I’m clearly not the only one to recognise that L&D lacks the skills needed for the kind of learning analytics enabled by advances such as xAPI.
Mark Aberdour has written a very thoughtful post about the challenges we face and makes this suggestion:
Clearly some of these items require close interaction with the L&D team, but in summary there is a real need to bring experienced data scientists into corporate learning and development, not just to set up analytics programmes but to continually monitor, review and refine the results.
via Building a learning analytics platform | Open Thoughts.
I agree that organisations need people who can interpret this data and make it actionable, but I don’t believe they should sit within L&D. If ownership for learning data remains within L&D we risk continuing the current situation where all we do is measure the most basic elements of our performance (inputs and outputs) rather than the impact of learning on workplace performance.
For learning data to have strategic value it needs to be considered at a higher level, in combination with data from other parts of the organisation. To be objective, ownership for this needs to sit outside any department with a vested interest in the results.
Last week I made a start with the Learn xAPI MOOC, which is being run in Curatr and organised by the tried and trusted team of Ben Betts, Martin Couzins and Sam Burrough. This is the first MOOC that I’ve started which I can actually picture myself completing.
For me, the format is spot on – short, focussed pieces of content delivered by people that really understand the topic (who appear to have a real passion for it) with lots of opportunities to share and interact. They’ve also recognised that not everyone has the same kind of interest in this as a subject and so have separated out the content into two tracks – strategy and technical.
A bit of background
I’ve been aware of the Experience API (xAPI) for a long time, and I understand the basics of what it is intended to do:
The xAPI enables tracking of learning experiences, including traditional records, such as scores or completion. It also stores records of learners’ actions, like reading an article or watching a training video.
That description is sourced from this page on the ADL website and if you want a purely functional description of what xAPI is, it’s a good starting point.
I also understand as much as I currently need and want to about the technical aspects of how it is implemented. What I don’t understand is why we should use it and in what context. I have therefore chosen to go through the strategy track.
I’ve come away from the first week with more questions than answers – and that’s great. The MOOC has got me thinking about xAPI in much more detail than before. Here are the things that I’m currently pondering:
- I get that xAPI allows us to track more things than SCORM, in more ways and with much richer data. What I currently don’t get is why we would track them at all.
- Is knowing that someone has attended a conference, watched a video or read an article somehow more valuable than knowing that they have completed a piece of elearning?
- xAPI has the potential to produce a lot of data. Other than storing it in a Learning Record Store (LRS) what do you do with it all? Organisations are generally pretty poor at using the data they have now – will they be able to do a better job with even more of it?
- For it to have value, data needs to be meaningful and actionable. As far as I can tell the xAPI standard makes no attempt to address this – which makes sense. While it may be possible to standardise the mechanisms for structuring, recording and storing the data, the meaning of that data will be unique.
- There is much talk about using xAPI to record performance data (which is terrific) – but in that case why is the data kept in a Learning Record Store? That name needs to change if it is to be taken seriously by anyone other than L&D.
- While I’m thinking about it – I’m not yet sure that an LRS records learning any more than an LMS manages it.
- Who benefits from the xAPI?
- I’m pretty sure that so far all of the potential benefits I’ve seen broadly relate to the organisation, L&D or the individual learning designer.
- I can see that there are benefits to the learner, simply because if the organisation wanted to track activity in a SCORM world, it had to be SCORM content, whereas xAPI seems to be able to track pretty much anything. Whether the learner benefits from that tracking is another question entirely.
I’ve really enjoyed the first week. I certainly know more about xAPI and even if I don’t have the answers yet, I’m getting a better handle on the questions I need to answer.