with the limited ability of the educator to provide basic support, such as scaffolding, feedback and monitoring of the learner progress, could be rather discouraging.
The Tin-Can API, called also xAPI or Experience API, is a component of the Training and Learning Architecture (TLA) developed by ADL and realized by Rustici Software. Tin-Can is a standard that is designed to fill in this gap. It is able to track a wide range of learning activities, including:
- Mobile learning
- Virtual worlds
- Serious games
- Social learning
- Training simulations
- Experiential learning
- Collaborative learning
Tin-Can ready applications, including desktop, web or mobile, produce a stream of statements reporting various activities of the user/learner within the application. They can provide more definitive information regarding user progress and how well training is being perceived in the organization.
Unlimited learning, unlimited possibilities
The potential of xAPI was noticed by large service providers such as BlackBoard or Moodle as well as by smaller companies like Mobi-Learning Inc. While big players are currently focussed on delivering a key component of the architecture called Learning Record Store (LRS), we see a new opportunity in delivering small application that are Tin-Can ready. One can call it a “toolbox” architecture – an instructional designer or educator builds a set of tools (apps) that are connected through LRS.
One may ask how this would help the teacher or instructional designer? The key benefit of this technology is flexibility. As an educator, one can select any application deemed appropriate, as long as it is Tin-Can ready, and integrate it with LMS/LRS that is used in his or her institution. The application, after initial configuration, will report events related to the learner activity, starting with the message about the user’s successful configuration of the application, for instance “John registered MinPairs with BlackBoard”. It will provide vital data that can be utilized, amongst other usages, for the purpose of learning analytics which help understand and optimize learning, its design and context .
In addition, the educator has access to all statistics and measurements offered by the LRS used. Most of the commercial LRS systems such as SCORM Cloud allows for monitoring the aggregated information as well as monitoring specific users’ progress.
While widespread adoption of the Tin-Can API may take some time, the concept of experience-based learning programs is exciting and brings the flexibility of assembling a tool-set without limitations. Learning systems and applications incorporated seamlessly in the daily flow of work will be able to interface with LMS to capture milestones and tasks performed by learners and track their activity in their context of learning. The ability to formalize and track informal learning accomplishments (for instance, those embedded in daily work activities) and task assignments along with formal learning programs offers new opportunities for synergy leading to improved analysis of learning outcomes and experiences. This change, from monolithic structures to a “toolbox” architecture, brings more freedom and flexibility into seamless blending of e-learning, mobile learning and any digital technology-enabled learning approaches; it offers information allowing to improve learner supports and scaffolding, to personalize learning, to recognize learning efforts and accomplishments, and many other aspects of learner experience. It offers benefits to both individual learners and organizational users.
A few challenges that adaptors have yet to face are: limited vocabulary and transparency of the configuration for the end user. The vocabulary currently provide by the ADL implements multiple words. The vocabulary list will most likely grow in the future and will gradually cover more actions and events as the technology matures.
A confusing moment for the user is often the configuration of the access to LRS. Issues in this area can be overcome by using the QR code option. Automation of the configuration process requires work on both ends and establishing protocols that will complement xAPI.