xAPI Background & History
In the 1990s the growth of the Internet and World Wide Web forced an evolution of computer-based training (CBT) in positive, but disruptive ways. Today’s disruptive technologies—such as mobile devices, social learning, and cloud computing—have stimulated a new market for ubiquitous learning and paved the way for the creation of the xAPI.
The Experience API (xAPI) is a technical specification for implementing a Restful architecture consisting of a Learning Record Store (LRS) and four specific web-service Application Program Interface (APIs). The xAPI is agnostic about the type of learning content being delivered, and allows flexible tracking of learning activities and experiences, including formal e-learning courses, performance-based tracking, group-based or social learning, and even informal learning scenarios. Unlike SCORM®, the xAPI provides open access to learning and performance analytics as it focuses on the data, not the type of content that is being delivered. Supporting xAPI in a learning environment enables content to be delivered from nearly any application, not just a Learning Management System (LMS). The xAPI is also intended to enable use cases that were difficult to meet with the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM®), such as those requiring delivery of learning content outside of a desktop web browser.
Requirements for the xAPI were driven by the e-learning community’s desire to modernize the capabilities of the SCORM®, which was initially developed to make courseware interoperable between LMSs and reusable by different organizations and authors. Since its introduction in 2000, SCORM® has played a critical role in the proliferation of online training and education courses around the world. Even before its last update in 2009, it became obvious that SCORM® was limiting for several emerging learning technology use cases. In 2008, the Learning-Education-Training Systems Interoperability (LETSI) Federation was formed to investigate the next generation of SCORM® requirements and use cases that could frame learning technology challenges beyond SCORM®. LETSI leveraged ADL’s community and network of partners to submit requirements and called this effort “SCORM® 2.0.” It resulted in over 100 white papers that would later become essential artifacts and sources of requirements for xAPI.
In 2010, ADL Initiative began investigating new standardized experience tracking capabilities that could support emerging devices and technologies used for learning and performance today as well as in the future. Unlike SCORM®, learning experience tracking doesn’t focus on the type of learning content that is used. Conversely, it focuses more broadly on the data: the people (actors) involved and the experience tracking components that comprise the learning activity itself. It was envisioned that the learning data generated from xAPI should provide more than course completions, test scores, or the number of pages viewed by a learner. It should provide all types of learning activity data that can be analyzed and correlated to productivity and performance metrics. In 2011, a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) contract and project to develop an “Experience API.” This project was branded as “Project Tin Can” because the requirements were intended to be based on a two-way conversation with the community. The project involved reviewing the aforementioned LETSI SCORM® 2.0 white papers and conducting extensive interviews with much of the e-learning industry. As a result, the project identified the top priorities and requirements, and proposed a baseline technology approach and specification which would later become the Experience API.