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.

The Future of the LMS

We started the month talking about the features and functions of learning management systems. It’s only fitting we end talking about the changes the future holds for those features. Soon, it won’t be enough that the LMS tracks formal learning like instructor-led training courses or e-learning modules; the future is here, and learning management systems are changing rapidly to keep up.

Leanne talked about Moodle’s ability to categorize those on the system by their expertise in her last post. In a sense, she saw the LMS as more like a social network and less like a database. In this online community, learners can create their own “real” with profiles and list their experience; by searching the profiles, learners can use the LMS to contact others for help and support in a specific subject area.

According to a July trend report published by T&D,

Within the next two years, 45 percent of respondents say they will upgrade their existing learning portal and 14 percent plan to launch a new learning portal. Most respondents use all of the 12 major learning tools and technologies listed on the survey in their portals. These include blogs, online coaching, polls, self-study programs, communities of practice, and more.”

Instead of discussion forums, these new learning management systems provide blogs and wikis to foster collaboration. And in the place of multiple-choice and true/false tests, more complex polling features keep learners engaged. With the addition of informal learning opportunities, hopefully, learners will stop thinking of the LMS as “the place to go to get to the training”  and start viewing it as “where I can find what I need to know.” The LMS becomes a true repository for learning, housing job aids, coaching guides, and courses, along side videos created and uploaded by learners and informal wikis run by study groups.

In researching LMSs and Moodle, I found an article that discussed combining an LMS with a virtual learning environment, Second Life. When I dug a little further, I found Sloodle. It uses Moodle to generate a 3D version of the LMS in Second Life. Want to decide what course to take? Look at the sessions displayed on a calendar in Second Life and “teleport” yourself to the classroom immediately. Sounds like something out of a science fiction novel.

I’m not sure I can even imagine the future of learning management systems; I just know they will very soon be much more than a database that assigns coursework.

Lean times call for creative solutions

I read yesterday that during times of economic recession people actually become healthier. The reason is that during fiscally tight times people tend to drink and smoke less to save money. They also head outdoors for lower cost and healthier entertainment such as hiking. Yesterday on the BLP LOL Live webinar about Moodle, we heard that quite a few organizations are interested in Moodle due to budget constraints. As Lisa pointed out in her post Leveraging Learning, informal learning is gaining popularity at least in part due to the economic crunch as some organizations can’t or won’t pay for a formal learning solution.

Implementing Moodle as an LMS or social networking as a tool for sharing knowledge still has a learning curve and costs associated with them. They’re not necessarily easy to implement. The implementation process will take time and require new learning by staff. BLP invested 160 hours to set up our Moodle site, load three courses and 16 users. The folks on the project learned a lot along the way and at the end of the day we have quite a nice tool for a relatively low cost. Likewise designing and implementing an informal learning solution is new territory for most organizations. It will take time to properly design it and educate users as to how to use it. However, you gain a cost effective and useful tool. One of my favorite options on Moodle is the ability to identify a peer by area of expertise. I remember a manager once complained how she spent an hour and a half making five phone calls to find the person who could help her use the company’s accounting software. It would have been nice if she could have performed a two second search to locate the right person or search a discussion board that may have had the answer to her question.

By saving money and increasing the utility of new tools we can stay financially fit and implement effective solutions. I’d like to hear your stories. How has the need to tighten the budget helped you develop solutions that make your company or department fiscally fit while improving knowledge sharing?

Tips for Developing a Course that Fits Your LMS

At BLP, we work with many different learning management systems for our various clients. The only thing they all have in common is that invariably they are nothing like the one we used the week or month before.

Because we want to make sure our courses work perfectly with the LMS, we’ve started asking a series of questions at the beginning of every e-learning project. If this is the first time you’ve worked with an LMS, these questions may be able to save you some time fixing “problems” you didn’t expect.  With the answers to these questions, we are usually very successful in getting our courses uploaded to an LMS with limited difficulty.


Questions we ask at the start of every e-learning course.

Questions we ask at the start of every e-learning course.

I’m sure this list isn’t complete. What other questions would you add to the list?

PS – Interested in learning more about learning management systems? Register for our free webinar this week on one low-cost solution, Moodle.

What do your learners want from the LMS?

You have very specific wants and needs for your learning management system. You need to be able to track who took what course. You want to be able to automatically assign courses to learners. And so you pick a solution that fit your needs. But did you stop to ask what your learners want?

The best LMS won’t help you if your end-users, your learners, hate it. You need to test your LMS from your learners perspective. Some questions to ask yourself:


  • How do you know what courses are assigned to you? 
  • Where do you see the courses you’ve completed? 
  • How do you take the test or complete the electronic signature requirement?
  • When do you learn about new courses as they become available?
  • How can you add a course to your learning plan?


When you’re testing, document what’s easy to use and what features your struggle with. Then, you’ll want to make an implementation plan. The eLearning Guild offers a great list of tips for implementing your LMS with your learners in mind. Check out their 339 Tips, paying particular attention to Section IX, Tips on Training Users. There are several great suggestions, including:


  • Explain what the learning management system can do for them and why they should use it.
  • Consider only implementing the easiest features, adding more complex functionality over time.
  • Train, train, train!
After all, with any new technology, learners need some help. Check out this great video that I got from a friend in Norway that puts it in perspective.

Who Is Using Moodle? We are!

I checked today and since April we’ve logged about 160 hours getting Moodle installed and configured as well as getting 3 courses created in it. We’ve also input a whopping 16 users (who I still haven’t figured out how to send a mass email to). In general, we’re having a ball learning Moodle and I am extremely excited about its power to enhance learning in an organization.

When I say “we,” I mean two people with some peaks over the shoulder from a third one. Thank goodness I have a “techie” person who did the installation and some initial configuration tasks. I’ve taken it from there and done tons of work setting up courses and continuing to configure the site. Moodle is definitely a learn by trying it kind of thing; it also simply takes TIME to do system admin and course creation tasks.  Yes, it’s “free” in that the code doesn’t cost you anything, but I don’t work for free and neither does my “techie” partner, Kelly. We get paid, and when we’re workin’ on Moodle we aren’t doing the other parts of our jobs.

I’m excited by the possibilites and I really, really want to know: who else in the corporate world is Moodling? If you are using Moodle:

  1. Why did you choose it as your LMS?
  2. What have been your greatest triumphs?
  3. What has been your greatest challenge that you want to share with others?

If you aren’t using it, share what you’ve heard about it!

I’ll be posting more on Moodle the rest of this month. In my next post, I’ll share what two other Moodlers have done with it – and why they chose it for their organizations.

August Topic: Learning Management Systems

As Jenn first told you in July, Lessons on Learning has a whole new format. We’ll be covering a new topic each month, and I’m in charge of August. This month, we’ll be focusing on Learning Management Systems. We’ll explore:

  • Definition and features of an LMS.
  • Differences between an LMS and an LCMS
  • Questions to ask when creating a course for the LMS
  • The future of learning management systems: Web 2.0 and beyond

Learning Management Systems: The Basics

If you work in corporate training or higher education, chances are you’ve bumped into an LMS or two since ASTD reports that 91% of organizations use them. But do you know what a learning management system really is? According to PC Magazine, an LMS administers instructor-led and e-learning courses and keeps track of student progress. That means that an LMS can actually be anything from something like a very complex Excel database to a top-of-the-line information system that integrates with HR and CRM software.

Learning management systems have a range of features and functions. The most common include:

  • Tracking regulatory compliance.
  • Measuring course usage.
  • Managing logistics of instructor-led training.
  • Assigning e-learning courses.
  • Tracking course satisfaction and feedback.
  • Centralizing all learning functions.

With every thing an LMS promises, the results aren’t always what we anticipated. The 2007 eLearning Guild Annual Report on learning management systems found that nearly 30% of survey respondents plan to upgrade their LMS and around 11% plan to abandon their current LMS and move to a different vendor. Some of these changes are due to the complexity of the LMS. As TD’s Kodak case study from 2003 reveals, implementing a new LMS is challenging and you may not need all of the bells and whistles you think you want.

So how do you know what’s right for you? Each year, several reports review all of the different LMS options. Brandon Hall, Bersin & Associates, and the eLearning Guild all do a thorough job, reviewing between 75 and 90 products, focusing on a variety of functions. If you read even one of the reports, you’ll find the options are truly endless.

If you’re looking for a simple LMS, one low-cost solution that BLP is focusing on this year is Moodle. Moodle is a course management system that helps with the creation and distribution of quality on-line content. It’s open source software, which means it’s free and allows for personal customization. Sharon will have more on Moodle later in the month.

I’m looking forward to sharing our experience with Moodle and other learning management systems throughout August; be sure to check back for more about the basics of an LMS. As always, I’d like to hear from you. What questions do you have about learning management systems that I can answer? What advice can you give?

Moodle – a great way to NOT blow a budget on an LMS

Hey everyone,

It’s Day 2 at DevLearn, and I can tell you that Day 1 was an absolutely great learning day for me. I’m going to make several posts about what I’ve learned. This is the first.

Moodle was the start of my day – and it was fantastic. I learned that Moodle can be an excellent choice for many corporate users who want a low-cost LMS – and many, in fact, are using it to manage courses delivered to employees and to customers. Though the tool was originally created to be a course management system (CMS) for educators in the k-12 and university system, it’s rapidly migrating over to corporate users.

One very large company, whose name I will protect here to keep their secret safe from their internal IT folks, is using it to host the course offerings they provide to external customers. A healthcare organization that provides continuing education to nurses is doing the same thing.

The tool sounds fantastically easy to use. The course list an individual learner sees can be customized to their needs, Moodle can track registration for instructor-led courses as well as provide the entree point for e-learning courses. Administrators can received reports on course completion and even where learners clicked in an e-course. An instructor can set up a variety of learning tools such as discussions, wikis, chats, etc. Users can be “batch-entered” into the tool if they are all going to have the same learning path, which makes it very easy to add learners to the LMS.  In short, it looked like a fabulous learning tool – and the participants in my session who use Moodle all raved about it. It is, in fact, the #1 LMS choice of eLearning Guild users – even though it has never been promoted as an LMS. It has high satisfaction ratings among its users…and did I mention it’s FREE?!?!

Check out Moodle for yourself. There is a huge user community to support it, which is a definite plus. Be aware that it is open source, which means there is no Microsoft, Skillsoft, Outstart, or any other big company out selling it and making upgrades. There is also no “official” documentation…though there are a plethora of books and articles now available on Moodle land how to get started with it.

Who is on Moodle now that wants to share their success story (or horror story) with using it? Please share! Also…tell me if Moodle won’t work for you and why.