I’m not a programmer, I’m an instructional designer.
And for the past decade or so I’ve been pretty satisfied
with my level of understanding of the SCORM standard. I know what I need to know,
That’s how I’d been approaching the Tin Can API over the
past few months. I had a high-level understanding of it, and knew I could talk
to any of our development team here at dominKnow any time I needed more details
(we’re among the early adopters of the standard).
But a few weeks back, watching the #TinCanAPI hash tag go by
in the Twitter stream, I had this crazy thought – maybe I ought to actually dig
in a bit deeper.
So I downloaded the latest version of the specification document
and kind of held my breath as the PDF opened, not too sure what I was really in
The Tin Can API is a project being led by the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Inititiative, the
group that has responsibility for the SCORM standard.
And although it’s been described by some as the next
generation of SCORM, what I found in the spec is that the Tin Can API is
actually very different in ways I think could really change our industry. Where
SCORM set out the standard by which data was passed from a course to a Learning
Management System (LMS) for storing, the Tin Can API opens up the data flow so much
What the Tin Can API sets out are the parameters and rules for
passing data statements about learning activities from one thing to another thing.
(And I’ll come back to what those things could
be in a bit more detail in a minute, because that’s pretty cool.)
Those data statements take the shape of a sentence with an actor,
a verb and an object. And in bit of a flashback to those elementary-school
grammar lessons we’ve all had and mostly forgotten, the actor is the person or
group of people involved, the verb is the action that was accomplished, and the
object is the context around that action.
If Allison finished an online course called The Five-Step
Sales Process or Kumar passed an online test in calculus, the statements could
look something like this:
Maybe you’re thinking this doesn’t look too much different
than what we can already do in SCORM. After all, we can already track
completion of a course or passing of a test in our Learning management System
(LMS), can’t we?
The Tin Can API moves beyond SCORM in that the verbs
themselves can go well beyond the data we currently get to track and measure.
And these aren’t numbers we’re passing, it’s data about actions that were
In fact, with version .95 of the Tin Can API specification, the verbs
themselves are open – creators of things
can define their own verbs to measure achievements in ways that are most
meaningful to their own business processes.
So instead of just passing around data such as test scores
and completion information, the Tin Can API will let you track data around any
verb you need to track.
When Allison goes back to her job and uses the skills she
learned in the online sales process, you can now track a statement like,
“Allison applied the five-step sales process.” And you can even flesh out the
object with further context to say, “Allison applied the five-step sales
process to increase her weekly sales totals by 15%.”
If you’re a fan of the Kirkpatrick Model for evaluating the effectiveness
of training, this should really open up some possibilities for you. This type
of data can begin to allow us to see the business results that arose from Allison’s
completion of the sales process course.
If you’re a fan of Bloom's Taxonomy, you’re probably also seeing some
neat opportunities here to track learning tasks further up towards the top of
that famous triangle.
That’s the first part of what’s exciting about the Tin Can
API – it sets out a new language structure for tracking different data than
we’ve ben able to track before.
The second part of my excitement over the Tin Can API brings
us back to those “things” I mentioned
earlier. The API isn’t about online courses passing data back to LMSs, it’s
about any online thing (or any thing
with some form or aspect of online connection) generating and passing data
to any thing designed to capture that
The generating and passing part of that equation can include
online courses, but it can also include apps for mobile devices, games and
simulations, web-based performance support tools, documents like help files or
tip sheets and almost any other thing we can imagine, leaving the future much
more wide open than SCORM does.
For users of Claro, it means any thing created in Claro could be trackable as a learning activity
without requiring an LMS to launch it. We can already create performance
support tools or other just-in-time/time-of-need learning products in Claro
that can be used without the need for an LMS. With the Tin Can API, these other
learning products will now be trackable as well, whether it’s an app on a
mobile device or a performance support tool on an organization’s intranet.
The capturing part of the equation opens up some neat possibilities
as well. The Tin Can discussion has presented us with a new acronym, the Learning
Record Store (LRS) to describe a new type of tool.
Even though it’s three letters long and still starts with
“L”, an LRS could be something very different from an LMS. (And it could be an
LMS, too, it just doesn’t have to be.) An LRS could be a simple database, or it
could be part of or integrated into any of the innumerable other data
collection tools already in use by organizations.
This means that data from things spread across an organization’s entire learning and
development ecosystem can be more readily combined with other data within an
organization – and that offers some really neat possibilities for better
analytics to help guide decisions from top to bottom in the organization, as
well as better opportunities for customizing and focusing learning paths for
And here’s a crazier thought - potentially our own learning
data doesn’t have to be trapped in an LMS anymore. Personal LRSs are a
possibility – an ongoing record of your own learning accomplishments, like a
For the past few weeks, my head has been spinning with all
of these possibilities. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped and
thought, “Oh, what about…?” as another possibility percolated up to the surface
So I guess I’m proof that everyone in our space – not just
programmers – should be getting excited by all the potential the Tin Can API
Chris Van Wingerden is Vice President Learning Solutions at dominKnow Learning Systems.