xAPI is NOT the new SCORM

I was recently reviewing a tender for an LMS. In it, was a question that does not have an answer. Pity the poor vendors attempting to respond!

That question was premised on a complete misunderstanding of xAPI. – “Is the LMS  both SCORM and xAPI” compatible.

Well… no.

I have heard this a bit and it comes from people thinking “xAPI is all the rage, it’s a standard. SCORM is a standard too …..    so….  xAPI is probably a better SCORM?”

Nope. Chalk and cheese.

SCORM solves the problem of having eLearning courses work with any LMS. With SCORM, courses can send tracking data, results and more to your LMS. SCORM’s really good at this – in fact almost all courses use just a tiny fraction of what SCORM can do. It doesn’t need an update. If you want to deliver eLearning you will be doing it with SCORM well into the future whether or not you also have xAPI.

The reason for xAPI is an entirely different challenge that extends across an entire organisation (well beyond eLearning):

  1. How can we measure results from informal training – what people learn on the job
  2. How can we link training to actual real world changes in behaviour?

Any solution to these challenges needs to work wherever your team learn or work. On the shop floor, while operating equipment, while driving the company car. xAPI makes no assumptions and so it is not an eLearning standard like SCORM. It doesn’t attempt to improve on SCORM, or do what SCORM does and it doesn’t centre on an LMS.

But what if I want eLearning in my bit xAPI world?

Sure! eLearning can play a part in this big picture environment. To do that, we just do exactly what we do now. Our LMs uses SCORM to launch and track eLearning modules. The LMS doesn’t “talk xAPI” at all and SCORM keeps doing what SCORM does.

What will change is your courses.  Courses send results to LMSes in SCORM. That bit stays the same so you can keep using your favourite LMS. In addition, those courses will send information in xAPI to an entirely different system that is listening not only to eLearning outcomes, but everything else too (and hopefully making sense of it).

A system that does that is called a Learning Record Store (LRS) and despite having a similar name they are nothing like an LMS. It can’t deliver a course (for a start); it is too busy listening to what’s going on around the place and analysing it.

So keep your LMS. Keep your SCORM. MAke your courses xAPI ready and do the same for your equipment. Administer your eLearning and classrooms in your LMS, then go to your LRS to see how effective it was, what else people learned and how they applied it.

So after all that, what are better xAPI questions to ask in an eLearning or LMS tender?

Well it’s worth asking if any eLearning courses you buy are ready to send xAPI messages to Learning Record Stores.

Beyond that, not much.

Side note- You can actually buy an LMS that comes with a crude LRS. That’s simply because so many people make the mistake of thinking an LMS should “have xAPI” that some vendors got sick of correcting them and bundled an LRS in so they could simply say “yes”. It’s a bit like a fridge manufacturer despairing of saying “no” to people asking if it washes the dishes and bolting a dishwasher on the back. Probably not a great dishwasher. Probably not a great LRS.

When we invent names for the obvious…

I have been thinking about the term “70:20:10”.

The term itself is new and has its origins in a study in 1996 undertaken at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina. In just over twenty years since then, that study has spawned a term to describe the way we learn and an increasing awareness that people learn by doing and that so much of what we retain is gained outside a formal training environment. That’s true, but it is interesting that the term (and recognition of this as an issue) is so new.

Humans have walked the planet for a million years or so and other hominids for several million before that. Throughout that time we have mastered learning in a way that sets us apart from any other species, yet as far as I know, not many million-year-old classrooms have been excavated. There is little evidence that early hominids sat patiently in their cohorts while a qualified trainer explained the intricacies of fire making and warned that it will be on the exam.

The oldest evidence of formalised training is a mere few thousand years old, workplace training younger still. In fact as recently as a generation ago, almost all on-the-job training took place on the shop floor. We were mentored, apprenticed, helped and shown.

We evolved to learn by doing; it’s worked since the dawn of human time and so practical training is not what is new. What’s new is that it’s become a problem (thus warranting a name). If it’s not the training itself that’s at issue, it follows that the problem we’re grappling with is related to a very recent change in our expectations. I believe that what has changed is an expectation that training must be standardised.

Recently we have grown accustomed to managing training, formalising it, quantifying it, measuring it, standardising it. We have created structured syllabi, certifications, competency frameworks and tests. We’ve loaded them into our LMSes so we can measure success and run reports and we gravitated towards training forms that are readily measurable. We looked to formalised training and increasingly placed on the job learning in the too hard basket. As we’ve built more eLearning, scheduled classes and set exams, we narrowed our options and sometimes lost sight of what works best.

It must be said that in many cases we had little choice and much of this shift has been imposed from outside. Today we’re externally audited, regulated and subject to CPD. Increasingly mobile workforces require us to recognise training conducted elsewhere. Centralised funding sources demand increasing levels of reporting and standardisation of skills has brought both portability and flexibility. These have been positives for the community.

However, the downsides are manifest too. Quite apart from the neurological challenges that go with expecting trainees’ brains to learn in a way they were not designed for, we’ve lost the ability to provide the confidence that comes with seeing oneself try it out. We have sacrificed context – the reality that performance on a formal training environment may not be a good measure of performance elsewhere.

Then there is the cost. We spend increasing amounts on tools such as VR that promise increasingly realistic virtualised training that remains tethered to our LMSes. We add social tools to platforms to attempt to recreate the interactions, sharing, validation and exchange of ideas that once were so integral to our on the job experiences.

The challenge we face is not in creating 70:20:10 learning experiences – that comes naturally. Rather it is to adjust the paradigm in which we deliver them to one that is sophisticated enough to accommodate training in traditional forms. We cannot walk back the need for measurement now that it’s woven into regulatory frameworks, so we have to think beyond the LMS (though the LMS will continue to be important for some aspects of training) but not beyond technology altogether.

What’s exciting is that a solution in the form of xAPI is at hand. The next generation of training will be liberated from any particular teaching style. We will be able to measure practical outcomes as easily as we currently measure test scores and with the xAPI model, an organisation might have an LMS or it might not (depending on whether it wants eLearning as part of the mix).

I wonder if the term 70:20:10 will still be doing the rounds in ten years’ time?

It’s not the online medium that’s the problem, it’s the attitude!

Ultimately all education and training is about knowledge transfer. Part of this is the movement of information from one party to another but knowledge is far more than information.

Knowledge is about curation, assimilation and application of information to enable appropriate action within a specific context.

The traditional art of knowledge transfer is teaching and the outcome of teaching is learning. In a school K – 12 context this is referred to as pedagogy and for an adult it is andragogy – the method and practice of teaching adult learners.

Online learning or eLearning has created great opportunities for scaling knowledge transfer and delivering just in time, targeted information to assist in situ application.

It is exciting times for educators as the digital revolution has enabled a whole new world of evidence based teaching methods and practices.

One example is that it overcomes the problem of timing. Nowadays we can train people at the moment they need the content, overcomming the perennial risk – “Will my student remember this at the coalface?”. In an extreme example, real time repairs to broken down machinery are now realistic without former training.

But does it introduce a new risk? We are all questioning whether eLearning is actually effective – the pedagogy and andragogy considerations. This concern should be taken seriously – after all, if training doesn’t train why do it? The answer lies in not changing the approach. I see far too often that organisations replace expert external trainers with internally produced eLearning. The trainers had been chosen for their expertise in androgogy and the eLearning was assembled by someone who is not primarily a trainer. It should surprise no-one that these eLearning initiatives fail.

It’s easy to see why it happens. Narrow minded assessments view eLearning as a a cost based initiative rather than a cost substitution. Some organisations invest far less in training after adopting eLearning; Out with the specialists and in with whoever in HR is lowest on the pecking order. They then seem surprised when they get a lower return. Others see it as a legitimate training option – one that can deliver better staff and better productivity, the results are undeniable

It’s not the online medium that’s the problem, it’s the attitude!

And no-one should expect staff to continue to tolerate it. The old, boring and disconnected eLearning that flooded the early internet is being replaced with evidence based approaches and the empathy that has always defined best practice teaching.

The internet has enabled an explosion of information – this information is now finding its way back in to the hands of the educators who are utilising technology to deliver best practice pedagogy / andragogy (old fashioned teaching) to create highly effective knowledge transfer.

Or put another way – who do you want your staff relying on? A professional with knowledge of your industry or your payroll officer?

OHS Rules in Australia

It is more than five years since harmonised health and safety legislation was introduced across Australia with the exception of Victoria and West Australia. In other jurisdictions a variant of Safe Work Australia‘s model legislation came into effect on the first of January 2012. It has subsequently been updated with the most recent version released in late 2016. It is supported by Model Regulations.

That is not to say it was implemented verbatim anywhere – subtle differences exist in each state and territory. For example, in New South Wales, Tasmania and Queensland, the words “reasonably practicable” were included to qualify the definition of duties. Queensland and South Australia applied the legislation’s duties of care and protections to volunteers while the ACT applied them to site visitors.

Safe Work Australia (SWA) is not an enforcement agency and each state retains responsibility for enforcing legislation.

In late 2014, the process of harmonisation was commenced in WA, though this process is still incomplete and a modified form of the model legislation is likely to be adopted. West Australia’s objections included union right of entry, penalty levels and the reverse onus of proof for discrimination matters.

The Victorian Government has stated that it will not adopt the national model workplace health and safety laws in their current form as it is of the view that it is less stringent than Victoria’s current legislation, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2004 (summarised here). Injury claims statistics would appear to provide some support for this position – Victoria is second only to NSW in number of serious accidents per capita and boasts the lowest injury claim cost per employee in Australia.


Victoria’s position has received criticism for the added complexity in compliance for employers in multiple jurisdictions.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s regulator (Worksafe Victoria) has recently released new regulations in regards to workplace safety and has issued a guide to assist with compliance. It has indicated that the new rules will improve standards while reducing red tape. Key changes relate to notification of homeowners of asbestos removal work and certain changes to high risk work licenses. Other changes impact hazardous facilities including mines and construction sites.


Recruitment and Training – one coin, two sides

Recruitment and Training – one coin, two sides

It is not always practical to recruit for skill as we know but I’d argue it’s not always desirable either. All organisations are attracted to the idea of recruiting those with the right certifications and skills, but with ever more understanding of more subtle traits that are at least as important (such as management potential, emotional intelligence and cultural fit) pre-existing skills are increasingly seen as something “in the mix”. In fact, many of the more sophisticated traits we now demand are more in-grained and harder to teach. Arguably we should view vocational skills as the easier ones to flag for future development in the right candidate and to an extent, prioritise character traits that are essential.

That’s one reason why vocational training is becoming ever more important. It was always true that workforce training had the potential to transform any organisation and make it far more nimble, responsive, effective and profitable as we know. However the more sophisticated our recruitment practices become, the more central training becomes in providing the freedom to recruit wisely. The more we can rely on staff development to fill gaps reliably and rapidly, the more freedom we have to build the best possible teams.

That said, just because training and development is important, it doesn’t make it an automatic win. Like anything, it will require planning and investment to work. Everyone wants to do it, but most of us are confronted by the question “can we afford to do it well enough to make it worthwhile?”. It’s a good question too – I would argue that subjecting people to a poorly planned, tedious and only partially relevant training program does more harm than good. If training is the first thing a new worker experiences, we do not want their first impressions to be irrelevance, poor quality, cheap and disrespectful.

So where does that leave an organisation with limited resources and experience in training delivery? What are the measures they might take to ensure their first steps towards training initiative will actually deliver them results?

The first thing to say is that workforce development takes place in every workplace; in other words you are doing it now whether you realise it or not. Contemporary thinking is that most learning is experiential – almost everything we learn we gain through experiences that just happen whenever we show up to work. The easiest and most effective starting point for any training program is to make those experiences as valuable as possible. Simple initiatives such as a staff rotation program and a mentoring program are arguably the most effective things an organisation can do to upskill its people. They are also some of the easiest things to do.

But what then?

If we assume your competition have most likely also achieved the basics, then to do better than them, we have to consider structured learning. That might sound scary but remember it’s intended as icing on the cake – your good experiential program is the cake itself.

Also, there are options and your structured training does not necessarily involve an internal program; indeed many of the largest companies are partnered with RTOs or TAFEs. From a financial perspective, it’s frequently cheaper to get the economy of scale by asking large external trainers to skill your team rather than replicate their efforts on a small scale internally.

However a surprising number of organisations elect to institute their learning and development programs completely internally and many even go as far as to establish an enterprise RTO and claim funds for it. This is of course more ambitious but don’t make the mistake of assuming it’s out of reach. Many people are surprised to learn just how many of these programs are operating very effectively in small and medium enterprises. The good news is that they also talk about it so there is a wealth of information online and countless vibrant forums on social media for the new learning and development manager to read. Jump in, ask for help. What is there to lose?

Of course, running an internal program is not for everyone, so when is it the right way to go?

Internal implementation allows a program to be highly specialised. That’s perfect for highly specialised or niche organisations. It’s also great when you seek to train people in a context of an organisation’s competitive advantages.

Another important point is that no training is every as good as that delivered from the workplace itself. Only there can it truely capitalise on experiential learning for maximum relevance and interest. The extra effectiveness delivers cost and time savings in turn.

Another consideration is that when people are trained at work their employer organisation gets to see outcomes directly in a way that returning from an external course brandishing a certificate can never do. This helps maintain commitment to the program and allows it to be continually enhanced.

No matter what approach you take, a quality training program will foster a culture of collaboration, learning and of continuous improvement and delivers bottom line outcomes in the process. But best of all, your training program will allow you more freedom to recruit from a wider pool of candidates and make your workplace more sought after

Online Training: how the scam operates

A look at some of the training sector’s darkest secrets…

Today I spoke to the victim of a very cunning scam.

There’s no other way I can describe his experience. After signing up with a supplier and paying, the product delivered to the customer’s business didn’t work. So bad was it that by the time he spoke to me he’d actually forgotten how many he’d originally paid for, because he asked them to stop sending the rest after the first ones failed so dismally.

He couldn’t demand a refund; “The contract was a bit too, um, one sided.”

It sounds odd, don’t you think that such a contract could ever be enforced? Everyone knows that goods have to be fit for sale after all?

“I couldn’t even get working ones elsewhere… the small print said that they can charge us heavy fees if we deploy another supplier’s product.”

I think the term here is ‘abuse of market power’.

“…and it gets worse”, he continued, “they started selling direct to our staff but had a clause that forced our finance team to pay whether we authorised a transaction or not. Staff only had to take one look and discard it, but this was defined as a sale; we were left with big bills we never budgeted for and had no control over.”

We are shocked to hear of a large organisation engaging in such activities. Whether we are buying a house, furniture, a car or anything else, we expect it to perform the stated purpose and we would not agree to contracts that absolve a vendor from responsibility.

What intrigues me is the number of people who shrug or indicate I should not be so naïve as to complain when I tell them the product in this case is eLearning.

Have we really reached the point where we are resigned to accepting something which would cause outrage if perpetrated by any other vendor?

Is a group who work unconscionably the best basis for a complex future legal defence if things go wrong?

Anything sold as a ‘course’ must by definition teach people! Noone actually believes their team learns effectively from an onscreen text document with a few click-and-reveals and a quiz, (what I call a text-assault). Least of all the staff asked to sit through it; in my experience, they know perfectly well when their valuable time is being treated with disrespect. They skip to the end, share quiz answers and go through the motions. Who can blame them? They are treating the material with the same disrespect shown to them and it is also unlikely they are missing much anyway.

The problem for their employer is that it is wasting money and unlikely to be meeting its compliance obligations.

Remember this – humans want to learn; if people are resisting, it’s safe to assume they aren’t learning. If they must be pressured to complete, both your time and theirs is being wasted.

A particular irony is when I see people being bullied to complete their anti-bullying compliance courses!

If anyone else behaved this way, we would report them to the authorities. It’s about time the shonky eLearning players were treated the same way.

Avoiding the pitfalls

1) Look for hidden fees. Reputable providers charge an all encompassing annual fee.

2) Never agree to charges or limitations on loading your own or other content.

3) Don’t buy sight unseen – do the courses. If you don’t want to finish, nor will your team.

4) Don’t be fooled by the impressive list of ‘who is using our courses’.

5) Do not sign up for a multi-year lock-in contract. Ensure you can exit after 12 months if it doesn’t work out.

6) Don’t call referees chosen for you – pick your own three of their clients who are similar to your organisation and call them. Ask about:

  • extra charges
  • whether staff complete without being chased up
  • supporting responsiveness
  • whether they are likely to change providers in the future.

If you know more, I’d be interested in your experiences. Please contact me via https://www.linkedin.com/in/pshawkins

What on earth was he thinking??

illegal“Disgraced former Education Department official facing criminal charges for corruption”. He stole millions of dollars from the state’s schools and spent them on restaurants, wine, parties.

And now prison, public humiliation, condemnation and a long career in ruins.

What on earth was he thinking?

It is easy to dismiss this person as a crook, as an anomaly. It is easy because it avoids getting into his head. It is a place few want to venture.

Would his family agree he was a crook? After all they know him better than you or I. No doubt they have a very complex set of emotions ranging from anger to sympathy, but is he a ‘baddy’? Does he wake up in the morning, put on a black hat and start scheming?

Or does he go to work, work hard, look at the awards on his wall, think of all the things he has to do to help educate the state’s children, then after work throw that party ‘because everyone does it’ or ‘because I have to impress my guest’ or because ‘it’s a small thing and the rules are stupid’?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t defend him for a moment and am as furious as anyone else. Indeed as a former teacher in the very system he damaged, I feel betrayed.

But I am interested in what makes people flout rules. I am interested in whether we can safely rely on their being upheld by good people, or whether we need to be alert to the fact that it could be any one of us, given certain circumstances.

I would like to believe the former, but I am not so sure.

Sometimes it is hard not to feel a degree of sympathy even for crooks; the lonely self-loathing accountant for instance. She kept her miserable evenings occupied with an unbreakable gambling addiction that started with a few dollars at the only place that welcomed her and eventually swallowed her employer’s bank account. Yes, it is not acceptable. Nor was the lack of help that might have saved her.

Too often the world has seen good people swept up in madness. Sometimes it has infected an entire nation and has led to persecution and war, sometimes it has infected a jealous individual and has led to a crime of passion. A distant forebear of mine was transported to Australia for stabbing a stranger who was not in military uniform, assuming him to be a deserter. In peacetime! His death sentence was commuted on the grounds that he, while a complete nutter was at least in some weird way injecting patriotism into his warped world view.

What were they all thinking?

I hope it is true that nothing could seduce me to allow my ego to suppress the warning bells. If I want to ‘look the part’ in my important job when a VIP is in town, that I remember which credit card is personal.

But then, most of us commit the odd ‘technical’ non-compliance. Are pens at conference stands considered gifts to my employer? Does everyone really have a receipt for every tax claim? Do they really log mileage meticulously?

I bet that Education Department official started small too. I bet if I had asked him at the outset, as a junior civil servant whether millions of dollars in expenses would be legitimate he would have been horrified, but maybe he was taking the odd sick day he shouldn’t.

Yet, years later when he was questioned by colleagues, he rode roughshod over them – they were being pedantic and were not part of the team. He knew the rules didn’t permit what he was doing, clearly; he went to some lengths to bypass them. Yet he presumably saw his actions as justifiable. This, from a man who is undeniably very smart and has worked hard to contribute to public education and clearly values it highly. Again, what was he thinking?

Just reward for someone who worked hard maybe?

Neccessary to operate in the circles he ‘needed to’ maybe?

Benefiting the school system in some weird fictional world view (a bit like my transported ancestor)?

We will never really know what he was thinking. All we can say for sure is that his thinking changed. Somewhere along the way, his definition of ‘technical breach’ evolved.

That’s why we have compliance teams. They protect not just out employers and colleagues but they protect us from ourselves.