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What is the Tin Can API?

Tin Can Compliant

With the growth in the number of software applications and the size of data that companies rely on today, software interoperability is a hot topic.

Tin Can API is one such related concept.

In the last couple of years, Tin Can API has become a buzzword in the arena of authoring tools, learning management systems, and content development. Also known as  Experience API, or xAPI, Tin Can is a software intermediary to deliver and measure learning experiences beyond what was previously possible.

Tin Can API is an evolution of the SCORM standard. SCORM is already beginning to tail off, and in its place, Tin Can has taken the e-learning world by storm, redefining the very fabric of learning experience tracking.

So what exactly is Tin Can API? And what makes experts around the world believe that it can become the de facto standard for eLearning content soon?

Let’s explore.

What is the Tin Can API?

To truly understand Tin Can API, we need to first understand what an API is. (The techies can skip to the next paragraph!).

An API (Application Programming Interface) is a set of procedures or specifications that allows two different pieces of software (or applications or even gadgets) to “speak” as well as exchange information (data) with each other.

The API facilitates this communication even if the applications were developed independently, by different people, or for different devices.

Watch: What Is xAPI (Experience API) aka Tin Can API

Tin Can API is one such set of specifications that enables users to capture data about a learner’s activities in a standard format and from many different platforms. These platforms could be anything from a Learning Management System, websites, blogs, and eBooks to YouTube videos, online libraries and so on.

Any system or device that is Tin Can-compliant can record and store data about these activities and store it in a Learning Record Store (LRS).


Read: What is SCORM?


History of Tin Can API

Before Tin Can, Shareable Content Object Reference Model or SCORM was the leading standard for web-based educational technology (e-learning). It still continues to be the most widely used specification for e-learning across the globe.

SCORM API works on a Content Aggregation Model that allows e-learning contents to be put in a zip file, which you can load into any LMS.

Another concept associated with SCORM is Runtime Environment (RTE), where tracking data is sent to an LMS.

But SCORM comes with some limitations. While e-learning continues to evolve, SCORM is struggling to reinvent itself. It is these limitations that necessitated the development of the Tin Can Experience API.

Tin Can API was developed by Rustici Software after it was contacted by Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) to come up with a new approach to learning systems and methodology. This was in 2010, and ADL was looking for research ideas for the development of the next generation of SCORM.

Rustici Software believed that “learning happens everywhere”. This belief was the foundation of their research work on how the SCORM specification should be modified to suit the next generation of e-Learning better.

They created a draft specification designed to solve the problems faced by the e-learning industry and gave it the name “Project Tin Can”. Little did they know that a few years later, this project was going to change the face of e-learning.

The project involved a fair amount of research and gathering user feedback, which Rustici Software collected via a UserVoice site.

Several interviews were conducted with professionals from the e-learning industry. They even reviewed almost 100 white papers written for LETSI who was also working towards creating a SCORM 2.0.

Eventually, the name “Tin Can API” was chosen after ADL proposed using the prototype that emerged from the “Project Tin Can” as the foundation for the Experience API (xAPI).


Read: 5 Benefits of Scorm


Tin Can vs. SCORM: What’s the Difference?

SCORM is arguably the most common eLearning standard. But it comes with one disadvantage – it doesn’t capture the entire picture of online learning.

Generally, learning takes place almost everywhere, not just in traditional LMSs that use SCORM-compliant content.

Tin Can vs. SCORM: What’s the Difference?

Tin Can enables you to record any learning experience from virtually anywhere and in any form. So, it gives you a holistic picture of an online learning activity.

To put it differently, SCORM is like a landline phone, while Experience API is like a smartphone. With a landline phone, all you can do is make and receive phone calls. As opposed to this, Tin Can API allows you to send messages, take pictures, record video clips, share files, and so on in addition to calls.

SCORM is good at providing just the basic functions of online learning, and Tin Can (xAPI) can record and share much more advanced data.

If you’re wondering whether to go for SCORM or xAPI for your corporate learning programs, this table will make it clear by demonstrating the differences between the two:


Read: SCORM vs. Tin Can API


Tin Can, Experience API, & xAPI: Are They Same or Different?

Many people often wonder what xAPI is, whether it is the same with Experience API or Tin Can API. They are the same thing.

As mentioned above, Rustici Software developed the first version of Experience API as a part of a research project commissioned by ADL Initiative.

The project was initially named “Project Tin Can” but Rustici Software submitted the final project under the name “Tin Can API”

Later on, it was officially renamed as “xAPI” or “Experience API” by ADL.

How Does Tin Can API Work?

There are claims that Tin Can API is an LRS. It’s not. 

Tin Can API is actually a web-based service that allows Tin Can-compliant systems to pass information, in the form of statements, to an LRS. 

So, yes, a Tin Can API does need to connect to an LRS but it is not an LRS.

Let’s start by looking at the problems faced by the current learning management systems and what Tin Can learning does to solve them.

The Problem

The real problem with most learning management systems is that very little training actually happens within the LMS itself. In the real world, learners move around and use different devices at different places to further their knowledge.

Real learning comprises many different activities, including:

  • Using a search engine for information
  • Reading content on a website
  • Watching YouTube videos
  • Downloading presentations
  • Attending webinars
  • Reading eBooks
  • Listening to podcasts
  • Playing games
  • Taking tests or quizzes
  • Attending seminars
  • Subscribing to online training courses

So in reality, a learning management system is just a part of a wide sphere of knowledge. Even if the LMS is well designed and includes all the courses and information that a learner needs, it’s never going to be enough all by itself.

The learners will still look at other resources to further their knowledge and to deepen their understanding of the subject matter. This is where the LMS fails. It cannot capture those “other” activities that a learner carries out in the process of learning.

And that’s where Tin Can API comes in.

The Solution

Tin Can API lets information, typically known as learning experiences, to be passed in the form of “statements”. This information is then delivered to and stored in an LRS for future retrieval.

Any system or a device that is Tin Can-compliant is known as an “Activity Provider”. Data from these Activity Providers is generated in the form of statements.

Each statement consists of three elements and has the format of [Actor] [Verb] [Object]:

  • Actor (it’s the noun or the person who performs an action)
  • Verb (it’s the action that was performed)
  • Object (it’s the “where” or the “what” part of the action)

This example demonstrates the simple “Actor – Verb – Object” syntax used in Tin Can statements. But statements need not be this basic. A lot more information can be included in a statement, for example: [John] [Read] [Blog Post X] or [Jane] [Completed] [HR Training].

Here are some more Tin Can API examples:

A Result statement: [Mary] [attempted] [IT Security Quiz] [with score 600]

A Contextual statement: [Samantha] [completed] [3D Matte painting for beginners] [in the context of cinematic background design] [under the instruction of Philip Ray]

As you can see, Tin Can uses an expanded vocabulary of verbs like completed, attempted, scored, resumed, read, attended, commented, registered, responded, failed, and so on.

Tin Can uses these statements to track all user activities and saves them to a Learning Record Store. This data can be reported to and from any other device or application that understands the language of Tin Can.

Working of LRS

(Source: nextsoftwaresolutions)

Benefits of Using a Tin Can API

The biggest reason to use Tin Can is its flexibility and the ability to track learning activities. This is significant because in the modern world, learners have access to all kinds of study materials and learning opportunities across many different channels and locations.

Tin Can xAPI lets you keep track of all such learning activities in a simple, standard format.

Because of the ability of Tin Can API to track any and all learning experiences, it enables you to look at the bigger picture, creating possibilities of modern, advanced learning and tracking systems for organizations.

Tin CAN API is a big leap forward from the limitations of the SCORM standards. It fuses together e-learning experiences worth over a decade with technological advancements to provide even more options and flexibility to both organizations and learners alike.

Tin Can API gave rise to a new term, called the “quantified learner”. It describes the ability to use technology to track individual learning data. This data can be extremely valuable to organizations looking to impart quality training to its employees.

Limitations of Tin Can API

Taking a leaf out of our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man’s comic – “With great power comes great responsibility”, organizations should be judicious about the usage of Tin Can API.

The flexibility and power that comes with tracking learning data have led some organizations to believe that simply adopting the Tin Can standard will help them deliver good quality courses. 

Unfortunately, that’s not true.

Tin Can, by itself, is not going to improve or change the structure and the quality of a course. It’s not going to help improve the presentation or the UI that you use to deliver the course. The content is going to look and behave exactly the way it did when it was created.

Tin Can only controls how the learning data is tracked and stored. The overall quality of any e-learning course will depend on the quality of the authoring tool and the efforts that went into creating a course.

And finally, although Tin Can tracks learning activities carried out on a mobile device, it won’t automatically transform your content into mobile responsive.

7 Things You Should Know About Tin Can API

Tin Can API is set to become the standard way of tracking and measuring learning, especially in organizations that are working to offer more efficient and meaningful training.

To help you better understand what this tool can do, here are seven things you should know about Tin Can API.

1. Tin Can is not just a new version of SCORM

SCORM was revolutionary when it came out as it gave instructional designers much more freedom with the content they could use in their courses.

Tin Can API also provides this freedom, but it is not just a new version of SCORM. Instead, it is a completely new way of tracking and measuring learning. Tin Can tracks both formal and informal learning, so it can do everything that SCORM can, plus a whole lot more.

2. Tin Can enables tracking and measuring offline learning experiences

One major advantage of Tin Can is that it can track learning experiences that occur offline as well as on. Unlike anything else out there, Tin Can is able to truly capture all of an individual’s learning without being limited by the type of learning or where it happens.

3. Many tools are now Tin Can-compliant

When Tin Can first came out (version 1.0 was released in 2013), not many tools were compliant with it.

This is no longer true today. There are many Tin Can-compliant LMSs, course authoring tools, and even native apps for mobile devices. So, no matter what type of course you are designing or what course authoring software you are using, you can use this powerful API.

 4. Tin Can is not tied to an LMS

Though an LMS can be used to collect data, the data isn’t tied to the LMS. Instead, information about learning activities is housed in a learning record store. The data from an LRS can stand alone or be delivered to an LMS or another tool.

5. Tin Can API works on mobile devices

One major drawback of SCORM is that for learning activities to be tracked, learners must be operating within a web-based, SCORM-compliant learning management system. They also need to be online.

Unlike this, you can use Tin Can on mobile devices, and learners don’t necessarily need to be connected to the Internet. The program can collect the data and then send it to an LRS when an Internet connection is available.

This is a huge advantage as most training departments start to incorporate mobile learning.

6. Tin Can allows better calculations of training ROI

Most learning is informal. This is something trainers have known for a long time, but without a way to track and measure informal learning, most training departments ignored it.

calculations of training ROI

In his Bottom-Line Performance blog, Steven Boller suggests that Tin Can brings big data and elearning together and enables organizations to “get a clearer picture of training ROI than ever before.”

He writes: “Thanks to all of the informal learning activities that Tin Can API enables us to track, L&D will finally have the hard facts and data they need to justify their budgets to higher-ups. Instead of just assuming people had positive results from a learning initiative, the numbers can prove it.”

7. Tin Can isn’t hard to use

If you search online for information about Tin Can API, you will almost certainly end up on a page or two full of lines of code. But don’t panic! With many Tin Can-compliant technologies now available, you don’t have to know how to code in order to use it.

You can design your eLearning courses for Tin Can just as easily as you could design them for SCORM.

How a Tin Can-Compliant LMS Can Help You

Tin Can API is changing how organizations create and conduct their training programs. If your company is using an LMS or planning to use one, then it is important to know how Tin Can API can help you.

Interoperability of Systems

In a corporate setup, people always work with different kinds of software. This is true for, at least, training departments where instructors constantly struggle with different eLearning authoring tools – a quiz tool to create assessments, an LMS to build courses, survey tools for employee evaluation and so on.

While working with different tools is in itself a challenge, what makes instructors cringe is if the content and data is not interoperable between different tools and systems they use.

Let’s say that you’ve created a course with an authoring tool such as Captivate, now you want to deliver this course to learners via a different learning management system such as ProProfs Training Maker. In this case, you will be able to easily import the content into ProProfs since both ProProfs and Captivate are Tin Can compliant-LMSs.

As a result, your data is not locked in one system. You can keep using different eLearning software, reporting, and authoring tools to create and deliver courses to learners while still being able to track the learning data in one central place.

Centralized Tracking of Learning Interaction

A Learning Record Store is a centralized reporting tool that comes integrated with most LMS tools. They help you store and track the interactions of learners with your course content.

These interactions tell you not only the test scores of learners but also whether they watched a video, clicked on an image, or read a PDF, which was a part of your course.

Recorded as Tin Can Statements, learning interactions, in their simplest form, are expressed as: “Subject” + “Verb” + “Object”. For example, John watched a video; John clicked on an image and so on.

Informal Learning

As an instructor, you can “form a complete picture of an individual’s learning experiences” with Tin Can API. Now, what does this mean?

By learning experiences, we mean the different ways in which your learners understand and comprehend a topic.

The course is not always the only study material that learners access to master a topic. They may watch a related video, read an article online, attend a seminar or learn in some other way.

The good thing about Tin Can API is that you can track all the learning activities of your learners – even those that happen outside an LMS software – and view them as reports in your LRS.

You can access a detailed record of real-world learning experiences that your learners go through every day.

Improved Learning

Although learning can be facilitated through various methods, be it pen and paper, chalk and board, or instructor-led training, choosing the right method is crucial to help retain the information for a longer time.

With a Tin Can API LMS, you can create online courses based on the concept of visual learning, which means ‘you learn what you see’. This type of learning is not only interesting and impactful but also convenient and flexible as employees can learn from anywhere and at any time.

Better Work Management

Unlike traditional training methods that turn chaotic and incomprehensible when it comes to managing courses, projects, and tracking employee performance, a Tin Can LMS lets you do all of it quickly.

You can upload, recommend, and share courses, assign roles and responsibilities, and generate reports. In fact, you can also share the courses and modules with your employees in remote locations.

Enhanced Employee Performance

Sometimes employees lack focus, motivation, and commitment due to insufficient business knowledge. That’s why it is crucial to train and educate employees about the business and its objectives before assigning them work.

It can be done using a smart and reliable LMS. With a Tin Can-compliant LMS, you can create highly informative online courses either from scratch or from existing templates, educate your employees about your business and its objectives, and in the end, assess how much they have understood.

Once employees are clear about your business and its goals, they are more focused, perform well, and deliver better services.

Flexibility

In the past, businesses preferred hands-on training, which is considered a bit of an outdated learning model these days. The reason behind that is employees are bound to take the training in a particular time-frame. LMS, on the other hand, provides convenience and flexibility to take the courses anytime, anywhere, and on any device be it a smartphone, tablet, or desktop.

According to a study conducted by Samsung, 78% of employees feel that mobile learning helps them balance their professional and personal lives. This way, employees get the freedom to learn and perform better in their domain and organization.

Time and Cost-Saving

With traditional training methods, businesses need to invest their time and money in organizing training and hiring instructors. With LMS, training turns out to be quick and simple.  You can create courses fast, educate employees anytime, anywhere, and assess their performance on the go.

In fact, you save a lot of time and money, which can be utilized further in planning strategies and setting business goals to grow your business.

Effective Calculation of Training ROI

Corporate instructors and training professionals are often asked about how their training programs are benefiting the business. One of the ways in which they can show the ROI of training is by producing pre and post-training performance metrics to the management.

But gathering the metrics, especially in a large organization where learning data is scattered in different systems, is a challenge for trainers.

Tin Can API solves this problem as it enables you to track the data related to all learning experiences (even those that happen outside the LMS) in a centralized learning record store.

The LRS consolidates data from different sources, which includes learning management systems, assessment tools, mobile devices, classroom environments, and even social learning platforms.

As a result, instructors enjoy centralized access to extensive and quantifiable learning data, which they can use to calculate training ROI more effectively.

Why Instructional Designers Should Care About Tin Can API

Tin Can API has been a hot topic in the sphere of education and training technology for a couple of years now. It is now starting to see widespread adoption in a variety of contexts.

For many instructional designers, the idea of an API can be somewhat foreign. However, today’s instructional designers need to know what Tin Can is and how to make the most of it in the learning experiences they create.

The main reason instructional designers should care about Tin Can API is that it focuses squarely on the learning itself.

Training consultant Julie Dirksen has identified three reasons Tin Can is important to instructional designers:

1. It puts the learner in the center, not the course. Unlike SCORM, which tracks course-centered information like test scores, Tin Can tracks learning. Dirksen writes: “This is a change of focus that is not only long overdue but is going to shape the training industry model going forward.”

2. The format is accomplishment-based. Tin Can shifts the conversation from “What’s in it for me?” to “What can I do with that?” Dirksen notes: “…most of the people I know don’t need a sales pitch to do their jobs, or to learn something to help them do that. Instead, they need to know that the thing they are learning is actually useful and necessary.”

3. Finally, Tin Can is still evolving to meet the needs of learners (and of instructional designers) today. It is shaping itself as we speak. “If you aren’t part of the conversation, then you don’t get a vote.

Ready to Implement Tin Can API?

Tin Can API is here to stay. In the years ahead, there will be considerable growth in the number of businesses using it for online learning and training.

Tin Can API offers granular details, for instance, on scenario-based training, and makes online learning far smarter than SCORM does. Reasons like these continue to reinforce the value of Tin Can for millions of users worldwide.

At ProProfs, we worked hard to fully integrate Tin Can API with our LMS. We took a similar approach to Tin Can as we did to SCORM. We identified the issues at hand and ensured that all third-party content can be imported easily and painlessly into the LMS.

The resulting ProProfs Tin Can feature is a powerful and robust system that allows users to import their content in a matter of seconds.

We also offer a native LRS, which will allow you to import and store the learning data from different systems in ProProfs.

Deploy our Tin Can LMS today and take your online training and learning to the next level.

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About the author

Kamy Anderson

Kamy is an eLearning & training expert. He has been published in eLearningIndustry, TrainingMag. As a corporate trainer at ProProfs, he has been instrumental in building an awesome eLearning management system that has simplified learning and training for thousands of customers across the globe. Follow Kamy @kamyanderson

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