Episode 27

What Is The Tin Can API? How Does It Relate To eLearning?

As online learning becomes more ubiquitous, standards for exchanging data and information between LMSs and conventional educational institutions are becoming necessary. Right now the primary vehicle for that data exchange is the Tin Can API.

What is the Tin Can API? First, an API (Application Program Interface) is software for sharing stored information between institutions, businesses and other entities. For eLearning, the Tin Can API is the application that most providers currently use. It allows various LRSs (Learning Record Stores) to connect and share data. Up to now our LMScast programs have talked about LMS systems like our lifterLMS. Today we are discussing how to interconnect those LMS systems to exchange vital educational records and other data as students continue their education through different providers, both online and traditional.

Each LMS has a LRS that collects and stores data used for tracking and reporting student records, program information and other data. The Tin Can API connects the LMS to the LRS for information storage, and then makes it possible for multiple remote LRSs to exchange that data. It was built upon an earlier API system called SCORM, which had limitations that the Tin Can API has resolved.

The process begins with a learning event such as a completed test, course, program, or other significant interactions between people or content. The event result is recorded by the API and stored in the LRS. From there this data can be shared with other LRSs. Having the standardized API is like sharing a common language: it makes communication possible between most entities. Tin Can API also has the capability to store data from devices such as mobile phones, simulations, games, and training models. All this data can be used to verify a student’s qualification for certifications and diplomas.

The precedent for the possibilities for connection and expansion in eLearning through APIs has already been set and proven in online business applications, such as Infusionsoft, which allow for marketing, online sales, tracking and reporting, and sharing of product and sales information.

When choosing your LMS you will want to be sure it is compatible with Tin Can API, as our lifterLMS platform is, so that you can share vital data with other LRSs seamlessly. This capability is necessary for your online integrated learning programs to expand into their full potential for universal access and accreditation. The possibilities for the future of eLearning are very exciting, and LMScast will continue to report on new trends and standards from our positions inside the industry so you can stay ahead of the curve.

Remember that you can post comments and also subscribe to our newsletter at LMScast.com for updates, developments, and future episodes of LMScast. Thank you for joining us.

And if you’re an already successful expert, teacher or entrepreneur looking to grow, check out the LifterLMS team’s signature service called Boost. It’s a complete done for you set up service where your learning platform goes live in just 5 days.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Joshua: All right. Hello everyone. We’re back with another episode of LMScast. I’m Joshua Millage and I’m here with Christopher Badgett and today we’re talking about a hot topic within the Learning Management Space and that is the Tin Can API. Today we’re just going to keep it basic.

We’re going to let you know what it is and why it’s important and why you should know about it because there a revolution that’s happening, I think, in the online learning space and this is a standard. This is becoming a standard. It is a standard but I think it’s going to be the standard in the next few years for transferring information.

Chris, I’ll let you take it away. Give us the high-level definition of what the Tin Can API is.

Christopher: All right. Let’s take a look back behind us first. Ninety-five percent of these podcast episodes have been about learning management systems, specifically built on WordPress. That’s about delivering courses and organizing your course material and content and so on.

Joshua: Mm-hmm.

Christopher: In the last episode we talked about a LRS, which is a learning record store. It’s a place where you can collect and gather data that other reporting and tracking tools can tap into so that you can pull information about a student or a program from various different environments and consolidate that in your learning record store.

The Tin Can API, sometimes known as the Experience API or the XAPI, is the pipe that connects the learning management system to the learning record store. It’s a consistent standard where it can record certain types of statements to pass information to say that Johnny completed this lesson and that’s a recordable event that goes into the learning record store via the Tin Can API.

Joshua: Right. Is this different or similar to what they … Is it the SCORM API?

Christopher: I’m still … The Tin Can API, I’m still getting up to speed on the technology, and this question here is more about the history. The SCORM came before the Tin Can API, and the Tin Can API is designed to improve upon and build upon it. It does … It lifts … The SCORM system had some restrictions that the Tin Can API was able to get around.

Joshua: Got it.

Christopher: I’d like to point out a great informational resource which is just the TinCanAPI.com. There’s a lot of great information there and I can read off some of the main bullet points about how that works.

Joshua: Let’s do it. Yeah.

Christopher: All right. This is from TinCanAPI.com and … How does a Tin Can API work? People learn from interactions with other people, content and more. These actions can happen anywhere and signal an event where learning could occur. All of these could be recorded with the Tin Can API. When an activity needs to be recorded the application sends secure statements in the form of noun, verb, object, or I did this to a learning record store. That’s what we were talking about, the pipe there.

Joshua: Mm-hmm.

Christopher: Then the LRS records all the statements made, and it can share those statements with other learning record stores and so on. What the Tin Can API does is it gives you the freedom to have that standard language and it allows different learning record stores to talk to each other.

Joshua: Mm-hmm.

Christopher: It’s like a common language. It also has device freedom where it can be pulling data from a mobile phone, simulations, games, even a CPR dummy. The list goes on.

Joshua: Wow, that’s awesome.

Christopher: Yeah. You can think about it in a more complex online learning situation like CPR or medical stuff where …

Joshua: Right.

Christopher: You may be pulling data from an online course on an LMS, maybe some field exercises even with a CPR dummy, and so on. There’s so many different places …

Joshua: Right.

Christopher: That that data could come from and then maybe that LRS needs to talk to another one that has to do with that student’s diploma or certification.

Joshua: Right. It’s a way of connecting all the dots. I think it’s really exciting to see where we’re headed with the lifterLMS plugin, because this is something that I know in some point in 2015 we’re going to be releasing compatibility with this so that people who build courses on our platform are able to share the data with these other platforms really, these other LRSs and all the applications that go along with that. The possibilities are endless.

It’s really exciting to me to see how this can really take someone’s information and distribute it in an exponential fashion. That’s cool. It’s cool to be a part of this new wave of technology in eLearning. I mentioned it in the last episode but I’ll reiterate it again here, which is I’ve looked at APIs from the beginning as a telephone connection for one application or piece of software or even piece of hardware to talk to another.

Like you mentioned, it’s a standardized way of doing that. My background is in Infusionsoft, and we’ve used the Infusionsoft API to say talk to QuickBooks, so if a sale is made on Infusionsoft then it can make a record or something in QuickBooks so that connection is through the Infusionsoft API.

To apply that here, a grade is posted in someone’s LMS, and it shows up like you said in maybe a school or a certification institution’s LRS to say yes, they completed that course, they’ve received credit, here’s their grade, here’s their name. It’s a way of organizing things. It sounds kind of dry maybe to some of the listeners, but it’s really something to wrap your head around and go okay, when I hear Tin Can API that means that this piece of software, whatever I’m looking at, has the ability to talk to others.

I think that’s how I would sum it up for people. That’s going to be incredibly important as education, I think, is democratized more and more, and we see more and more online learning happen. I’m excited about it. I think it’s cool to see these standards at the foundational level and see them mature and keep an eye out for new players and new standards. Of course, that’s what we’re going to be talking about here at LMScast is what that looks like and what we’re seeing being in the trenches.

I think in a nutshell, I’m glad we’ve defined it and as we learn more, and hopefully there’re some Tin Can experts listening who we can interview. If you are an expert in Tin Can API and want to be on the show with us, just go to LMScast.com and find our contact button there. It should be in the footer. We would love to talk you about what you know about this and share it with the community.

Chris, do you have any final thoughts on this crazy API connection?

Christopher: Sure. I just draw a metaphor about the power of the internet itself. At first for me it was, “Oh my gosh, I have access to all this different information.” That was great but over time I realized that it’s really the web or the connections that is really the most amazing to me. When we think about this in the eLearning environment, you can get access to all these courses and everything and that’s great.

You can be the entrepreneur behind that and build these things or share your message and share your vision and that sort of thing but the connections that are possible with things like the Tin Can API and what we do with data these days is really profound and you can see it in places where it’s really advanced where there was a capitalist motive.

For example, in advertising you can get all kinds of data about what article someone looked at and they they looked at these shoes on Zappos and that pair of shoes shows up on the blog they read every night. There’s so much opportunity that if we can see what has already happened with this connectivity in other spaces like advertising or other advanced API systems, there’s just a lot of opportunity for connection and integrated learning.

Joshua: Right. It’s extremely powerful, yeah. I would love to hear the listeners’ thoughts on this and you can leave a comment on this podcast blog post at LMScast.com. Check it out and don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter over at LMScast.com. We’re going to be releasing a bunch of great content this year. I know we’ve got some exciting things in the works that I think people will want to know about.

Go over to LMScast.com. You’ll see a sign-up button on the right-hand side of your screen. Yeah. Thank you for listening and until next time, we’ll talk to you then.

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