Experience API

What is Experience API? There’s a bunch of names swirling around that sound similar—Tin Can API, Experience API, and xAPI. What are they and what do they mean in relation to eLearning? They are a set of names sequentially adopted regarding the development of software specifications (rules) that govern the communication and relationship between learning content (educational information) and learning systems in order to record and track a wide range of learning activities on a wide range of technological platforms.

To best understand Experience API, the reader should appreciate its relationship to any number of interrelated terms and concepts. Here’s a short list to lend the reader a head’s up:

  • Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL)
  • API (Application Programming Interface)
  • Learning Management Systems (LMS)
  • Learning Record Store (LRS)
  • SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model)

The Foundation and History of Experience API

It is a truism that with the advent of eLearning, educators increasingly shifted their focus from “hard copies,” that is, printed material, toward information stored in digital format. With the explosion of digital information platforms and the wide range of proprietary software, educators were faced with the herculean task of analyzing and integrating digital information stored on various platforms, in various divergent software programs and formats. That was and still is the challenge.

Let’s look at the different actors in this framework. First, there are individual users who use educational content and input responses accessed from a variety of technological platforms—think smart phones, tablets, desk top computers, and online portals. Second, there are educational and training administrators who utilize, third, proprietary software to convey, collect, and organize educational information (input and output). Fourth, and this is the key part, others work toward developing protocols for integrating digital information collected from different software packages or programs. This is the basis for ADL: Advance Distributed Learning.

The ADL Initiative is a government-based program that, as per its mission:

“bridges across Defense and other Federal agencies, as well as coalition partners and industry and academia, to encourage collaboration, facilitate interoperability, and promote best practices for using distributed learning to provide the highest-quality education, training, informal learning, and just-in-time support, tailored to individual needs and delivered cost-effectively, anytime and anywhere” (http://www.adlnet.gov/about).

As an original program of the U.S. Department of Defense, the initiative was created from an early-1990s Congressional funding for electronic classrooms and learning networks. After a few years of work, the Quadrennial Defense Review recommended the creation of a centralized strategy, which ultimately became the original ADL Initiative. The initiative now has three main activities: thought leadership, R&D innovation, and outreach and transition.

All of this sounds vaguely familiar, yes? The government mounts a massive program to streamline defense and national security operations? Sounds a lot like the creation of ARPANET in the 1960s, which, of course, led to the creation of the World Wide Web and the explosion of commercialization and private use on a widespread basis. During that entire time, interested parties in government, academia, and industry collaborated to create operational protocols. Move forward in time . . . The Defense Department created a related program for education and training for its personnel—witness the birth of and need for the ADL Initiative.

Next step: the creation of ADL Initiative SCORM protocols and the rise of Experience API.

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., Learning Strategist