Times are a Changing – That’s Good!

[Reflection is a key part of the learning process.  Time for me to incorporate it into my blogging!]

This week (which isn’t over yet!) has been crazy busy, but inspiring and edifying.  Between preparing for teaching/leading a second of my CPLP study group, the Masie Systems and Tools conference, presenting our project as a part of the xAPI Spring 2017 Cohort, and my usual personal learning activities, it’s been a week of seeking>sensing>sharing at its best.

Some of the insights from others and that I’ve had this week:

  • The breadth of knowledge we are expected to understand as L&D professionals is astounding – yet this week, I met and interacted with dozens of folks who navigate between learning theory, finance, analytics, social dynamics, impact of future technologies, technological infrastructure, group and organizational dynamics, etc. and do so effortlessly.
  • Elliott Masie shared three fundamental changes that are occurring in how humans learning:
    • Memorization for learning is declining being replaced by Familiarization as a tactic.
      • Based on the research of Betsy Sparrow
      • We aren’t as concerned about absorbing information as we are in learning how to navigate to it
    • Reading is being replaced by watching
      • 60% of all web landing pages incorporate video
    • It is no longer the WHAT that matters, but the WHO
      • learners will search for information, determine WHO provided it, and contact them for the learning
  • “We’ve become a world of self-service.  Except in corporate learning.” – Bob Mosher
  • Meeting people is easy, building network connections is hard.
  • Millenials (and other learners as well) want intense, immediate experiences to learn from.  They don’t want to wait until a workshop in June or a webinar next week.
  • Rob Lauber’s (CLO at McDonald’s) answers to rapid response questions from Elliot Masie:
    • xAPI – “Could change the game – personalized and transparent; aspirational”
    • search – “I’m already there.”
    • interoperability – “Has to happen for the future.”
    • badges – “I don’t see recognition from outside organizations”
    • virtual reality – “Not serious. I have people pitching me how great it would be for employees to be learning in a virtual restaurant while they are in a real restaurant.”
  • Getting back into a full-scale learning/study mode is challenging!
  • Building a data strategy is probably the last thing most L&D Professionals want to do, but not building one is much more perilous.
  • Irony – one of the two courses I got a C in back in college is fast becoming a component of my everyday life.
  • No matter if it becomes the standard or not, xAPI is driving a conversation about what learning is and how learning analytics should be formulated.  It is driving data knowledge/literacy in L&D.  These are good things.
  • In her article The Future of Learning Measurement has Arrived on TrainingIndustry.com, Caroline Brant says, “now is the time for innovation in L&D”.  She points to innovations like Artificial Intelligence, micro-credentialling, intelligent learning, and xAPI that are promising to radically change L&D.   She makes the point that it’s time for us to prepare ourselves so we can be a part of the innovation.

I couldn’t agree more with Caroline’s reply to a comment on LinkedIn where she reposted her article, “It’s a great time to be in the [L&D] space.”

What are your thoughts on the state of L&D and the challenges we face?  Are you optimistic or apprehensive?  Please comment below and let me know where you’re at.


10, no 11, Trends that Promise to Disrupt L&D

Recently, Josh Bersin posted about the changes happening in workplace learning in The Disruption of Digital Learning: Ten Things We Have Learned.  I’ve known Josh and his work for 12 years now and from the beginning, I’ve found both his research and his analysis to be rock solid.  This post is no different.

He generally isn’t swayed by today’s latest fad.  Microlearning and gamification are variables in the mix, but not what Josh views as trends.  He looks at more foundational/structural trends that the fads may be an element of.

He opens the post by talking about the gravity of the change ahead.  L&D has grown into a $140 Billion dollar industry.  He also notes that 83% of companies see delivering compelling, digital learning experiences as urgent or important. Add to this the data from so many other sources that C-Suites around the world are growing weary of L&D to become a strategic partner in the enterprise and you have a massive, volatile transformation in progress.

He points out that this isn’t just a shift in the tools we use it’s a complete shift in what L&D professionals do.  It’s not about changing textual content to video or making small chunks of learning.

…so our job now is simply to “deliver learning to where people are.”

It’s about phones or VR.  It’s about bringing learning to where employees are.  We’ve been talking about delivering what the learner needs, when the learning wants it, whenever the learner wants it, where ever they are for ages now.  Well, rehearsals are over – the curtain is going up!

Here are Josh’s 10 Trends that will disrupt L&D. (my commentary is in blue)

  1. The traditional LMS is no longer the center of corporate learning, and it’s starting to go away.  Why?  It’s old.  Based on a 30-year-old mindset focused on a course catalog and compliance.  The paradigm has shifted.  As Bersin quips, “their cheese has been moved.”  I agree that the “traditional LMS” is on its down slope.  But I’m curious to see how well those who are dancing on its grave will react to the new world order.  The expensive, controlling LMS is out, but L&D has had the luxury, in most cases, of being left alone with its big toy.  The learning ecosystem will be dependent upon systems that L&D has limited control over.  New rules of usage may impact learning implementations.  Whether a needed functionality is turned on or not will often be in the hands of IT or Sales or Marketing.
  2. The emergence of the X-API makes everything we do part of learning.  Everything we do is part of how we learn at work.  xAPI will enable delivery and tracking of all of it.  Bersin indicates that vendors will be building more and more tools that are xAPI compliant. No doubt, you know this brought a smile to my face.  If it gets rolled out properly and quickly, xAPI will be a game-changing enabler of new ways of guiding and tracking learning.
  3. As content grows in volume, it is falling into two categories: micro-learning and macro-learning.  His point here is that there is micromacro-1an appropriate time for all “sizes” of learning during an employee’s learning journey.  I believe that microlearning has been blown totally out of proportion in the past 2 years.  Microlearning isn’t new.  We used to call it “chunking.”  It plays a role in effective learning at different times in the learning process.  But it isn’t the square peg that finally fits into the round hole.
  4. Work has changed, Driving the Need for Continuous Learning.  Reading and answering emails takes up 28% of our time. 19% of our time is spent searching and gathering information.  Combined with the statistics Bersin quoted at the beginning of the post about the need for more learning because of rapid change and growing complexity, the 24 minutes employees spend, on average, in learning activities clearly isn’t enough.  No one has time for “course level training” anymore.  Combined with the trend above about crafting learning journeys and the trend below about spaced learning, this trend is obvious.
  5. Spaced learning has arrived.  No need to go into depth here.  We’ve finally discovered that research begun in the late 1800’s shows we forget things.  And with all the information flowing at us, we forget more.  But we’ve also discovered that spacing out learning and reviewing and questioning for retrieval increase our ability to retain and recall information.  OK, Bersin wasn’t as snarky as I may have just reflected it.  This is a major shift in the way L&D thinks about learning.  It’s also a trend that will give us some quick wins if we measure it well.  Retention up.  Scrap learning costs down.
  6. A New Learning Architecture Has Emerged: With New Vendors to Consider The LMS isn’t dead, but it’s only one of the players on the field.  There is a wide range of new tools hitting the market to meet the needs of the learning that is more personalized, self-directed, and just-in-time.  Some of the new tools are from vendors we know, but many are by new players.  The landscape is going to be shifting for a while through this transition.  Not much to agree or disagree with here.  I would advocate that L&D professionals put their curiosity caps on and invite vendors in to pitch these new products or sign up for their demos online.  Sure, it will take up some of your limited time, but it will be well worth it. There is some amazing stuff out there.  Make it a team activity one a month.  Yes, you will get a biased view of the world skewed to that vendor’s sweet spots, but they’ve also had to spend alot of time synthesizing some of the issues in this blog post to get to a point of being able to program a solution.  You’ll learn and, maybe, find a new tool.

    Today learning is about “flow” not “instruction,” and helping bring learning to people throughout their digital experience.

  7. Traditional Coaching, Training, and Culture of Learning Has Not Gone Away  With all of the “new toys” to play with, two key factors in high-performing organizations are mainstays of current practice – culture and coaching.  (I’m not sure why “Training” is in the title of this trend)  Bersin talks about the importance of the four E’s of learning at work (education, experience, environment, and exposure) to generate sustainable development. He shares that he feels there will soon be a tighter linkage between L&D and performance management tools.  Culture is clearly vital to the success of this vision of learning.  Peer support, knowing the organization supports you in taking the time to learn, linkage between learning and organizational objects are examples.  Coaching by managers not only can provide direct support for learning, but it also should generate a “my manager cares” and “I’m not just a number to leadership” feelings, which increases engagement.
  8. A New Business Model for Learning  With the diminution of the LMS and the de-emphasis of 3rd party content collections, L&D will no longer be in the massive capital investment game.  Bersin encourages a “pay by the drink” approach and encourages L&D purchases to push back on vendor pricing.  He also warns that the technology marketplace is going to be volatile for a while.  Vendors will come and go and there were be mergers and acquisitions.  He argues that signing long-term packages might be risky until things settle out.  My reaction is mixed to this trend.  One of the things that got many L&D departments “to the table,” sometimes briefly, was the acquisition of an LMS for millions of dollars.  There are numerous new tools out there that are testing out “pay by the drink” pricing methodologies.  Unless you have strong historical data that can inform what your potential usage might be, these methodologies could result in much larger invoices than you are expecting.  Bersin also doesn’t address the use of open source tools which in some cases are as powerful as their commercial competitors and just as secure.  Finally, APIs, webhooks and other connecting tools like IFTTT, Zapier, and Apiant are making it easier to mix and match vendors and to short cut review periods.  I’m not even going to go into the impact of the Internet of Things that is coming.
  9. The Impact of Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Slack Is Coming  Tools from these companies are radically changing the digital experience at work.  Up until now, L&D has generally stayed away from email and messaging tools as part of the learning ecosystem, but these tools are incorporating learning capabilities.  Bersin encourages us to think about Microsoft incorporating LinkedIn’s Lynda.com courses into Excel.  He suggests we need to open a dialogue with IT regarding the next generation of messaging tools they are likely considering today.  This is a very important call to action, in my mind.  I am concerned that this may prove to be L&D’s kryptonite.  For numerous reasons, we have stayed away from using normal workplace tools as learning tools.  Microsoft Office, Salesforce, Slack, Google, Github are all already incorporating learning functionality.  If we don’t incorporate these and other tools into our learning experience designs, we may be perceived as out of touch and irrelevant.
  10. A New Set of Skills and Capabilities in L&D Roles in L&D are going to shift and, likely, some will go away as we take on these new challenges.  New roles will arise. new LD technical needs Many companies are already re-training their L&D teams learning design thinking, MVP (minimal viable product) approaches to new solutions, and understanding the “employee experience.”  He does point out that the overarching principle that has historically driven L&D’s work: Our job is to understand what employees jobs are, learn about the latest tools and techniques to drive learning and performance, and then apply them to work in a modern, relevant, and cost-effective way. This can’t be overstated. L&D and it’s professionals are in an “adapt or die” situation.  To use two overused, but familiar terms; we need to be responsive and agile to deal with this changing environment.  Some of us may be sitting in the same chair in 5 years, but the work in front of us is likely to have little resemblance to what is there now. 
  11. (Wait, you thought there were 10?) Based on a comment to Bersin’s post by W. Nema, I’m adding an 11th trend – the Need to Understand and Incorporate Business Structure.  Nema is specifically advocating that business-specific ontologies, taxonomies and metadata are necessary to enable effective contextual search (which is a mainstay of the modern workplace).  Of course, to add to the degree of difficulty, these structures are rapidly changing due to Big Data, Cloud-based interoperability, the Internet of Things, and other factors.  On this specific concept, I totally agree. Those working on xAPI are spending 4 months this spring re-evaluating the role of Profiles in the standard.  Profiles include what Nema is suggesting.  Without rigorously developed profiles xAPI is clunky and hard to program to – at best.  Well defined profiles will enable vendors and practitioners to fully exploit the full potential of xAPI.  But I would expand it to include more than what Nema is calling for.  We need to understand IT, Processes, and Cultural Structures in our development of learning experiences.

PHEW!  Hat tip to Josh Bersin for his ability to synthesize all of this.

Now it’s your turn.  What do you think of any or all of this?  Is Josh on the mark?  Am I a suck up for agreeing with most of it?  What do you think the challenges are that L&D must address?  Please feel free to use the comments section to share your thoughts. Or do like me and refer to this post and comment on your own blog.

Feature image: “Wheel of Disruption 2014 by Brian Solis” by Brian Solis is licensed under CC BY 2.0

xAPI Resource Center Update

I’ve added 10 new resources to the xAPI Resource Center, including a subsection on Talking to Your Techies on the Statements page.  Your IT contacts will be amongst your most important stakeholders on an implementation of xAPI.  The resources I’ve included are written to be a bridge between non-technical L&D folks and the technical professionals who will have to endorse projects like this in order for them to move forward.  These resources should get them to a point of feeling like they know what xAPI is and to make a decision of whether they are ready to dig into the technical side of the spec for you.

Several new resources regarding cmi5 profile for content update that section including the launch of the SCORM Cloud Testing Utility.  The remainder are various items I think fit the criteria for inclusion in the Resource Center.

I’m working on two other Resource Centers that I hope to launch this spring.  Watch for opportunities to help me with those as i have a couple of “Work out Loud” activities that I’ll be seeking input on.

As always, your thoughts on xAPI or suggestions for resources I should include in the Resource Center are welcome in the comments section below.

cmi5 in SCORM Cloud

Last week, Rustici Software launched cmi5 in their SCORM Cloud utility. While this isn’t the most scintillating news, it is a major step.  The SCORM Cloud implementation and support provides vendors and content developers with a place to test cmi5 launchable activities.  The ability to test in an environment like this is vital to assure that cmi5 and xAPI have been applied correctly in new tools and new functionality in existing tools.  For commercial vendors, this testing is vital.

Setting up a SCORM Cloud account is easy.  Check out details on xAPI on SCORM Cloud.  Initial use of SCORM Cloud is free.  The free version is great for individual testing and small implementations.

What is cmi5?

cmi5 is a profile that sits on top of the xAPI specification and helps control content in the xAPI ecosystem.  It allows content to be loaded to LMSs, but doesn’t require an LMS.  Many people short cut the explanation by saying it’s the SCORM replacement.  But that really limits the understanding of what it is.

Yes, cmi5 has all the capabilities that SCORM has to launch content in an LMS. But it goes well beyond what SCORM has been capable of delivering

ADL developed cmi5 with the following goals:
  • Interoperability – not only can cmi5 conformant content be launched in an LMS,  but it can be launched by various tools as long as they have been programmed to accept cmi5 data.
  • Extensibility – because it sits on top of xAPI, cmi5 extends the capability to collect data on learning experiences outside of the LMS and through the xAPI extensions, provide extensive detail on results and context of the activities within the course,
  • Mobile Support – cmi5 content can be accessed via mobile devices

The ADL cmi5 work group is developing a document which goes into detail regarding what cmi5 can do versus SCORM.  You can view their working document here.

A major benefit of cmi5 is that most of the attributes are content-specific.  The xAPI statements carry all of the information about the content with the content.  SCORM content depended on the LMS to keep it organized.  (cmi5 content is self-aware).  What this means is that the content doesn’t have to sit in the same place as the LMS.  In our cloud-based. distributed content world, this is huge.

With Rustici’s adding cmi5 to SCORM Cloud, we should see more and accelerated development of authoring tools that support the creation of rich xAPI/cmi5 content.

To learn more aboutcmi5, go to the xAPI Resource Center.

What do you think?  Have you explored cmi5 and/or xAPI?  What are your thoughts on cmi5?  Please share your thoughts by replying below in the comments below.

xAPI as lingua franca

As I’ve come to understand the xAPI standard for learning experience data interoperability I’ve found it interesting that many people misunderstand what exactly xAPI is and is not.

  • xAPI is not an instructional design methodology, although it will impact the ability of instructional designers to do their jobs better.
  • xAPI does not analyze or evaluate learning experiences, although it enables the creation of metrics and analytical tools that L&D has not had to date.
  • xAPI does not replace the LMS, although it enables learning done on any platform to be tracked and evaluated.

In my mind, it can be explained as two things:

  1. it is a technical standard to enable the creation of data about learning experiences
  2. it enables a common language(s), a lingua franca, to talk about that data

I’ll talk about #1 in a future post.  In this post, I’ll address #2 and why it’s important.

Wikipedia provides the following definition of a lingua franca:

A lingua franca (/ˌlɪŋɡwə ˈfræŋkə/),[1] also known as a bridge language, common language, trade language or vehicular language, is a language or dialect systematically (as opposed to occasionally, or casually) used to make communication possible between people who do not share a native language or dialect, particularly when it is a third language that is distinct from both native languages.[2]

via Lingua franca – Wikipedia

The key to this definition as applied to xAPI is the phrase “systematically used to make communication possible between people who do not share a native language or dialect”.

A lingua franca answers some of the key questions raised by skeptics of xAPI.

“Why do we need a standard like xAPI when various vendors are addressing or can address the analytics within their own system?”

Actually, there is no need at all for a lingua franca if you are going to work with tools all created by one vendor who has applied a common methodology across all their tools.  But in this BYOD (Bring Your On Device), self-directed learning reality of today’s workplace, the ability to merge data from various systems and devices is facilitated by a common set of descriptors.  To begin watching a video did you “start”, “initiate”, “play”, “begin”, “hit go”?  What verb tense would you use – play, played, playing?  In Big Data, these things matter and can be the difference between being able to build valid analytics or not.  (FYI: the xAPI video community prescribes “played” for having started watching a video.  All verbs in xAPI are in past tense.).

The same consideration goes for the programming language used to express the data.  If some data comes to you in HTML5, some in XML and various other languages each applied differently by each vendor, your chances of ever cleaning it up on an ongoing basis in order to do regular reporting is very slim.

An agreed upon set of vocabulary that is systematically applied enables data from multiple systems to be merged and analyzed quickly and accurately.  Ultimately, if well implemented widely, xAPI will enable industry-wide learning analytics.

“Why is it necessary to purchase a Learning Records Store in order to use xAPI data?”

There are open source LRSs that can be used for free.  Vendors can build LRSs as stand alone or part of their tools (ie, LMSs).   LRSs are built to assure that any data that resides in the LRS is in the form of valid xAPI statements.  If the preferred vocabulary for a learning experience has been used, the data extracted from an LRS for analysis will have a very high level of validity.  Validity is a major issue with Big Data.  The xAPI LRS addresses this issue.

Data can be exported from an LRS to any data storage or analytics tool that is being used.  Although many of the commercial LRSs available have analytics tools built in “out of the box”.

“How can a standard determine a singular vocabulary for all learning experiences?”

xAPI does not prescribe a single vocabulary.  This course of action was dropped at the end of 2015 because it was seen as being too restrictive.  In reality, the xAPI specification does not specify vocabulary.  It enables various communities of practice to establish a list of vocabulary that is appropriate for reporting data in their domains.  These vocabularies are listed by ADL and the Tin Can Registry as recommended vocabulary.  Users of xAPI are highly encouraged to

  1. use already established vocabulary whenever possible
  2. join or start a community of practice in creating domain specific vocabulary
  3. as a last resort, create their own vocabulary and share it via ADL/Tin Can Registry.

It is through this collaborative process that an appropriate, systematically applied vocabulary will be established.

The xAPI standard establishes a structure for the data and parameters for various components enabling flexibility for necessary variations from domain to domain or device to device.  This balance is the power behind xAPI.

“How will xAPI enable non-Learning data to be used in our analysis?”

With a common vocabulary established, data from non-xAPI systems can be easily mapped and connecting APIs can be written.  Many of the major business systems like Salesforce, Slack, and HRMS systems already have export APIs established.  xAPI can match up to these systems easily to create xAPI statements from their data and store them in the LRS.  Thus only one connector is needed for each external tool.

A final benefit in the xAPI standard is that it is being developed in JSON using human-readable language.  Built on common linguistic structure, it is understandable to non-technical practitioners of learning and development.

Establishing a common way of speaking about learning experiences, our lingua franca, will provide benefits to individual L&D departments, the organizations we serve, the industries we are part of.

Leading the Target: Challenges for 2017

Having grown up in a hunting family, Bill Brandon’s article in Learning Solutions Magazine entitled Leading the Target: Challenges for 2017 caught my attention.  His forecast for 2017 is on the mark.

When you are seeking to hit a moving target with a rifle or bow and arrow, the first thing you are taught is that you must “lead the target.”  If you aim for where the target is when you fire, your shot will be woefully behind the target when it gets there.

If there were ever a moving target in Learning and Development, what we will need to accomplish in 2017 is one.  Brandon points out that while the challenges we face are not new to us, the coming year will be focused on 4 key topics:

  • Learning Analytics
  • Bring Your Own Device and Security
  • Authoring Tools
  • Accessibility

They are being enabled and/or changed by a number of innovations in concepts and technologies:

  • xAPI and cmi5
  • The “realities”: virtual, augmented, mixed
  • Cloud uses for learning
  • Multimodal learning
  • Mobile microlearning
  • Spaced learning
  • Personas

And for good measure, he throws in the fact that the Gig Economy will likely be a disrupting factor in how we go about doing all of this.

I’m in agreement with Brandon in both the fact that none of this is new.  But I also agree that all of this coming together is going to make 2017 a difficult year to hit this moving target.

2017 is going to be all about agility.

Take a look at your personal learning network now.

  •  Are you in touch with the thought leaders in your areas of specialization?
  •  Do you know how the concepts and technologies mentioned above will impact your work?
  • What do you need to learn to be better prepared?

Don’t look at what is being done today.  Lead your target so that you’ll be ready to do what needs to be done tomorrow.

xAPI Data Talks! Page Layout May Influence Interaction

In her post, Supporting Social Learning Through Page Design, on HT2Labs’ blog, Janet Laane-Effron talks about analysis she and her colleagues did on two of HT2Labs’ MOOCs.

The question is:

How can page design best support social learning?

The test:

Janet and her colleagues placed the comments section in one of their MOOCs below the content it was related to.  In another, the placed the comments section next to the content.

The result:

The two MOOCs had statistically the same number of total comments once moderators and other HT2Labs folks were removed from the data.  However, when they looked at whether the comments were original comments or replies to comments,  the MOOC with the comments section next to the content came out as the clear winner for interaction.  (The assumption here was that replies to a comment reflected interaction between participants.)

While Janet states in her post that this finding is not conclusive and there are other issues around UI and general layout for responsive design, it definitely suggests that there is more to consider on this question of the positioning of the comments section in relationship.

The xAPI win:

The only reason Janet and her colleagues were able to do this analysis was the MOOCs were created in Curatr, which creates xAPI statements.  In the xAPI standard for comments, original comments and replies to those comments generate statements with different verbs which can be sorted for.  In addition, the MOOC facilitators and other HT2Lab admins can be removed easily by sorting on the actors and the roles they have in the course.

Without xAPI, none of this data would have been created.  Sure, you could manually go in and created a data set my viewing each comment section and notating the comments in a spreadsheet.  But that would take far to long.

With xAPI, it would be very simple to expand this study to 10 or 100 MOOCs – if they are all set up in authoring systems that comply to xAPI.

Usage data on our learning designs can be at our fingertips with xAPI.

2017 Learning Trends: Custom, Adaptive, Anywhere, and Impactful

Jeff Carpenter, CEO of Caveo Learning, emphasizes the move to measuring performance improvement rather than training results in his post 2017 Learning Trends: Custom, Adaptive, Anywhere, and Impactful on Caveo’s blog.  The trends outlined in his post are based on feedback from over 100 CLO’s and other learning leaders.

  1. Deliver Learning on the Learner’s Terms
  2. Create “impact,” Not Merely “Learning”
  3. The Rise of Adaptive Learning
  4. Curation of Customization
  5. Learning Experience Gets Customized
  6. Interactive Video Pushes into the Mainstream
  7. Measure Twice, Train Once

None of the trends, in and of themselves is shocking.  Although the prediction that Gamification has had it’s time in the spotlight and will now become just another tool in the L&D toolkit is sure to stir some controversy.

But the seven predicted trends are what the profession has been working on for some.  We’re on the right path.   Individualized, anytime/anywhere, performance-focused learning has been the brass ring we been reaching for for a long time.  2017 we will have a chance to grab it.

The underlying trend in both Carpenter’s post yesterday and Josh Bersin’s post of Bersin by Deloitte’s predictions last week is urgency.  This may be L&D’s only chance to grab that brass ring.  There may not be another time around the carousel if we miss this opportunity.  Our organizations have been patient as we’ve dealt with massive changes in the workforce and emerging technologies, but it is time for us to step up and delivery.

Fortunately, there are reasons to believe we can succeed in 2017 and radically change how we deliver value to the organization. I was glad to see Caveo mention xAPI.  I believe it is going to have a greater impact in 2017 than most people are aware of today.

The challenges are real and we will have to once again stretch ourselves again.  But grabbing the brass ring is possible.  Get ready……here it comes……

(photo by camknows on Flickr.  Creative Commons — Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic — CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence)

xAPI Approaches ‘The Chasm’

Before Thanksgiving, I attended eLearning Guild’s DevLearn 2016 conference and the xAPI Camp that was held the day before.  One of my primary goals was to add to my knowledge and understanding and to get a feel for the innovative products that are already implementing xAPI.

Three days of great conversations, a dozen presentations, and an equal number of demos with the vendors left me excited about the prospect of xAPI and the impact it should have on Learning and Development over the next 5-10 years. (A special thanks to Watershed for their xAPIGo game that made learning fun and provided a tremendous example of the power of xAPI.)

But in my conversations with the several dozen vendors and other professionals who are part of the xAPI community who were at DevLearn, I began to come to the conclusion that xAPI is fast approaching “The Chasm.”

Diffusion of Innovation Theory

In the 1960’s Everett Rogers developed the Diffusion of Innovations Theory

that describes the different classifications of people when deciding to adopt a new product or idea.  These five groups (innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards) communicate and adopt innovation in a rather rigid sequence, depending on the prior group for the assurances they need to jump on the bandwagon.  Each group has a responsibility to “sell” the following group on the innovation.  Because each group has very different values regarding the technologies they use, the communication between the groups can be challenging.

that describes the different classifications of people when deciding to adopt a new product or idea.  These five groups (innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards) communicate and adopt innovation in a rather rigid sequence, depending on the prior group for the assurances they need to jump on the bandwagon.  Each group has a responsibility to “sell” the following group on the innovation.  Because each group has very different values regarding the technologies they use, the communication between the groups can be challenging.  The most difficult transition is between the Early Adopters and the Early Majority.

Crossing the Chasm

In his 1991 book, Geoffrey Moore defines this transition as “Crossing the Chasm.”  It is chossing-the-chasm-coverthis point when success or failure of an innovation will most likely occur.  To successfully move from an idea adored and championed by the innovators and early adopters to a marketplace leader views as the new status quo, an innovation must meet the following challenges:

A single company launching an innovative product finds crossing the chasm a massive challenge.  In the case of an industry standard like xAPI, there are scores of different companies, organizations, and individuals with varied interests and competing models for success in collaboration and opposition to each other to move the adoption of the specification forward.

The Early Majority doesn’t like ambiguity.  They want things to work the way they are supposed to.  They have very little tolerance for innovation they don’t understand.  The “what’s in it for me” mindset must be heeded.

Is xAPI ready?

Moore points out that early attention to preparing to cross the Chasm during the innovation and early adoption stages eases the crossing.  Here xAPI is in good shape.  The community of individuals and organization that has built up around xAPI is robust, passionate, and open.   Finding the right way to incorporate the Early Majority into the community without alienating them yet remaining a focus of passion for the Innovators and Early Adopters will be the key.

A cautionary message is necessary around the conceptualization of the product positioning, the whole product, and the marketing strategy.  My experience of the overall messaging coming from those who were at DevLearn was too technically focused.  Valid statements that are generated in compliance with xAPI are truly things of beauty if you know anything about coding.  But the continual, “and this is what the statement looks like” will be a barrier to L&D Directors, Line of Business Managers, and the Executive Suite.  We need to create a message of business solutions and better learning outcomes.

Another obvious challenge is going to be not overwhelming Early Majority citizens with more new data then they are ready to receive.  If you think in terms of the 70:20:10 model, we could be expanding learning 9-fold as we implement solutions to reach informal and social learning.  As we build xAPI into our learning designs, the amount of data that can be generated is astronomical.  L&D folks are not currently equipped to absorb all this data effectively.  To help cross the Chasm, we need to:

  • Model implementation strategies that throttle back the amount of data thrown at them for analysis, so they can adapt to the future of big data,
  • Advocate education around big data and learning analytics,
  • Provide analytics tools that not only crunch the data, but also teach the operator about what they are doing.

Overwhelming Early Adopters is a guaranteed way to get them to start shutting down.

Other challenges are easier, but still need to be attended to:

  • Providing tools and guidance in moving SCORM based materials to xAPI will be vital
  • A clear understanding of what tools create xAPI statements, what a Learning Records Store is and is not, and simple, but powerful analytics tools will ease adoption.
  • Proof cases that demonstrate the abilities of xAPI conforming experiences, business results that can be displayed because of xAPI data, and ease of implementation will easy the minds of the Early Majority
  • Pricing models need to be tested and adapted to meet the expectation of L&D, Business Partners, and IT.

All of these are in process already.  Again, successful output of the xAPI community.  The activities that DISC (Data Interoperability Standards Consortium) has on the roadmap for 2017 address many of the challenges that will be faced in crossing the Chasm.  But, there is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to assure a safe crossing.

If successful, xAPI will dramatically change the nature of Learning and Development and it’s role in the organization.  We will be able to measure our work with a rigor and accuracy we’ve only dreamed of to date.

(Photo by Blake Richard Verdoon provided by unsplash.com)