What’s All the Buzz About the Tin Can API?
JULY 14, 2021
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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