What is a Learning Record Store and why do you need one?

Posted by Robin Petterd on 13 July 2015

The way in which most eLearning modules ‘talk’ with an LMS is based on a standard called SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model). The standard was written in 2001, when we had very different expectations of eLearning; technology, and the way we use it in the workplace, has moved on. The 70:20:10 framework is a great example of where the focus has shifted from formal learning (what SCORM records) to more experiential and social learning.

Recently the new standard for reporting was released, called Experience API (xAPI). (To confuse matters slightly, the project to design the new standard was called ‘Tin Can’, and so xAPI is still sometimes referred to as the Tin Can API. The reason that the name lingers is that the metaphor of two tin cans being strung together suits how xAPI allows multiple systems to talk together.)

xAPI is exciting for two reasons: it allows for recording of learning beyond what happens in the LMS, and provides an extremely flexible way to describe learning experiences.

In the past, the way in which an organisation recorded an online learning experience was through the learner logging in to an LMS and completing the SCORM module. xAPI enables a far more flexible approach.

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Instead of the source (e.g. a module) being merely a SCORM module it could be:

  • a mobile app
  • pages on an intranet, or
  • an offline experience.

This opens up exciting new options for eLearning experiences beyond an LMS.

The way SCORM records data is truly horrible – it records interactions basically as a single line of code with all the spaces removed. Conversely, the format xAPI uses for recording learning experiences is extremely flexible. What is known as an xAPI statement is basically a sentence organised around an actor, verb and object, for example:

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How it works

Technically, for xAPI to work two things are needed:

  1. a source of statements e.g. a module or mobile application
  2. somewhere to store the statements – this is the Learning Record Store, or LRS.

Many eLearning authoring tools (including Glasshouse) have begun to adapt xAPI as a standard. What we found is that this is relatively easy – it’s the LRS that is a bit more complex.

Learning Record Store and your LMS

To begin with, the features of an LRS make it sound like it does the same things as an LMS. The core focus of both is on recording learning. However, an LRS is really only a place to store and report learning, while LMSs have grown to include other functionality. The problem with LMSs is that the learning experience is locked away inside the LMS, while xAPI there is a lot more freedom.

Two approaches to using xAPI in learning ecosystems are beginning to emerge.

LMS as a Learning Record Store

Some LMS vendors are adding LRS functionality to their LMS. Totara/Moodle has the https://github.com/jgsmitty/Experience-API-for-Moodle plug-in. Adding xAPI statement generation to authoring tools is relatively easy, but adding an LRS to an existing LMS often means a major re-think of how the LMS stores data.

The adoption of xAPI by existing LMS providers is one of the things holding back the wider adoption of xAPI. For existing LMS providers it often means a total rethink of how they record learning. Most organisations that are getting started with xAPI are using a standalone Learning Record Store.

Standalone Learning Record Store

The most common approach at the moment is to have a Learning Record Store that is separate from your LMS. In this case the LRS become your single source of truth for your learning records.

Your LMS can be just one source of statements that are sent to your LRS. The SmartKlass module for Totara/Moodle is a good example of this.

If you are just getting started with eLearning you may be wondering whether you still need an LMS. The answer is, you probably do. Most LMSs now offer a rich set of common learning interactions such as discussion boards, wikis and quizzes for building engaging and effective learning experiences. A Learning Record Store is really just for storing and reporting data. If you are new to eLearning, my advice is to future-proof your learning approach by thinking about having both an LMS and an LRS.

An LRS is really just for storing and reporting. It’s an enabling technology. An example of this is if you wish to record offline learning you would need to build or find an xAPI source to send statement to the LRS.

We have found that adding xAPI to a learning experiences is easy. The challenges are getting the LRS to report the data in a way that makes sense. It becomes important to ask why are we tracking this, and what do we want to know about the data?

This was meant to be a non-technical overview of Experience API. For a more technical overview see http://tincanapi.com/page-developers/

Some useful links

Lxhive (an open source LRS made in Australia) – http://www.lxhive.com
Watershed LRS – http://site.watershedlrs.com/
Learning Locker (an open source LRS) - http://learninglocker.net/
The Tin Can site – http://tincanapi.com/

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