Secrets Revealed: Tin Can, Experience API, xAPI, SCORM & AICC

Secrets Revealed
Do you ever feel bombarded by acronyms? Are you afraid to admit that you don’t actually know what they mean? If you are in the training industry, don’t worry: you are not alone! Tin Can, Experience API, xAPI, SCORM, AICC—these terms are thrown around all of the time, but what do they mean? This post aims to clear up any confusion so that you can start rattling off acronyms with confidence.

AICC

The idea of standards that could communicate with multiple learning technology products started with the Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee (AICC) which, in 1989, developed a set of standards for computer-based training. Despite the acronym, the standards were not specific to the aviation industry, and they quickly spread to other industries as well. While AICC is considered fairly robust, it is also fairly old, and although some elearning authoring tools still support it, it is not as widely used as the next entrant on this list.

SCORM

The AICC specification laid the foundation for SCORM, or the Sharable Content Object Reference Model. SCORM is a standard that allows learning management systems (LMSs), as well as other learning technology tools, to talk to one another. As long as all of the tools are SCORM-compliant, they can interact seamlessly. This means, for example, that course designers can use content from a variety of sources and that an elearning course developed using a SCORM-compliant course authoring tool can be used within any SCORM-compliant LMS.

The most common use of SCORM is to track what learners are doing in an elearning course. SCORM can measure practically everything that happens within the digital learning environment, from test scores, to how long learners spend reading a particular page, to how many times they click on links.

The major disadvantage of SCORM is that it is not very flexible. It only measures activities that take place online within a SCORM-compliant environment (which excludes both informal learning and many mobile environments), and the data is stored in (and thus tied to) an LMS.

Tin Can API, aka the Experience API, aka xAPI

Tin Can API, which is also called the Experience API or xAPI, offers a whole new perspective on learning—one that is more closely aligned with how learning actually happens than either AICC or SCORM. Rather than tracking and storing data solely within an LMS, Tin Can tracks learning wherever it happens, using a highly flexible format called a learning record store (LRS). An LRS can be stored in an LMS, but it doesn’t have to be.

Tin Can achieves this flexibility by standardizing all learning experiences into a Noun – Verb – Object format. For example, both of these learning experiences can be tracked and measured using Tin Can:

  • Sherry (noun) scored 100% (verb) on a programming test (object).
  • Sherry (noun) read (verb) a blog post about educational technology (object).

SCORM could handle the data from the first example above, but it wouldn’t know what to do with the second one. Tin Can can be used to formalize any type of learning experience, even those that take place outside of a Tin Can-compliant LMS. Even those that take place offline (Example: Sherry visited the Museum of Natural History.)

So, what does this all mean? Well, it means that technology is now available that jibes with our modern idea about education. Learning doesn’t just take place in a classroom (virtual or in-person) and it can’t always be measured by test scores. Learning today is recognized as a more fluid construct, and with Tin Can, we now have an adaptable tool that can be used to track and measure learning in whatever form it takes.

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