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.

 

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