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 Focus on the LMS; More Focus on Tin Can API

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 3:

Less Focus on the LMS; More Focus on Tin Can API

Over the last decade the learning management system (LMS) has become a fixture inside organizations. There are well over a hundred LMS products on the market for learning functions to choose from.

Yet few organizations seem to really use the data generated by an LMS or use the LMS for any purpose other than to house courses. Our clients consistently ask for SCORM-compliant courses without even knowing what SCORM is or why it was created. As mobile devices and the concept of “social learning” have edged their way onto the learning scene, the LMS has become a problem. Suddenly learning professionals everywhere have a conundrum: How do we track what learners are doing?

Tin Can API (also known as Experience API or “xAPI”) is a solution that drew a lot of buzz at mLearn 2012 and Devlearn 2012 as the eventual replacement for SCORM. Why is it getting the buzz? Because it tracks “experiences” learners have – rather than course completion. An experience MIGHT be completing a course, but it could also be playing a game, participating in a Twitter chat, reading a blog, or viewing a video.

It will take time for organizations who have made a major financial commitment to traditional LMSs to abandon them completely… but look for Tin Can to make major inroads in 2013. We are already seeing our clients talking to their LMS providers about Tin Can – and letting them know they want the LMS to be compliant with it.

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

Check back next week for Trend 4, or download the entire white paper now.

This Week on #TalkTech: Lectora 11 and Tin Can, Mobile Apps for Surgeons and the Future of Wearables

#TalkTech is the “flipped” approach to Twitter chats. We publish all the topics a few hours before the chat so you can show up at 3 pm EST / 12 pm PST on Thursdays ready to discuss. We discuss three topics a week and the chat lasts around 30 minutes.

We’re shaking things up in 2013 here at #TalkTech! Every couple of weeks, a guest curator will be picking our topics and leading the discussion. Not much will change format-wise… we’ll still publish the weekly post here and the topics will still be tweeted by @BLPIndy, but a guest curator (besides yours truly) will pick the topics and be ready to lead the conversation during the chat. If you are interested in being a guest curator for TalkTech, let me know!

Topic 1: Will the new features of Lectora 11, particularly Tin Can compatibility, help L&D produce better learning?

Lectora and Tin Can API

We’ve used Lectora as a starting point authoring tool to create custom learning solutions for many years. Naturally, the release of Lectora 11 piques our interest. We’ve gotten excited about Tin Can API along with the rest of the L&D community, but the hype can’t become reality until authoring tools and LMSs both make their products compatible. We made our Knowledge Guru game engine compliant back in September 2012, and its exciting to see more and more other products follow suit. What do you think of the new features in Lectora 11, Tin Can and otherwise?

Lectora 11: Announcement and Features

Topic 2: How can mobile apps improve the learning process for surgeons?

Surgery has to be one of the hardest things a human being can learn how to do. It’s also a field that technology can have a big impact in making practice and simulations more accessible for surgeons to be. A UK Startup called Touch Surgery has released a series of mobile apps that connect future surgeons to the knowledge of senior professionals in the field. Read more about the apps and discuss ways you can see mobile making learning to be a surgeon easier.

Surgery simulation goes mobile with apps to teach trainees to think like seasoned surgeons

Topic 3: Are wearables like the Nike+ fuel band the next big tech disruptor?

Nike+ Fuel Band

 Smart phones used to be cool, but now they are a given for lots of people. Now that we all have a computer in their pockets, what’s next? A new breed of products called Wearables, such as the Nike+ Fuel Band, promises to monitor our bodies and give us meaningful data to help us improve our performance and change behavior. Do you see this becoming mainstream? How can the technology be used?

7 Reasons Why Wearables Are Poised to Disrupt Our Lives 

If you’re new to Twitter chats, don’t forget about awesome tools such as that automatically save the hashtag and help you focus on the conversation!

#TinCanAPI to Guest Host this Week’s Pre-DevLearn #TalkTech

#TalkTech is a Twitter chat on learning and technology that happens every Thursday from 3 – 3:30 ET. We pick three topics (some of them submitted by participants on the #TalkTech hashtag) and discuss them as a group… and it’s loads of fun.

Our friends at Tin Can API will be hosting this week’s TalkTech chat… and we will be talking Tin Can for the full 30 minutes. It’s a great opportunity for those attending DevLearn to get their Tin Can – related questions answered before heading to the conference.

Read the full post… and see the topics Rustici Software (the fabulous developers who have been working on Tin Can) have picked for us to discuss, by reading the full post on Then, watch the #TalkTech hashtag on Twitter and join us this Thursday.

See you at DevLearn!

5 Ways Tin Can API Revolutionizes eLearning

Do these sound familiar?

“Brian watches a tutorial on how to fix a problem in Photoshop.”

“Jane emails a co-worker in another building to solve a work issue.”

“Lionel completes level two of a mobile learning game on sales skills.”

None of these experiences happened inside an eLearning course or classroom, yet they form a bigger picture of how we really learn at work… 90% informally and outside of traditional training. With the Tin Can API, all of these experiences can be tracked and accounted for. eLearning and training are entering a new age.

Tin Can API revolutionizes eLearning and mLearning

Image describing Tin Can from the Rustici website.

Tin Can API (or Experience API) is receiving a ton of buzz… and looks to make a big splash at DevLearn 2012 as the spec nears version 1.0. ADL commissioned Rustici Software to develop the specification, which looks to supplant SCORM as the go-to eLearning spec of the 2010’s…and then some. The beauty of Tin Can? It actually transcends eLearning…tracking activities we once thought weren’t trackable. At its core, Tin Can is really a series of simple statements: Tin Can delivers data in a Noun, Verb, Object format.

You get data like this —

Lionel attended “Sales Essentials: Intro Training” with an attendance rate of 100%. Lionel passed “Sales Essentials Written Test” with a score of 92%. Lionel completed “qualified lead sales call” with a result of “success”. Lionel completed “qualified lead sales call” with a result of “failure”.

All this data is reported to an LRS – or learning record store. The LRS sits outside of an LMS… but reports its data to the LMS. These diagrams from the TinCan website to explain this process-

Informal learning activities are reported to the LRS.

The LRS reports that data to the LMS... or multiple LMSs.

So yes… Tin Can API looks to change the way we think about eLearning… and learning as a whole. Here’s how:

1. Bring big data and eLearning together in ways that were never before possible.

Training tracks course attendance and completion, but research shows those activities make up less than .05% of most people’s time at work over the course of a year. Our needs for learning and support are much more varied, diverse, and constant than what formal training can fulfill. Tin Can API allows for tracking of the informal learning activities, both online and offline, that we are all doing every day… and brings them into the training picture as well. In a way, Tin Can brings “big data” into the Learning and Development world. We can track more details than ever before. With all this big data available thanks to Tin Can, who determines the “small things that matter?” Well, the L&D department of course.

2. Get a clearer picture of training ROI than ever before… by tracking more than ever before.

L&D departments are constantly fighting battles with upper management to preserve and protect their budgets — and too many of those are losing battles. Surely ongoing learning and knowledge management is an integral part of a healthy workplace culture! Thanks to all of the informal learning activities that Tin Can API enables us to track, L&D will finally have the hard facts and data they need to justify their budgets to higher-ups. Instead of just assuming people had positive results from a learning initiative, the numbers will prove it. When informal learning activities and usage of mobile learning solutions can actually have their results brought in to an LMS, the data can carry just as much weight as the completion percentage for that 5 year old eLearning course. Hallelujah!

3. Unchain the power of mobile devices.

Describing an “intangible” new technology like a new API is a tall order… and the folks at Rustici Software are doing a stellar job on their website. A recent post by Megan Bowe and Jeffrey Horne gives the clearest picture yet of how Tin Can works through a series of simple stories.  Past training efforts on mobile devices had a number of limitations, the biggest being that LMSs required the training to run through the device’s browser. Yuck! Mobile learning can, and should be better… and Tin Can allows that to happen.

“Tin Can statements are stored on the mobile device as activities are experienced. When there is a network connection, the collected statements are sent to an LRS (or several LRSs). And because there’s no need for a browser, activity creators can now use native apps for trackable learning. Some people are already doing it, and yes, it’s really that awesome.”

Native apps for trackable learning is a big deal… but its worth noting that web apps are also a powerful solution. Simply saving a web app to the home screen allows it to be used much the same as a native app, except it needs internet connectivity at all times to run. Just a factor worth considering when implementing mobile learning.

4. Learning games move from a fun trend… to a practical necessity.

Tin Can makes the activities and progress in learning games trackable and easily stored in the LMS. That means the data from games and other “engaging learning activities” can be put in the proper context… right alongside completion data from traditional courses. Gone are the days when a skeptical training manager can say “games are fun, but we need to prove that they completed it.” With Tin Can, you can do that… and more. We love the opportunities Tin Can creates for learning games, and we made our Knowledge Guru learning game engine the first Tin Can API compliant learning game.

5. Employees can more easily justify their value by directly tying eLearning they complete to job performance.

Okay… you completed your instructor led course. You passed an eLearning module with a 100% Gold star? No… that’s not enough. We need to know the ROI. We need to know how the business benefited and how you performed at your job as a result of what you learned. Here’s another excerpt from the Tin Can API blog:

“Perhaps the best part is that even after Adam’s training is over, his real-world job performance can be tracked. The Tin Can API can be tied in to the warehouse’s inventory system, and it can log whenever Adam loads or unloads a pallet. Supervisors can begin tying training to real-world performance and answering questions about training that they could never answer before. This is made even easier because all of this Tin Can data lives in one place, and in one format, inside a Learning Record Store.”

It makes perfect sense, really. You should get credit for ALL the learning you complete, and not just what the LMS can track. Thanks to Tin Can API, “trackable learning activities” now includes, well, everything. Knowledge Guru game engineTin Can API promises to have quite the presence at DevLearn 2012, which is just a few days a way. We will be there as well, promoting the Knowledge Guru. Come see how the game works, and how Tin Can API acts as a bridge between the game’s robust tracking capabilities and an LMS.

6 Mobile Learning Trends That Grew in 2012

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you might have heard by now that mobile learning is no longer the next big thing – it IS the big thing. In the past, smart phones and tablets were something only the “trend setters” had, but now that they are more affordable and accessible than ever (with Apple’s announcement of the iPhone 5 earlier this month, the iPhone 4S price has dropped to $99) it’s no wonder mLearning has taken off. Here is a quick breakdown of the mobile learning trends you need to be watching. All of these trends saw significant uptake in 2012… and look to continue.

1. mLearning in the classroom…and in the workplace.

Yes, teachers are now encouraging students to bring their smart phones and tablets to class and some schools are even providing them. There are thousands of apps available for the classroom that teach math, language, and even handwriting, and text message polls that encourage class participation. The best part? Research shows that it’s actually working. A study funded by the Department of Education showed vocabulary improvement by up to 31% in Title I elementary school students after just two weeks of using a particular educational gaming app. With such fantastic results in the K – 12 sphere, it’s no wonder mobile learning is seeing such rapid uptake in the workplace, too.

2. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)

How will BYOD affect mLearning?

How will BYOD affect mLearning?

Many companies and schools are adopting this policy as it is more cost effective and encourages people to keep working even after they go home for the day…or at least, that’s what the buzz is about. Reality is not always matching  up so far. IBM was one of the first companies to implement this policy, and so far the results have been, well, nightmare-ish. Ideally BYOD would save companies money, but according to IBM CIO Jeanette Horan, it hasn’t. Instead it’s been a headache for IT and caused all sorts of security risks. We’re grateful IBM volunteered itself to be the BYOD guinea pig because once these issues get sorted out it’s bound to be a beautiful thing.

3. “Snack learning”

Just like it sounds, snack learning is “bite-sized” tidbits of information you can grab on the go. Meant to be consumed in a couple of minutes, snack learning is convenient when you have a five-minute break between meetings or need a quick tutorial on how to run a software program. It’s great for brushing up on an old topic or learning the basics of a new one and caters to all types learners, from those of us with short attention spans to the knowledge-hungry learners. Learning “snacks” are perfect for additional reinforcement, quick tutorials, and the immediate assistance that the workplace demands.

4. Tin Can API

Tin Can API is the new eLearning standard.

Tin Can API is the new eLearning standard.

Tin Can API is SCORM’s smart and attractive younger sibling. By using the “Noun, verb, object” statements it’s able to track the important stuff, like what is actually being learned or done. Rather than the old system of recording pass/fail data, Tin Can provides trainers with useful information that can help personalize learning. Unlike SCORM, Tin Can API is also easy to implement and major players like Articulate, Lectora, and Blackboard have already adopted Tin Can. We are big believers in Tin Can at BLP, so much so that we have developed the first Tin Can API compliant learning game engine – The Knowledge Guru. It’s launching at DevLearn 2012. Tin Can API is currently at version .95, but will be at 1.0 soon.

5. Location-based integration and workplace training

You may have already seen location-based integration in museums, colleges or other places where tours are common, but we know it can go further. Whether it provides auditory, visual or textual information or directions, we predict this will become a great resource for employers as they train new employees and welcome customers into their companies. With smart phone use on the rise, businesses would be absurd not to use this to their advantage. Getting creative with training, like recording podcasts for sales reps who spend most of their days on the road, is an efficient use of time and can boost productivity.

6. Cloud computing

Cloud computing is a convenient way to file share.

Cloud computing is a convenient way to file share.

It’s inexpensive (or free), easy to use and provides a central location for large amounts of information that need to be shared – what’s not to love? At BLP we use Dropbox to share files, but I also use it at home to share family photos with family and friends. Most companies offer free storage up to a certain amount, then charge incrementally. The convenience of cloud computing will leave users on cloud nine as it wipes out the hassle of attaching files via e-mail or uploading them to a thumb drive and creates a simple way to collect and distribute information. It’s already changing the way we learn and work… and is only going to grow.


Mobile learning is exciting, the trends are important, but effective learning experiences still come down to rock-solid instructional design. Use these technologies, enjoy them, but always make sure decisions are driven by the ways people learn — and what motivates them.