Experience (Tin Can) API: What to Expect from Your LMS Provider

Tin Can. Experience. TIN CAN! Experience! We’re all hearing about it… but what is it?

For starters, the official, government-sanctioned name is “Experience API.” It’s the next generation of SCORM… an API for distributed learning. You’ll probably still hear it called “Tin Can” sometimes, but that was a working title. We’ll use its proper name from here on out. ADL, or Advanced Distributive Learning, is the government agency behind the spec.

Tin Can API and Experience API are the same thing

API’s (that stands for Application Programming Interface) are not nearly as scary and complicated as they sound. An API is a language two software programs or databases use to talk to each-other. Ever created an account on a third-party website using your Facebook account? That was thanks to the Facebook API. Ever had an app that uses Google Maps to log what route you ran? That communication comes courtesy of Google’s API.

SCORM, You’re Looking Weary

eLearning has been signed, sealed and delivered via SCORM for years. The SCORM API is tested and reliable for tracking of basic information such as course completion, time spent taking a course, completion date, and post-test score. This works great, because the only learning interactions anyone has ever thought of hinge directly on how learners do on a post-test, right? Wrong!

Learning designers have been forced to design their eLearning to work within the tight constraints of SCORM for too long. As stable as the API is, it has a number of limitations:

  • Activities must be launched from the LMS. Courses, courses, and more courses, please.
  • Activities must have a constant internet connection to be recorded. Sorry, mobile workforce.
  • A limited number and type of activities can be tracked. Exciting metrics like completion, time spent, pass/fail and a final score are as good as it gets.

How is Experience API better?

Experience API brings us a number of improvements to take advantage of in L&D:

  • It can track learner progress without a constant internet connection.
  • It does not need learning experiences to be launched from the LMS in order to track them.
  • It can record information on social interactions.
  • It can track learner activity from a variety of informal activities. One example given by ADL is a “bookmarklet” that can be installed on a web browser and be used to track informal activities such as web pages visited.

Differences between SCORM API and Experience API

Since Experience API does not need the LMS to report activity, content from Wikipedia, Youtube, TED Talks, Coursera, Kahn Academy and more can all be integrated into formal courses without a hitch. Progress from these sources can be reported in the LMS right alongside formal courses.

These new data points are all collected by a new database called a “Learner Record Store.” These are currently stand-alone products, but ADL predicts they will eventually be integrated right into LMS’s. A Learner Record Store, or LRS, is where Experience API sends all the data from mobile apps, informal learning, social conversations, and more.

That’s great, but when will my LMS Support Experience API?

Experience API reached version 1.0 in May 2013. Now we can all complete our required training while skiing in the Andes with no internet, right? Not so fast. LMS’s will all have to adopt the spec before it can be used in eLearning… at least, by companies that require all training be housed in an LMS. And while enabling Experience API is one thing, taking full advantage of the spec will take more time.

Authoring tools such as Lectora and Articulate Storyline have already announced support for Experience API, and this is certainly a necessary step in the adoption process. However, these tools have really just added Experience API as an option for delivering the same data that was already being tracked via SCORM. Sure, you can start using it now, but you’ll probably still just be tracking course completion, Pass/Fail and the like.

It’s sort of like hopping in your new Ferrari to drive 20 mph through your neighborhood. It sounds great, but you aren’t using the vehicle any differently than you used your old Camry.

Even if a major LMS vendor adopted Experience API tomorrow, it would not have much to offer you if you still plan to deliver the same “click next” eLearning courses. Sure, one potential advantage would be allowing you to record the completion of a mobile app or game created by a custom provider like us. But this hypothetical Experience API LMS still would not be doing anything to interpret all of the new data points it can now collect.

New Analytics and Reporting capabilities Needed

In order to take advantage of Experience API’s ability to collect data from informal learning activities, detailed results from games and mobile app usage data, LMS vendors will need to build robust new analytics, reporting, and data visualization capabilities. The data we collect is only as good as the means we have for processing and interpreting that data.

Experience API-enabled learning solutions

Experience API gives L&D the ability to design and develop more engaging learning solutions… but we still have a long way to go before we are really harnessing all this new potential. The technology we use to deliver and manage these solutions has a great deal of catching up to do… and that catching up requires significant time and financial investment. So while Experience API-compliant LMSs will undoubtedly start popping up next trade show season, an LMS that is really using Experience API for all it’s worth is farther away than we think.

And while just adding “Experience API support” is not the final answer for LMSs OR authoring tools… it’s a positive first step that prepares our industry for the dramatic leap that will happen when we really start measuring learner experiences instead of course completion.

How can I get my LMS to be Experience API compliant sooner?

Ask for it! Talk to your LMS provider. Let them know it’s a priority for your organization. The sooner a critical mass of customers are asking for Experience API support, the sooner LMS’s will get on board.

Less Formal Training; More Informal Social Learning

This is an excerpt from Sharon Boller’s newest white paper, Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities. The white paper describes today’s learning landscape… then predicts 7 trends for the next 12 – 18 months. Here is Trend 6:

Less Formal Training; More Informal, Social learningTwitter chats, Twitter lists, massive open online courses (MOOCs), YouTube channels and blogs devoted to highly specific topics, resources such as, CodeAcademy, etc. are all examples of resources that enable people to build highly customized “personal learning networks” for themselves. Given that the average employee only spends 31 hours PER YEAR in formal training, staying current requires employees to develop skills in social learning tools and strategies.

Social learning has been touted by a brave few for a long time – Jane Bozarth and Jay Cross are two big names who’ve been beating the social learning and informal learning drum for the past few years. The official recognition of the power of social learning – and the adoption of social learning initiatives inside organizations — has been even more glacier-like than mobile uptake. As more people who were born after 1980 get into the work world, though, social learning initiatives will become more and more commonplace – because this generation lives and breathes social.

What it might look like:

At BLP, we are our own “Learning Lab.” This means we test out new tools and techniques on ourselves before advocating their use by clients. Twitter chats have been around almost as long as Twitter – and they are now occurring with greater frequency. We started a chat in January 2012 called #TalkTech. The goal was to promote conversation and increase understanding and awareness of learning technologies that we – and our clients – might find useful. We host the talk on Twitter to encourage participation from non-BLPers. That’s right – we WANT the perspective of outsiders, who can share technologies and ideas with us… and we want the ability to share our perspectives, too.

The premise is pretty simple. We have a “content curator” who monitors a “hashtag” we titled #TalkTech. Anyone – BLPer or larger world community member – can submit links to articles about learning technologies, tools, or ideas using this hashtag. The curator selects the best three each week, publishes them to a blog, and we meet every Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m. EST to discuss the three articles.

We’ve discovered a ton of new tools via these talks and we’ve also picked up new ideas for methods we could employ. (See a recent blog on how Jerry Seinfeld writes a joke and the correlation to interaction design.)

Participating in the weekly chats is easy using a web tool called TweetChat.


If you miss the live chat – no problem. You can get a transcript of the conversation via another great web tool called Storify, which lets you create an online transcript of your chat. Storify lets you create stories from a variety of social media resources.

Storify - transcript of social learning chats

Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities White Paper
Click the image to download the white paper.

Check back next week for Trend 7, or download the entire white paper now.

Less Desktop; More Mobile… but Not That Fast

This is an excerpt from Sharon Boller’s newest white paper, Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities. The white paper describes today’s learning landscape… then predicts 7 trends for the next 12 – 18 months. Here is Trend 1:

Mobile Learning - Glacier, Not Waterfall

Think glacier and not waterfall.

Glaciers had a massive impact on our topography – but it took awhile for them to make the impact they eventually did. Mobile learning has supposedly been the next hot trend since about 2009…and we’re still just getting started.

What points to somewhat faster movement in 2013 is that market saturation on the consumer side is pretty complete. Businesses will follow. We see mobile in the news daily, and a search under the Twitter hashtag #mLearning gets you a plethora of commentary, stories, and ideas for using mobile for learning.

After attending mLearn 2011, we shared data that showed the explosion of devices and uptake. In 2012 it accelerated further. A few updated stats shared in a Forbes Tech blog from May 2, 2012:

  • Apple shipped 15 million iPads in Q1 2012. They’ve sold 67 million iPads in just 24 months’ time. (It took 24 years to sell that many Macs and 5 years to sell that many iPods).
  • By 2015, there will be 7.4 billion mobile devices in the market; as of today, the world’s population stands at 7 billion.
  • Also by 2015, mobile app projects will outnumber native PC projects 4:1.

The shift to mobile seems to be happening fastest in K-12 and college classrooms (a bit ironic). But it’s also happening in businesses as IT standards start toppling all over the place to handle trends such as “BYOD” (bring your own device) and the demise of the Blackberry. Businesses can look at what’s going on in schools to see where they need to be going next.

Companies who are using mobile today are focused more on supplying solutions to customers rather than to employees. Fierce BioTech had a blog post in August 2012 featuring 10 smartphone apps developed by several big pharmaceutical companies to support their clients. These apps are true performance support tools for customers. They don’t teach people how to do something; they support them in doing a task.

Also in the “mobile” category of trends is to say “mobile” without clarifying exactly what’s meant
by it. We see our clients using the term “mobile” when they really mean “tablet” sometimes
and “smartphone” other times. One of the first questions we ask related to mobile is, “Are you talking about tablets, phones, or both?” In our opinion, you shouldn’t treat tablets and phones interchangeably. Notice the difference between our Knowledge Guru app for the tablet, and what we offer for the phone:

Knowledge Guru - Tablet and phone interface comparison

Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities White Paper

Click the image to download the white paper.











Check back next week for Trend 2, or download the entire white paper now.

Learning Trends, Technologies, and Opportunities – New White Paper by Sharon Boller

Sharon Boller, President of Bottom-Line Performance, has authored a new white paper: “Learning Trends, Technologies and Opportunities.” Using both quantitative research and anecdotal evidence from our work with Fortune 500 clients, Sharon uncovers both what the learning and development field currently looks like AND where is it headed in the next 12 – 18 months.

Learning Trends, Technologies, and Opportunities - White Paper by Sharon Boller

Click the image to download the white paper!

We talked a whole lot about mobile learning in 2012, but lots of companies have not even started implementing mobile learning on a large scale. Games and gamification continue to grow, but many companies are not quite “there” yet, either. And that’s okay. Oh, and what about Tin Can API? You probably heard a whole lot about it in 2012, and you may not quite be sure what all the fuss is about, yet. Truth be told, the real learning revolution is just beginning.

eLearning in 2012 did not meet expectations

The first section, “Six Truths About Today’s Learning Environment,” explains what learning and training (yes, they are different) actually looked like in 2012. For instance, did you know only 1.4% of the 2012 ASTD State of the Industry report said mobile was a current distribution method for learning? And were you aware that 59% of companies still rely heavily on instructor-led training? Sharon talks about facts like these, and more, in the section one.

2013 - the year to move eLearning forward

In section two, “Emerging Trends and Technologies,” Sharon shares the 7 learning trends that will grow in 2013 and beyond:

1. Less desktop and more mobile…but not that fast.

2. Fewer full-sized courses. More learning snacks, ePubs, videos, and reference tools.

3. Less focus on the LMS; More focus on Tin Can API.

4. Less Tell; More Games and Gamification.

5. Less PPT-only; More Cool Interactive Tools within Lectures.

6. Less Formal Training; More Informal Social Learning.

7. Less Trainers; More Community Managers and Curators.

In short, the white paper is literally packed with relevant research and information. It’s available as a free download right here. We will be sharing each trend from the white paper for next few weeks right here on the Lessons on Learning Blog as well.

About the Author:

Sharon Boller is the president of Bottom-Line Performance, Inc. She founded BLP in 1995, and in 16 years has developed a wide array of learning solutions for corporate, government, and nonprofit clients. BLP’s focus is primarily eLearning and as learning has gone mobile so has BLP. Sharon has 25 years’ experience in learning design and a passion for learning. Sharon is the lead designer of the Knowledge Guru™ game engine, a tool for creating mobile games. She was also the lead designer of “A Paycheck Away,” a tabletop board game exploring the issue of homelessness. Sharon has spoken at numerous conferences – including ASTD, ISPI, and SALT on the topics of learning design and game design. Sharon has an M.S. in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University, where she graduated magna cum laude.