Nick Stephenson - What is xapiapps?

Posted by on 7 June 2017

Nick Stephenson from xapiapps discusses the benefits of data capture in getting the most out of the learning experience.

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Robin:
Welcome to the Learning While Working podcast. I'm Robin Petterd, the founder of Sprout Labs and the host of the Learning While Working podcast. In this podcast I'm continuing following through interviewing people who are experts in xAPI and having discussions with them.

I'm talking with Nick Stephenson from xapiapps. Just before Nick and I started the interview, I realised that xAPI—Experience API—really has a branding problem. It was known as Tin Can when it was being developed; different terminologies have been used for it, and different pronunciations as well. You'll notice me in the podcast a couple of times get myself a little bit tongue-twisted around this as well.

xapiapps focuses on getting data into your xAPI ecosystem. It has some really fantastic, really simple tools to use, that include things like checklists and a coaching app that Nick talks about. These allow the 70 and the 70:20:10 model to be captured and recorded.

This interview has lots of great advice and ideas. I really hope you enjoy it. xapiapps also has a free level which means you can sign up and have a play with it—there's no risk to it—and just get a sense of what's possible and how it works as well. I strongly encourage you to give it a try.

Nick, welcome to the Learning While Working Podcast today.

Nick:
Thanks for having me, Robin.

Robin:
Nick, it's great to have you on for this next podcast in the series of podcasts about xAPI. We were just having an interesting chat about how to pronounce that! I'm really interested for you to talk about "what is xapiapps?"

Nick:
Thanks, Robin. xapiapps is a platform for managing learning experiences. So, I guess the best way to perhaps communicate it to your listeners is to compare it to an old learning management system. Learning management systems are sort of old 2000s technology. This idea of delivering learning content via a browser worked for a while and allowed people to scale training. But it neglects a lot of where learning happens. So, depending on who you talk to, the approximate 80% of learning happens on the job. xapiapps is a platform built to manage and capture data on that on-the-job learning as well as deliver all the kind of stock standard LMS-type features as well.

Robin:
Yes, interesting. I remember introducing the idea of a learning record store to a group of L&D people who were really new to eLearning. Their first reaction was, "Isn't that what a learning management system does?" Well, it actually only captures what's in the learning management system, it doesn't capture what's outside the learning management system.

Nick:
That's exactly right. A learning record store is—depends on how you talk to—we're in like a rapidly involving market where people's understanding of what a learning record store is, and how it can be used is changing daily. But, if you see a learning record store as a way of capturing firstly all of your learning data from disparate sources, whether it be a forum, whether it be from online course, whether it be an on-the-job skills checklist, it can capture all of that data. But it goes a lot further than that. Like learning record stores, they can be used to capture business data, so you can compare say, learning outcomes to business data. Also as an integration point, learning record stores really allow you to integrate disparate systems and do some interesting things which are not possible with a traditional LMS architecture.

Robin:
Yes, and that's one of those really exciting but also complicating things as well. I think the thing with xapiapps is that it sort of solves the problem of getting the data in. I remember a discussion with someone, there was an L&D person who had fifteen thousand learners working with Moodle, and they wanted to record face-to-face training that learning people were doing. When they heard what a learning record store is, they presumed that that would have the interfaces to be able to get that data in. It seems like xAPI tools give a whole rich set of tools for getting data into the ecosystem.

Nick:
Yes, that's right, Robin. So, xapiapps in designed so that anyone who is an Instructional Designer, if you can use Storyline, you can use xapiapps to create a learning experience and automatically send statements, or send learning data about those learning experiences to the learning record store without any know-how, other than a two minute set-up process.

Robin:
So what are some of the actual tools that are in the system?

Nick:
We got a whole bunch. I guess where we started was in on-the-job observations of performance management. So we've got an observation checklist, which enables an organisation to see whether someone's applying learning on-the-job. We do a lot of work in the medical field, where you're assessing on-the-job whether someone's applying their learning, and performing their procedure correctly. That's one kind of thing we do. We also have coaching apps to facilitate face-to-face coaching and perhaps performance management. It's another area of work, and as well as things, really basic things. Like being able to chuck a Vimeo or YouTube video into xapiapps, deliver it to a learner, and collect statements on there, collect learning data on how people interact with that video.

So, we've got a whole suite of apps, and connectors that we can connect to third-party systems like learning record stores. And from that, build adaptable learning experiences which are delivered to not only their learners, but the people supporting their learning journey, like coaches, observers, etc.

Robin:
This is one of those things from a learning design point-of-view that I think is really interesting with xapiapps. To me, it really seems to be organised around the notion of a journey, and that adaptive bit of the journey being able to change. And literally, it feels like you're dragging blocks in, and it feels very visual in the way it works.

Nick:
Previously I came from a learning management system background. That's what we did many moons ago. We really wanted to start from scratch with usability guides, and try to figure out: if you're supported by an xAPI ecosystem, how is the best way to create a learning experience which ultimately supports the learner as best as possible? We kind of built our whole user experience from that perspective. And dragging blocks around on a screen is kind of the way we enabled an Instructional Designer to navigate that pretty complicated process in a very simple point-and-click way.

Robin:
Just to go back a little bit to something you said around the checklist and the medical field. The checklists are incredibly powerful both from the point of view of measuring learning, and measuring learning in the workplace, but are also supporting learning and guiding learning and guiding performance. The Checklist Manifesto is one of my favourite books ever, and that was really about applying checklists in health care. What are some of the really great examples you've got of clients working with some of those tools?

Nick:
Well, we've got one client, which has sort of been the focus of a few case studies of late on xAPI land, mainly because it's really interesting. We've got Medstar Health in DC who are using observation checklists to check the performance of resuscitation teams in what's called a Code Blue simulation. A Code Blue is when someone typically, within a hospital system, has a heart attack or respiratory issue. A team forms—an ad hoc team forms in real time in order to respond to that situation, and xapiapps observation checklists are used in this case to identify who is in the room, who is doing what, and collecting data about how that team is responding to that particular scenario. So, the great thing is you're collecting really a data driven view, or data view, of everything that's happened in that room in real time, which can then be compared to other training data that's being collected.

Robin:
There's a really interesting series of things there. Because often organisations don't have good data about what people are doing, and the time limits that they're performing it in. Checklists are a really interesting, powerful way of being able to make those activities visible.

Nick:
Yes, absolutely, and if you're doing Kirkpatrick Level Three kind of stuff too, it's an obvious way to do that. Post-training, sling an observation checklist to a learner's supervisor or manager, then have them respond—or their colleagues or peers—have them respond and capture data on how the learner's performance has changed, if it has, in relation to the learning.

Robin:
Okay. As I've been doing some of these interviews, I'm starting to feel like people are not quite sure where to start with xAPI— or experience xAPI. An interesting question I'm going to ask in each interview is, "What's your advice to people who are getting started?"

Robin:
That is an interesting question, which I would answer differently day-to-day, depending on who I last spoken to in the customer world.

Nick:
One of the things is the whole xAPI experience has been around, obviously, three or four years. And there's two narratives happening around it, which is confusing to an L&D professional. A lot of the narrative around in the market is still dominated by technical stuff. You know, standards, bodies, talking about statements, all that kind of stuff. And I think that's somewhat problematic if you're getting started, because what you really need to do is just find the tools, plug-and-play tools which support xAPI, and jump in. So, it could be as simple as: you're using Storyline. It could be as simple as pushing your Storyline data through to a learning record store. That's a quite simple thing to set up. If you to try some of the stuff that we do with observations or on-the-job performance things, you can set up a xapiapps account in twenty seconds and start to explore what xAPI is all about.

For me, I think at the moment it's the time to explore and see what can be done, because there's off shelf tools available to do that now. You can really go and experiment, and iterate without any technical support, and see what the capabilities of it are.

Robin:
That's interesting, Nick. From these interviews I'm going to set up a hands-on guide of "Go to this site, set up this. Go to this site, set up this. Try this." Because I don't think it is as hard as what the technical people make out. I think this whole thing about the potential of it, of coming from all these different data sources sometimes just confuses the matter a little bit as well. It can actually just be as you said, a SCORM object sending data that's a lot richer and a lot better than what SCORM data normally is back to a learning record store.

Nick:
That's exactly right, I agree. They're the easy starting points. Particularly if you got an existing learning management system or you've got existing learning infrastructure. Trying to retro-fit that to send statements to a learning record store is just going to be a big, hard, arduous problem. Go for the small, easy wins to get a feel for how it all hangs together before doing anything big.

Robin:
You've probably helped a few organisations now, through getting started. What are some of the mistakes you see people make?

Nick:
I've seen many a mistake. I don't know whether these are really specific to xAPI or just technology adoption in general. I just think the classic is, you're trying to do everything at once, and without really understanding the implications of rolling out this new technology. You try and, as I say, retro-fit your whole LMS to send statements from day one.

My inclination is: find small projects where measuring the outcome of learning is relatively straight forward to do. Small projects and your organisation, and start there. Then expand out. It may be as simple as running a face-to-face course and doing some Kirkpatrick 1-3 data collection. That's a part of a learning record store, which you could seriously set up in less than half a day, and go from there.

Robin:
So it's essentially starting small, finding somewhere, which is possibly easier to measure. There is this big picture, huge possibilities of it. But there are small possibilities to start with as well. I think that the example of doing the Kirkpatrick, putting an observation at the end of it, being able to measure that. I'm presuming these xAPI tools work really nicely on touch and mobile devices?

Nick:
Sure does, yes.

Robin:
It was interesting, I was talking to someone last week about the way they were doing some observations in mind, and they were through checklists, with an offline app. This particular person went, "We're having to use such-and-such LMS, and I'm so used to using xAPI. We had an app before that would do this all offline, it just worked for us. This is really complicated, working back in an LMS environment."

Nick:
Gotcha, yeah. That sounds like a typical scenario, unfortunately.

Robin:
Andrew (Downes) talked about that simulation example, and you've given a really good example, a good summary of that. What are some of the other examples you've got of clients?

Nick:
We've got one organisation, a North American hospital, who are using xapiapps to manage their internal coaching program. They've got eight thousand staff. On an ongoing basis, coaching conversations need to happen between supervisors and employees. So in that case, they're using xapiapps to provide a supervisor with the coaching tools and a coaching checklist to go through and run a manager coaching program with an employee. And based upon how that employee performs in the coaching program, branch and adapt. For example, most coaching programs are very quick and succinct and addressed, and finished very quickly. xapiapps manages that process. But at times when perhaps the outcome of the coaching is not in line with the organisation's expectations, xapiapps will adapt the coaching program, and interactions between the coaches and supervisors with that employee in real time to accommodate that. So that's just another on-the-job scenario where we work.

Robin:
That's a really nice example of performance support in terms of being adaptive and changing a little bit as well. Cool. Great ideas on this podcast, Nick. Are there any other gems of wisdom you have for anyone about xAPI?

Nick:
I think most interesting at the moment is the change in skills sets that are happening. The needed change in skill sets. I'm going to use an old analogy, which has been flogged to death a lot in the xAPI community. Let's say you're a copywriter in the marketing game, right? In the old days you wrote your copy. You submitted it to wherever it went and that was it. Now, of course, if you're a blogger or marketer writing copy, you have real time analytics. You write the copy, you see how it performs, right? You wouldn't just write the copy and leave it. See how it performs online, and see the analytics. Who's reading it? Where are they stopping? All that kind of stuff.

I think if you come from the Instructional Design background or the L&D background, this assumption of putting out content and then walking away, that doesn't fly anymore. People really need to get used to deploying content, looking at the data and what's happening with that learning content? And then iterating on it or at least making some kind of, at least trying to figure out what's happening and how it can be improved and how it's working. So I just think that we need this big shift in putting out content and walking away to iteratively trying to improve learning content based on the data that's coming back.

Robin:
The metaphor of what we can learn from marketig is a really nice one. There's another podcast I've recorded recently on that sense. This is one of the things that did come up, that marketing is very data-driven around this sort of continuous improvement and refinement process. In L&D we just don't have that sort of—it's culture, it's not about technology, either. In actual fact, xAPI gives learning a standard for collecting data. Marketing doesn't have those types of standards. It's all over the place, and it's very vendor-driven in terms of data tracking. We actually have some edges on marketing in terms of the actual technologies.

Nick:
Look, I would agree, Robin. That's very perceptive. We do have that advantage now. As standardisation improves, plug-and-play of these various tools are going to become much, much easier. And, the end result is that L&D folk should be able to drill down into that data quicker and easier.

Robin:
Thank you so much for joining me today. I'll include some links to xapiapps in the show notes as well, but if someone's listening to this, what's the best way to find you?

Nick:
Cool, yeah. Details are available on xapiapps.com.

Robin:
Thank you so much, Nick.

Nick:
Thanks Robin.


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