Where do you go for lifelong learning? Are you the type of person to sign up for an evening class on Marxism at a local university? Or do you watch a few YouTube videos on some topics that fascinate you, read an article in a trade magazine, or discover historical facts through Wikipedia? Learning is happening everywhere. Thankfully edTech is catching up with the times, and Experience API is making it possible for learners to track the wide variety of learning happening online. 

What does API mean?

Application Programming Interface. If you create a web-based piece of software or web app, you need to release your API to Joe Average to other developers cab design products that can speak to your software. For example, blogging giant WordPress releases its API to the developer public to create products that work with the platform. The more applications work on your system, the more versatile it can become. 

And what is xAPI?

Experience API (or xAPI) is an e-learning software created through a community working group led by Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) to track the myriad of learning available. You may see it referred to as Tin Can API as that was the project’s name during creation. Get it? Tin cans, as in the classic way you would speak to your best friend across the yard if life were a Hollywood movie. People in the know will get what you mean no matter which of these names you use. xAPI work by bridging the communication gap between learning content and learning systems. Picture it like a little digital dictionary that makes it possible for everyone to speak to each other! The learning experiences are recorded in a Learning Record Store (LRS). 

How does xAPI relate to SCORM?

xAPI is next-generation SCORM, shareable content object reference model (say that three times fast after a gin and tonic). SCORM is over 20 years old now and much in need of a successor. For the most part, it is only able to track within specific eLearning courses. That’s not really enough when you want to see how your learners engage with information outside the specific course. Enter xAPI.

xAPI isn’t looking to replace SCORM. Much rather, it wishes to complement existing SCORM and LMS set-ups. 

What Can xAPI Keep Track of?

Since learning isn’t just taking place at a desktop in an office anymore, some of the learning that is useful to track is:

  • Offline learning
  • Mobile learning: applications for phones and tablets are now used for learning and development purposes.
  • Collaborative learning: learners can work together to deepen one another’s understanding of topics and problem solve. Modern work is all about being a team player, so is modern learning!
  • Simulations: in corporate and medical environments, simulations are often used before learners are allowed near “the real thing.”
  • Virtual Reality (VR): One of the eLearning industry’s current buzzwords that still has valuable information to track. 
  • Private information: encoded answers and information still need tracking. This isn’t a religious confession. Post-encryption, you can track data. 

Why Do You Need xAPI? 

xAPI can be hugely beneficial, but how does it specifically benefit organizations and creators? At its most basic, xAPI allows businesses to track learning and development data. For organizations, this data can be used to:

  • Understand the impact of learning, including learning that you couldn’t track previously because it was hidden away in older specifications that couldn’t be accessed by SCORM or your specific LMS. 
  • Improve learning solutions and make them more innovative and engaging. 
  • Integrate systems, which can save you money in needing to migrate data from one learning system to a different learning system. 

For learning product designers and developers: xAPI can help make it possible to analyze reporting created specifically to help content creators develop a better eLearning product. This type of reporting was traditionally reserved for managers but can now be accessed by anybody who can use it. 

What is the Future of xAPI?

At its most sophisticated, xAPI can track the path of how learning correlates with performance. It utilizes so-called Activity Streams, a format that captures what goes on on social media (Beth liked a picture, Samuel shared Beth’s picture, etc.) to record what learning experiences are being had. xAPI statements follow an actor, verb, and object sentence structure. 

Have a look at this example of a learning-based activity stream. 

  • Dr. Melanie has made a grave mistake in surgery. 
  • Dr. Melanie completes “New Principles of Neurosurgery.”
  • Dr. Melanie uses a VR simulator of neurosurgery procedures. Dr. Melanie uses a new form of curettes (neurosurgery instrument).
  • Dr. Melanie successfully performs neurosurgery on 11 out of 12 patients.

Bingo, your organization, has just identified a training path to success. The data now becomes meaningful for, in this case, saving lives. The same can be applied to creating greater amounts of revenue as a business. Studies show that eLearning has the ability to create more success, organizations can use xAPI to find what specific learning can be completed for greater success. 

What is xAPI Not?

xAPI is not a Learning Management System (LMS). The Learning Record Store (LRS) does not manage users, provide courses or store learning paths. That’s perfectly fine, though, because it isn’t trying to be a type of LMS. It is there to offer learning analytics and reports. It translates, does the talking between software, and stores the information. However, it does this in an incredibly sophisticated way. Rather than simply seeing how far a learner has advanced in a learning activity, you can now see whether there’s a specific part of the course they have skipped (and connect this to specific repeated errors). 


xAPI is a fascinating new take on SCORM. It becoming more integrated will benefit learning management and create bigger clout for learning and development companies. The proof is in the data! 

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