LXP – rethinking online learning

This week I had the pleasure of launching an entirely new eLearning concept – the Instilled Learning Experience Platform (LXP). It really was not until I first saw the Instilled LXP in June this year that I realised just how dated our entire eLearning approach has become.

To understand LXPs, it’s important to remember that the ideas on which we base our current approaches to eLearning were developed in the 1990s – more than twenty years ago.

Back then we were not asked how videos will play let alone virtual reality. We were being asked “will it work over my 28k dialup in a remote area?” and “can you guarantee no content will be more than a few kilobytes?”

As for collaborative learning, well those of you who are getting old like me might remember the revolutionary forerunner of social media – Myspace. We are talking of a time ten years before Myspace was released so no-one had ever thought of people sending content up to a server. Servers do the delivery right?

Sure, a lot of tools have bolted these kinds of things on since then, but why don’t LMSes report when people skip a video? Why don’t they easily associate discussions with the content people are discussing well? The answer is that every one of the 700 LMSes in the world today is fundamentally based on 1990s concepts and any extensions are just that. Little wonder that digital natives would prefer to learn from a system not originally intended to teach – YouTube – than a system that is!

If we had our time again, we’d create a system that is much more like a social platform than a static website.

  • Where everyone can share their expertise by clicking a button and having the system capture it then and there;
  • Where content is automatically translated into your preferred language;
  • Where artificial intelligence matches your knowledge needs to the best content;
  • Where the whole experience of getting some knowledge takes two minutes and two clicks;
  • Where staff capture nuggets of information and have a truly intelligent system work out what they are saying so others can search for it;
  • Where others can add to that information and make it richer by contributing their thoughts and having the system link each thought to the most relevant spot within the content being discussed;
  • Where any type of content – be it a course, a document, a video or a presentation will play through a single player;
  • Where you get what you need when you need it and content is a click away at all times – no need to muck around with enrolments.
  • Where compliance and formal training can also be loaded and reporting is based on modern learning analytics;
  • Where the system extends out into the coalface and fosters on the job learning and experiential training (xAPI)

In short, we’d build a Learning Experience Platform.

If you were not able to make the launch, let me know and I can send you a link to the recording, but either way it’s time to fasten safety belts – online training is about to meet the 21st century!.

Gotta love trainers’ ingenuity!

I have to take my hat off to everyone who just completed the latest xAPI Cohort – all 650 of them! They spent 3 months “together” online for an hour a week from all over the world and learned every aspect of xAPI.

What I loved most was the ingenious projects the “teams” undertook. It really uderscores what I have been saying in this series – xAPI is a technology that allows educators to shake off the straight-jacket of SCORM and get back to innovating!

Over the last two weeks they each got a chance to present their work to the group and I can’t think of many other single technologies that has led to so many practical and diverse outcomes.

As of next year, these xAPI cohorts will be available to Australians too! There’s no charge and it’s a fun and collegiate way to prepare for the future of learning. If you are keen to take part, drop me a line!

My favourite team was led by a grandmother looking to provide improved reporting of early childhood development. She and her group built a tool that a childcare centre can use to analyse child development and it does that with xAPI. Each time a child sleeps, it measures the level of rest they gain. Meanwhile it measures their nutrition, time of dropoff and collection and it keeps track as they achieve development goals. This is a microcosm of xAPI’s big picture goal – to provide a truely holistic picture of a person’s development including activities, formal learning, and personal preferences. What’s really cool is that it now applies to the 3 year olds too!

The next team showed us how analytics and educational games can combine to help people with limited computer skills become more comfortable with technology. They developed a simple 3D world for participants to explore. As they move around and complete small tasks such as placing a ball in a box using a mouse, xAPI keeps a record of what they clicked, what they dragged, when they succeeded and when they had difficulty. Speaking as a person who has often been tasked with designing technological solutions for people with limited confidence in technology, I found the concept really interesting. Better yet, it was particularly interesting to see the graphs of progress against time – how many of us would like to know how their learners are growing more confident with the systems we offer over time?

One other team explored how to take a course created with limited xAPI and retrofit xAPI to it. By the time they had finished, this previously SCORM-only course was measuring the time people spent on each slide. It was looking at whether people muted or “scrubbed through” a video rather than watching it and even reporting when someone set a video playing in a course and became distracted by another task! They could see which videos seem to be over-complex, which seem to be boring and which were effective educational tools. When it came to the quiz, we had immediate access to the kind of analysis that only the most expensive LMSes would normally offer – without the need to buy an LMS.

Another team tacked the issue that chatbots can be impersonal. They designed a system that utilises Alexa as a technical support helpdesk while using xAPI to capture information about each person’s interactions with this automated helpdesk. In short, they have created a chatbot that has a human “supervisor” keeping an eye on the quality of its work and knowing when a person needs to become involved.

Yet another focused on a branching educational video in which a learner can make choices that determine how a scenario plays out. This is something that many of us have seen and often makes for exceptionally engaging interactions. In most cases it gets inserted into a course in a standalone way – we get no data from it. What’s new is that xAPI makes it measurable; we can see the route each person took, and from that learn about their style, knowledge and knowledge gaps.

One other came up with the ingenious idea of monitoring how a reader interacts with an eBook. The data they collect will tell an author what parts were most read, what was skimmed, the order in which people move through topics and where they spent time. They talked about employee handbooks that could be personalised to people based on their roles and needs, but I could not help but imagine this kind of data collection becoming an integral part of the commercial publishing process in the future.

When these things become ubiquitous, remember you saw it first at the xAPI cohort.





xAPI in the real world part 2

Last week I gave some practical examples of xAPI in use. It was really well received so I thought I’d offer some more this week. This one is by GVM’s xAPI collaborators and is timely – it’s launching this week to a national Audience across the USA. (Go team!)

The USA’s Department of Health chose our collaborators and their tool Rustici engine– the ones we work with here and is a pretty good example of why we chose Rustici.

Side note: the Rustici Engine will shortly be embedded in our flagship LMS as both products are now owned by the same company and are part of the same suite – PeopleFluent (NetDimensions) LMS.

The scale and ambition of the new system is vast – it will be a national initiative of America’s Federal Department of Health who have a critical need to reduce the perennial problem of staff turnover in the sector. At the moment the turnover rate for graduate nurses is a whopping 35%. With a direct cost per nurse of almost $AUD 100,000 each time a nurse leaves the sector. It was described as an “epidemic” by Marshall University. That is set to change.

The entire initiative is (in its own words) “Not in the LMS Business”. The initiative is in the diversified content and analytics business. With quality data and multiple training options, the LMS can be smarter. It becomes part of a much bigger picture and is allowed to be used for what it does best.

… and you can get a sneak preview here 

xAPI’s genius is the ability to relate training to “doing” – to the coal face. We can measure the real world skills of people, how they learn on the job and where we deliver formal training, we can measure directly the outcomes! In a sector such as health this is critical. Not only that, but it’s instantly engaging! Professionals dislike programs that focus exclusively on what they don’t know and simply teach when they could also demonstrate what they do know and focus on building on that (as well as learning formally). This is the secret to the USA’s new and exciting initiative Transition to Practice.

In America, the national competency framework is owned by the health sector itself and until now has been linked only to formal training. As of now, that is set to change.

xAPI allows any learning experience or activity to be related back to the framework and, when combined with good analysis, experiences will be proactive and personalised. In making learning vastly more relevant and interesting, by creating a holistic learning culture, by using technologies to find out how best to support each person, the USA will finally drive the heavy cost of staff turnover down.

Q) So what Is Learning Analytics and why is PeopleFluent doing so much in this space?

A) Measuring, collecting and analysing information about learners (and context) so that an organisaiton can:

  1. help them engage in their own learning (metacognition)
  2. help to optimise learning products for the way they are found to be used
  3. help develop and retain talent

xAPI will allow the Department to engage with practitioners from the time they leave college, helping them in a range of ways to continue developing, monitoring and aiding on the of results and mapping every experience to nationally accredited competencies.

The model

  • The system will provide cause authors with a list of standardised and verified xAPI profiles to choose from when they design an experience.
  • The profile will then ensure the appropriate information is captured in a repoeatable way to create meaningful learning experiences.
  • As learners undertake the experiences, the system will generate insightful visualisations of the xAPI data informed by the profile.
  • Armed with this, the platform will help authors continuously improve training and provide learners with the first holistic view of their progress – not just on exams, but in the field. Not just on clinical knowledge but on soft skills competencies.

So what are we capturing? Well before I tell you that I want to remind you what we are capturing it from. At first glance you will think “My LMS does that now!” – yes, but not when someone’s not logged in to the LMS it doesn’t! This is data collected while the person works with a patient, uses the VR system, reads a document on your intranet, operates equipment or meets with a supervisor too!

So imagine capturing the following in those contexts…

Phase 1:

  • States of Learning Progress (assigned, started, completed)
  • Score
  • Completion Date

Phase 2:

  • events and interactions within learning experiences – what was clicked, what objects are present in a VR experience etc
  • Time spent in lesson, section, activity, video etc
  • Learning gaps individually and by group based on results from individual questions

So now…. I’m really keen to hear from you all – what could you do with that kind of information to solve a real problem in your workplace?

xAPI in the real world

This week I was asked why anyone would use xAPI.

I’d just finished explaining that:

  • xAPI statements aren’t generated by any old workplace tool – it has to be one that you can program and that is online
  • You can’t easily use it to measure human to human interactions without significant effort
  • It’s best applied to the coalface staff – the work performed at the executive level and even management level is often best monitored in other ways
  • While an LRS could be used to trigger actions automatically, the main intent is to create data and reports that are then subjected to analysis

At which point I’d lost my practically minded colleague in  fog of esoteric data analytics. In part for his benefit, not to mention that of my broader audience, I thought I’d better provide a case study or two showing that analysing people’s performance against training can actually have a real practical impact on business.

Let’s start with Watershed – the reference LRS. Developed by Rustici (the people who created xAPI in the first place), it’s probably the most sophisticated xAPI analytics tool around. I am always fascinated at some of the applications that ingenious businesses have found for the data it can produce.

One such business is the fast food franchise KFC who were keen to learn whether employee training impacted store performance as quantified by an internal system called MERIT.

The question posed was: Can we say that stores whose learners who access materials more often score better in the Merit system, and if so which of Merit’s statistics are best addressed through training?

Armed with that, KFC are now positioned to focus their efforts on training that targets areas that generate the best ROI, and also to address specific shortcomings in performance at particular outlets cheaply using existing resources, knowing when this approach is the best one and when another is needed.

Simple, but then the best ideas often are…

Meanwhile, like all large organisations AT&T has both a financial and ethical obligation to minimise compliance risks. As part of an internal review, it explored options involving a video platform, an intranet, assessments, surveys and a sophisticated simulation tool. As any teacher knows, this approach is best practice – a range of learning options is far more likely to be successful than a single approach alone. Quite apart from differences in individual learning styles, our brains are wired to learn when related information is received in multiple ways.

Yet in a practical sense, it’s unconventional and the main problem is that the analyses these different approaches generate are equally disparate. AT&T wanted to know whether they were going to be forced to choose, or could they harness them all?

Is it possible that results from entirely different mechanisms might be collected into one place and compared in a scaleable and cost effective way to satisfy an auditor?

The easy option would be to turn all of these experiences into conventional eLearning and launch them from an LMS, but the company wanted to avoid adding all of this load to what is already a heavily loaded LMS, to avoid forcing people to log into a system before commencing and to allow them to learn “on the go” despite owning an LMS that is not mobile friendly.

Until recently, the only solution would have been to force all of these trainign modes into the LMS, but xAPI does not require an LMS. It provides creative alternatives.

All of these different systems can use xAPI to send tracking yet still operate as before. The portal does not need to be “moved into” the LMS – it can work as designed, but with xAPI added, it can also track people. A tool that has been carefully crafted for mobile compatibility does not need to compromise and run from a desktop-only LMS, but again xAPI lets it collect data.

Before xAPI, tracking learners involved moving things (to an LMS). xAPI doesn’t care where something launches.

AT&T intends to retain its LMS because some things run well from it. But now the company has other options open to it. People can learn when they run simulation tools, when they use mobile devices, when they read the staff intranet – in short they can learn their own way.

As a business owner, the work done by KFC to prove we can deploy training in a way that they know will generate a return is exciting. As a teacher, I’m inspired by the way AT&T showed that creative teaching and accountability are not inconsistent. Above all I am excited at the brave new xAPI world we’re entering.


Are you getting typecast?

I know I am not alone in that I take great care when I hire staff; I conduct multiple interviews, set practical tasks and sometimes undertake personality profiling. I will bring my best ‘people people’ to observe each candidate closely.

Like most employers, I have my favourite questions and also like most, they apply irrespective of the job title. Most are not aimed at eliciting role-specific or technical skills, but rather to examine character traits that are vital to a person’s future success in the role.

Asking people to recall their best and worst supervisors is a favourite of mine; I love to hear their view of how they should and should not be treated, together with what they did about it. The latter point is often a great indicator of their response to stress and as I drill into their responses I gain insight into people skills and communication.

I ask about their successes but I get even more value when I ask about their failures, and more specifically how they learned from them.

Another is to list their top three values, if only to see whether they are introspective, honest and likely to enjoy our culture. With a little digging, this question also sorts the clear thinkers from the rest. It highlights introspection too.

In the second round comes a skills test where I am looking for nuances – the practical tasks tell me if the person can do the job, sure but I am much more interested in hearing the questions they ask me as they perform them. I am studying faces. They won’t know it, but I will so,etimes hire people who fail the test miserably, but go down fighting. I know I can teach technical skills to people if their attitude is right.

In short, like all employers I prize soft skills highly.

So why is it that my company sells dozens of times more compliance courses than soft skills courses? Why are we so often asked whether we offer soft skills courses only to be told eventually that budget was not approved?

If soft skills are an organisational priority, it’s incongruous that they are not a training priority. Yet clients often tell us that the training they deliver is geared towards regulatory priorities to the exclusion of any other.

I am generalising somewhat and you only had to attend LearnX last week, or the AITD awards night to see some really innovative counter examples, but especially in smaller more financially constrained organisations there is a concerning trend. It is ironic that it is precisely these organisations with their small, closer-working teams that have the most to gain.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to challenge the stereotype that training is about compliance? When management is already trying so hard to recruit soft skills, can it really be so hard to preach to the converted that they should train them too?

Next time you make a budget submission, perhaps focus a little less on ‘completion rates for mandatory training’, and a little more on alignment to culture and broader organisational goals and see how you go… I dare you!

Is xAPI right for me?

I am often asked whether our organisation has xAPI capability as part of a requirement for us to be engaged and when I confirm that it does, I’m then asked “so what is xAPI?”

It’s a slightly funny situation I must say… Do you have it? Oh good. Err… what is it?

With this blog series I’m trying to help explain xAPI (as well as other training matters), but this regular question got me thinking… If you don’t know what xAPI is, what makes you think you need it? Or put another way, Who should be using xAPI?

Tim Morton of Rustici has written several excellent articles on this topic, but what it boils down to is this…

  1. Is all your training online?
  2. Are you happy for everything to stay in your LMS?
  3. Are you simply tracking course completions?

If the answer to all three questions is “yes” then xAPI is not for you (at least not yet).

On the other hand if you are teaching train drivers and you would love to get data from the simulator and use it as part of the assessment, while also collecting data from the trains themselves about how a driver performs as they navigate the network then xAPI is a must.

What is different is that this example is one where training and assessment is taking place away from an LMS and away from a classroom. We’re connecting a thing (a simulator and a train) to our training environment. What’s more, the information we’;re collecting is complex – “how fast was the driver going?” “how long did it take to stop?” “what were the weather conditions?” “how did the driver react to a situation?” “Did the driver notice that signal?”. These are all more specific and detailed than most eLearning is designed to capture so you will probably then need another system to perform analysis of that data to arrive at an overall assessment of the driver.

As another example, if you want to create a system that pushes learning to people when they need it (at “the point of need“), that’s typically not going to happen during a training session. Instead you need some way to have the tools of trade that they are using detect when someone is about to do something and could do with a helping hand. That tool could send a signal with xAPI that causes some other system (perhaps an LMS or a content repository) to send a learning snippet to the operator then and there.

So in summary, it’s worth looking at xAPI if:

  1. you have good opportunities to train or assess people at the coal face
  2. The tools they are using have the ability to send xAPI messages (or can be fitted to do so)
  3. You want more than one system to combine to take part in the training or assessment







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.