Blog Post

What’s All the Buzz About the Tin Can API?

Brett C. Wilson

Principal of Thought Leadership and Advisory Services, Cornerstone

What is the Tin Can API? Well, in a nutshell, the Tin Can API (a.k.a, Experience API or xAPI) is a new specification for learning technology that makes it possible to collect tons of data on just about anything somebody does either on a computer or not on a computer (e.g., attending a seminar, took a basket weaving class at church). It’s sponsored by the Advanced Distributed Learning Co-lab who issued a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) asking for great ideas. Enter Tin Can - the newest specification that takes us beyond the Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) for online learning.

What it can do?

I think that everyone who studies what informal learning is all about tend to agree with Jay Cross that approximately 20% of what we learn is through formal means (e.g., an online course, an instructional webinar, a class we took in a classroom) and the remaining 80% of what we learn, we learn informally (simulations, games, real-world activities, experiential learning, social learning, offline learning, and collaborative learning , etc.) From a learner perspective, it’s not a big deal because we are all continuous learners and sure, it would be cool if there was a record somewhere that can tell me everything I’ve ever learned or accomplished. It’s not something most people worry about. However, from a corporate learning practitioner’s standpoint, wow – the ability to have all data regarding 100% of what employees learn is truly powerful. The graphic below is from Rustici Software’s Tin Can API website.

Imagine being able to learn that John Doe, employee number 90210, Googled an article on the benefits of CPR and, being inspired by the article, took a CPR class at a nearby high school, and passed with a score of 90%. But wait a minute, that CPR class is not in my LMS. And John didn’t tell me. I don’t even know John. Hmmm.

Here’s another example – Jane Doe, employee number 90211, took a 5-minute online management style quiz on her iPhone on her way to work and found out that she possesses a strong autocratic management style (Jane was not happy about that). So she ordered the book on management styles (not surprisingly being advertised on the same site as the online quiz), read the book, and decided to go take a class at the local community college to see if she can learn how to become a non-autocratic leader ). And she passed the course, with a score of 85%, and now happily proclaims herself as possessing a participative management style.

None of that content is in the corporate LMS. How does corporate learning get John and Jane’s accomplishments recorded? Is it worthwhile to have this information about John and Jane from a corporate learning perspective? Sure. Can I, the corporate learning practitioner, without any knowledge of what John and Jane did, have this information available to me through my corporate LMS? With the Tin Can API – yes.

How does it work?

Tin Can records things in terms of actor, verb, object or "I did this". Get it? I (actor) did (verb) this (object). John (actor) scored 90% (verb) in a CPR class (object). Jane (actor) scored 85% (verb) in a Management Styles 101 (object). John read a CPR article. Jane took an online quiz on management styles. These strings of data (actor, verb, object) which are recorded to a learning record store (LRS) – a repository specifically designed for Tin Can.

This LRS can be embedded within or linked to an LMS. Therefore, from a corporate perspective, this data can be recorded and reported. So Jane and John, only if they wish, can have this data sent to the LRS connected to their corporate LMS. Or, if they wish, they can send this data to their own private LRS if they want their own professional record of learning activities and accomplishments to help them build a resume for their next job. Or they can send the data to both LRSs – they decide.

OK - how is this data sent to an LRS? There are mobile apps that allow users to enter information about what they learned and record them to an LRS. Rustici Software, the folks who pioneered Tin Can, offer a free "Tin Can bookmarklet" that puts an "I Learned This" button in your browser toolbar for recording web pages that you visit and learn something from. Android has a book scanner app that lets you scan the barcode on a book you just read. You are not restricted by your device – any device that is enabled will work. You don’t have to be logged-in to your LMS or even have a constant connection to the Internet - occasional connectivity is fine.

Why is it important?

Because learning happens everywhere and is continuous. Before Tin Can, we were basically limited to tracking the 20% of formal learning captured in an LMS. The Tin Can API makes it possible to track informal learning experiences in a way that learning systems can understand. It also intersects nicely with Big Data learning initiatives. For L&D professionals, the Tin Can API provides an approach to dig deeper into how and what employees learn informally. Although the specification is still relatively young, many learning technology vendors have adopted Tin Can.

Imagine what you can do with all of this new data housed in a LRS and connected to your LMS. Imagine taking the next step in prescriptive learning to satisfy a learner’s appetite for wanting their learning in a format best suited for them. I think that’s very cool.

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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development

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Taking A Company-Wide Approach to Learning & Development

There’s a lot of coordination that goes into a company’s learning and development programming, from identifying skills gaps and creating engaging content to scaling initiatives company-wide. And because there’s so much complex planning involved, organizations can sometimes get caught up in the details, and overlook how L&D fits into broader organizational goals. A recent survey—titled "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change"—from Cornerstone People Research Lab (CPRL) and the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found that only 55% of organizations believe their L&D programs are well-aligned with their company’s overarching strategy. But CPRL and HCI’s survey reveals two logical ways to overcome this challenge. First, there’s a need for L&D executives to participate in strategic conversations around organizational goals to ensure that L&D planning aligns with broader business plans. And second, it’s important to share responsibility for learning effectiveness. If facilitating continuous learning is a part of everyone’s role, it becomes easier to integrate it organization-wide. Promote Cross-Departmental Collaboration and Responsibility To better align L&D efforts with overarching business goals, learning executives have to participate in strategic conversations about organizational direction. For instance, when business leaders gather to discuss goals and KPIs for the coming year or quarter, HR and L&D leaders should be involved in those conversations. And the opposite is also true: Business leaders need to help direct the learning outcomes framed against those goals. According to the "Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey from CPRL and HCI, only about half (51%) of learning leaders report being involved in these discussions. During these business planning discussions, it’s important to establish accountability, especially among people managers. CPRL and HCI found 67% of people managers report being involved in the creation of content, but only 47% are involved in the accountability for the results. By holding more people accountable to the success of L&D programs, it can be easier for a company to spot pitfalls or opportunities for improvement. It creates shared goals for measuring effectiveness, and establishes a process for making changes. For example, by getting people managers involved in L&D initiatives, L&D leaders can work with them to get a better understanding of a specific team’s skill gaps or what reskilling or new skilling solutions will work best for them. All leaders in an organization, in fact, should be eager to participate and own their team’s newskilling, reskilling or upskilling efforts. Ask a people manager in the IT department to reiterate the importance of learning to their team, and track the amount of time their employees spend on learning content. This approach will not only create a shared commitment to continuous learning, but can also help leaders outside of L&D and HR get a better idea of what content or formats work best for their teams and recommend adjustments accordingly. Continuous Learning Is Everyone’s Responsibility Aligning overarching business plans and strategy with learning and development efforts can improve each’s efficacy. The more cross-departmental collaboration that exists, the more information that HR and L&D leaders have about their workforce and its needs, strengths and weaknesses. And with more accountability, all stakeholders in an organization can become more involved in ensuring the successful partnership between L&D and a company’s overall strategy. To learn more about the findings from Cornerstone’s "The Revolution is Now: New-Skill Your Workforce to Catalyze Change" survey and its recommendations for using cross-departmental collaboration and accountability to help with L&D efforts, click here to download and read the full report.

Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today

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Why supporting neurodiversity is essential for any successful workforce today

When we think of diversity in the workforce, we typically think of it along the lines of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender. But focusing only on those four is its own sort of constraint. To truly create a successful and diverse workplace, you need to ensure you're also embracing neurodiversity too. Understanding neurodiversity In the late 1990s, a single mother in Australia named Judy Singer began studying Disability Studies at University of Technology Sydney. Her daughter had recently been diagnosed with what was then known as “Asperger’s Syndrome,” a form of autism spectrum disorder. As she read more and more about autism as part of her studies, Singer also suspected that her mother, and she herself, may have had some form of autism spectrum disorder. Singer describes crying as she realized that her mother, with whom she'd had a tumultuous relationship throughout her childhood, wasn’t purposefully cold or neurotic as she had thought. She just had a different kind of mind. In her honors thesis, Singer coined the term “neurodiversity.” For Singer, people with neurological differences like autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or dyslexia were a social class of their own and should be treated as such. If we are going to embrace diversity of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc., then we must embrace a diversity of the mind. The following video is an excerpt from the "Neurodiversity" Grovo program, which is available in the Cornerstone Content Anytime Professional Skills subscription. Neurodiversity in today's workplace Recently, neurodiversity has become a trendy term in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging spaces. And many organizations are working to hire more neurodivergent people, as well as give them opportunities to thrive at work. That’s why, at Cornerstone, we recently produced a series of lessons on neurodiversity. If your organization hasn’t prioritized neurodiverse inclusion yet, here are some reasons why it both supports your people and organization. 1) Neurodivergent people are underemployed Neurodivergent people, especially people with autism, are widely under-employed, regardless of their competence. In the United States, 85% of college graduates with autism are unemployed. According to a 2006 study, individuals with ADHD have higher rates of unemployment than individuals without. However, there is no evidence that neurodivergent people are less competent or less intelligent than neurotypical people. Organizations are missing out on talented people. 2) Neurodivergent people are more common than you may think Neurodiversity manifests in many different ways. It can encompass autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette syndrome, and many other conditions. And as scientists have learned more about what makes someone neurodivergent, they're identifying more and more people. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 160 children have some form of autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 1 in every 162 children have Tourette Syndrome, and roughly 8 percent of children under 18 have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. And that's just children. How many adults, like Judy Singer's mother, have struggled their whole lives without a diagnosis? People who are neurodivergent are everywhere. Diverse organizations are stronger Diverse organizations and teams not only have better financial returns than less-diverse ones, but they also perform better. Having the different perspectives presented by people who are neurodivergent can help your team solve more difficult problems. Different perspectives and different ways of thinking lead to creativity and innovation.

Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated

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Why Selecting a Leadership Development Program Is Way Too Complicated

Many organizations face a leadership gap and cannot find the talent needed to grow. We could blame the retiring baby boomer phenomenon, the free agent nation, or the lack of investment made in developing leaders. But since blame is a lazy man’s wage, I will not entertain that debate because there are too many options out there for developing leaders. There are many leadership development programs in the market. In minutes, with a simple Internet search or over coffee with your head of human resources, you can discover myriad high-quality leadership development programs that you could use in your organization to develop leaders. The problem is not finding a good program, but in choosing one. Answer the Right Questions So how does one choose? The problem we face in evaluating leadership development programs is that we get caught up in evaluating the content rather than asking a simple question, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Each organization is unique in how it answers this question. And that is where the secret lies. If an organization can select a program that matches the answer to the question above, the selected program will likely be the right one. After all, each leadership development program is very good in some way. It is not so important which one you select. It is important that you use the one you select. In other words, the key is to not let it become another un-opened binder on the bookshelves of your management team. Be An Effective Leader Let me give you an example: If an organization’s answer to the question above is, "We want our leaders to be proactive and focused on the things that drive results," your choices are narrowed down to only a few programs that would deliver on that answer. And if I had to pick one program that would deliver on that answer, without hesitation, I would choose, "The Effective Executive" by Peter F. Drucker. It is a classic, and all five of the behaviors of effective executives taught in the book remain vital skills that any leader should practice if he or she wants to be effective in his or her organization. In the book, Drucker teaches that effective executives: Know where their time goes Focus on contribution and results Build on strengths Concentrate on first things first Make effective decisions This is not a book review or a plug for "The Effective Executive," though I do believe if you had to choose one set of skills to teach your leadership, it would be the five from Drucker’s book. This is a challenge for every organization to simplify the selection of leadership development programs, and ask, "What do we want our leaders to be able to do?" Answering this question clearly will help you choose the right program. After all, many programs are excellent. The secret to success is not in which program you choose, but that you get people to apply the program you choose. Photo: Can Stock

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