What is Tin Can?

This is next in a series of related posts on Fun Tech Stuff going under the hood with XML and its uses in learning technologies: Learning Management SystemsSCORMTin CanMetadata, and XML, as well as examples of XML in SCORM and XML in eBooks.

The Tin Can application programming interface, or API, (also known as The Experience API or xAPI) is the next generation of SCORM.

Why is it worthwhile to evolve a new standard for learning content? We’ve seen how the SCORM standard can enable Web-based online learning content and a learning management system (LMS) to communicate, and it does a fine job of it. But here’s what it doesn’t do.

  • SCORM is not useful outside the context of an LMS. Tin Can is more versatile because it can manage information about learning that happens both inside and outside of an LMS.
  • SCORM can’t manage any learning that takes place outside of a Web browser. Tin Can is more useful because it can manage information about learning that happens both inside and outside of a Web browser.

What kind of learning happens outside of an LMS and outside of a Web browser? Learning based on mobile apps, for one. And learning that starts on a mobile app or in a classroom and ends up in a Web browser. Or learning that is hosted on a server that is separate from an LMS. Or learning that is based on games or simulations. Or learning that is informal, like learning that occurs via YouTube, a book, a TED talk, a conference program, a Wikipedia article, or a mentoring session. Tin Can can also track information that is interactive, or team-based, or long-term, or based on real-world performance. Because Tin Can handles a much wider set of learning situations, it can provide a much more accurate picture of learners and learning. It also does the usual things you’d expect, such as tracking completion, tracking time, tracking pass/fail, and reporting scores. Tin Can can report more fully on learning because of its wider scope and because more information is collected, which can be broken out or consolidated in many different ways. Many authoring tools (e.g., Articulate Storyline, Lectora) generate output for SCORM, as well as for Tin Can. And even though Tin Can expands the range of learning that can be tracked and decouples the hosting of learning content from its tracking, existing SCORM-based content is usable in a Tin Can environment with an appropriate software interface.

So what does Tin Can look like?

At its heart is a learning record with a date and time stamp that contains a statement in the form Actor – Verb – Object. This statement describes a learning event:

Mike Jones Watched ‘TED video Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire action’
Gerry Brady Completed ‘Cable Box Z30 Repair’ with score 256
Gerry Brady Completed ‘Cable Box Z30 Repair Workbook’
Loretta Smith Read ‘How To Make an eBook’
Clark Kent Passed ‘Introduction to Flying’

Learners can use Tin Can–enabled Web browser plug-ins and mobile apps to capture and send such learning events to a Learning Record Store, or LRS.


The Tin Can API defines how software applications build and report on the learning experiences described by the learning record statements in the LRS, and all the related information necessary to support it.

Because Tin Can is an open standard, the learning records in an LRS can be scrutinized in many ways, and information in multiple LRSs can be shared, consolidated, and analyzed as necessary. A learner can also post learning records to multiple LRSs.


The learning records in an LRS can also be accessed and reported on by an LMS with the proper software interface, as constrained by the LMS’s reporting capabilities.


Training and Performance

The Tin Can API is based on another specification called Activity Streams, which can record anything somebody does. The core Actor – Verb – Object parts of a Tin Can statement (e.g., “I Did This”), derive from the core Activity Streams specification. This means that it is possible to capture performance data as well, and correlate it with training data. For example, an LRS could record the following:

Gerry Brady Completed ‘Cable Box Z30 Repair’ with score 256
Gerry Brady Completed ‘Cable Box Z30 Repair Workbook’
Gerry Brady Successfully repaired ‘Cable Box Z30’ 30 out of 32 times

Tin Can is still a work in progress, but it provides the flexibility and openness to capture formal, as well as informal and social learning and performance as it actually happens. Like SCORM, Tin Can is overseen by Advanced Distributed Learning, a research group sponsored by the United States Department of Defense.

Both SCORM and Tin Can are examples of metadata, or information about information, which is the topic of our next post.

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