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.

tincan1

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.

tincan2

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.

tincan3

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.

For further information:

http://scorm.com/tincan/

http://tincanapi.com/

http://www.adlnet.gov/

What is SCORM?

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.

SCORM stands for “Sharable Content Object Reference Model.” It is a set of technical standards that define how Web-based online learning content and LMSs communicate with each other. SCORM is managed by Advanced Distributed Learning (http://www.adlnet.gov/), a research group sponsored by the United States Department of Defense.

SCORM is composed of three sub-specifications: the content packaging section, the run-time section, and the sequencing section.

scorm

The content packaging section specifies how the content should be packaged and described. For example, it specifies that all the content should be contained either in a directory or a zip file. And it specifies that the content must contain an XML file named imsmanifest.xml, which contains all the information the LMS needs in order to deliver the content. The XML manifest file describes the parts of the course, and puts the parts into a hierarchical order. Any SCORM-compliant authoring tool would put its course material in a directory or a zip file, and would include an XML manifest file describing the course. And any SCORM-compliant LMS would know where to look for these files and know what to do with them. (More on XML and manifest files in a future post: they turn up in all kinds of interesting places, including in ebooks.)

The run-time section specifies how the content should be launched and how it communicates with the LMS using its APIs, or application programming interfaces. These APIs permit the LMS and the learning module to communicate with each other via Javascript by using a built-in vocabulary. The learning module can tell the LMS whether the learner passed the module, what grade was achieved, how much time was taken, and other information relevant to course management.

The sequencing section specifies how the learner can navigate between the parts of the course. Like the content packaging section, it is defined by a set of rules and attributes in an XML manifest file. For example, the sequencing section defines which navigation controls the learner will see, determines whether there will be a navigable table of contents, defines any prerequisites within the content, controls which questions display, and determines whether the learner will be taken back to any sections not mastered.

The SCORM specification has evolved over the years. Two versions have gained widespread acceptance: SCORM 1.2 and SCORM 2004.

SCORM continues to evolve. The next generation of SCORM is called the Tin Can API, which we’ll talk about in the next post.

 

What is an LMS?

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

When you take an online class, you typically go to a Web site, sign in with a login and password, and see a class or a list of classes you are scheduled to take. After going through the material, you and your organization usually receive some sort of notification of completion, and depending on the curriculum, you may be queued up to take the next class. Along with the course material, your learning experience was brought to you by an LMS.

lms

An LMS, or Learning Management System (LMS) is a software application that provides a framework for the course material, and takes care of all the back-end administration that is necessary to make the learning experience happen. This includes a wide range of functionality, including:

  • course registration and profile management
  • course sequencing and scheduling
  • instructional content management and delivery
  • testing and assessment
  • tracking and reporting of individual progress
  • tracking and reporting of organizational progress

Colleges and universities use LMSs like Blackboard and Moodle to deliver online courses, and corporate training departments use a wide variety of LMSs to deliver online learning, finding them very handy for tracking such things as compliance training and continuing professional education.

Since the LMS provides a framework for course material, it has to be able to handle courses developed by a wide range of authoring systems. How can this happen? Through the magic of standards. If an LMS supports the relevant standard, in this case a standard called SCORM, and the authoring tool supports it, then the content produced by the authoring tool will play well with the LMS. Most LMSs on the market today are SCORM-compliant.

SCORM stands for “Sharable Content Object Reference Model,” and is the de facto industry standard for e-learning interoperability. In the next post we’ll take a closer look at SCORM.

Training Price Drivers (Part 1)

Creating a custom training solution involves consciously making a large number of tradeoffs between the nature and scope of the training and its costs, in order to achieve the objectives of the training. As each of these tradeoffs is being made, we like to put our clients in the driver’s seat. To that end, let’s take a look at some of the key drivers that affect the nature and scope of training solutions and their costs.

Under each heading, the lists below describe the characteristics of a learning solution that indicate greater or lesser scope and complexity and thus price, going from low to high complexity:

Length of the Training

(LOW): The training will be less than one day long.

(MEDIUM): The training will be several days or up to a week long.

(HIGH): The training is comprised of multiple courses or an entire curriculum.

Complexity of the Subject Matter

(LOW): The subject matter is straightforward and easy to learn.

(MEDIUM): The subject matter is complex and requires ramp-up time to thoroughly understand and apply.

(HIGH): The subject matter is very sophisticated and requires considerable ramp-up time or prior knowledge base to thoroughly understand and apply.

Number of SMEs/Stakeholders

(LOW): There is one or a small number of SMEs and stakeholders that are easily accessible. Decision making and approvals will be fairly straightforward.

(MEDIUM): There are a fairly large number of SMEs and stakeholders. Decision making and approvals will be more difficult.

(HIGH): There are a large number of SMEs and stakeholders that may be geographically dispersed. Decision making and approvals will be difficult.

Extent of New Training Material

(LOW): The training involves an update of existing training materials and may require a change in delivery method. The content exists either electronically or on paper and is fairly up-to-date.

(MEDIUM): The training involves development of a new training course. The content is more difficult to obtain and may require working closely with SMEs.

(HIGH): The training involves a new training course or curriculum or extensive changes to existing training. The content is more difficult to obtain and may require working closely with SMEs and stakeholders and/or conducting outside research.

Training Price Drivers (Part 2)

These price drivers relate specifically to those issues which drive the price of e-learning development.

Complexity of the Presentation

(LOW): The training includes text, graphics, and simple audio.

(MEDIUM): The training includes text, graphics, audio, custom graphics and some animation.

(HIGH): The training includes text, graphics, audio, software simulations, animation, and video. A photo shoot is required, custom graphics need to be created, professional audio needs to be recorded, simulations of software need to be captured, custom animations need to be created, and video needs to be recorded.

Level of Interactivity

(LOW): The training is a page-turner with no branching or interactivity.

(MEDIUM): The training includes interactivity, such as branching scenarios or simulations.

(HIGH): The training includes extensive interactivity including branching scenarios and simulations.

Mode of Delivery

(LOW): The training is delivered via the Internet or via CDs or DVD, with no tracking or LMS involved. Participants have access to the latest technology to access the training. Testing can be performed remotely.

(MEDIUM): The training needs to be delivered via the Internet, or via CD or DVD. Cover art and instructions need to be created, CDs/DVDs pressed, tested, and delivered. The training needs to be loaded onto an LMS and tested. AICC and/or SCORM tracking needs to be tested. Testing can be performed remotely.

(HIGH): The training needs to be delivered via multiple modes, including CD, DVD, and Internet. LMS must be implemented. The multiple modes need to be tested. Testing needs to take place both at the client’s site and remotely. Testing is required on multiple platforms and browsers.

Training Price Drivers (Part 3)

These price drivers describe other issues that will drive the price of training development.

Extent of Needs Assessment

(LOW): Minor or moderate needs assessment is required and the project is fairly well pre-defined and scoped. Stakeholders and SMEs can answer most project questions in a kickoff meeting, but the project may require additional review of training materials or other data for scoping.

(MEDIUM): A fairly involved needs assessment is required. The project is partially defined and scoped. The needs assessment requires a few of the following: interviews with end-users, stakeholders, business partners, customers, and SMEs; surveys with the above groups, observation of end-users, independent research, and/or review of available data.

(HIGH): An extensive needs assessment is required and the project is not well defined or scoped. The needs assessment requires extensive interviews and surveys, observation of end-users in their job roles, work-flow analysis, review of end-user output, independent research, and/or review of available data.

Pre- and Post-Assessment

(LOW): Industry standard pre- and post-tests are required. Kirkpatrick level 1 assessment (i.e., did they like it) is required.

(MEDIUM): Complex, interactive scenarios or simulations are used to assess pre- and post-training knowledge. Kirkpatrick level 1 and 2 assessments (i.e., did they like it, what was learned) are required.

(HIGH): Complex, interactive scenarios or simulations are used to assess pre- and post-training knowledge. Kirkpatrick level 1, 2 and 3 assessments (i.e., did they like it, what was learned, how did behaviors change) are required.

Audience Types and Numbers

(LOW): There are a fairly small number of participants. The participants may all be in one geographic location or all have the same job, and have no technological issues. Turnover is low.

(MEDIUM): There are a fairly large number of participants. They may be geographically dispersed and/or have different job roles and varying technological issues. Turnover is moderate.

(HIGH): There are a large number of participants that are geographically dispersed, have different job roles, are of different ages, and have varying technological issues. There is extremely high yearly turnover.

Audience Level of Customization

(LOW): All participants will go through the same training using the same training materials.

(MEDIUM): Participants may require different paths through the training. Different materials may be required for the other paths. Translation into another language is required.

(HIGH): Participants will require different paths through the training or special accommodations to take the training. Different materials are required for the other paths. Translation into multiple languages is required.

What are the Price Drivers for Training on Software Applications?

As with any custom training, defining the best solution involves consciously making tradeoffs between the nature and scope of the training and the costs involved. In addition to the normal price drivers for custom training solutions, the following factors specific to software application training will play an important part in this calculation:

  • The amount of domain or business knowledge on which the participants must be trained (e.g., a debit is … a credit is …)
  • The degree of complexity inherent in the software application
  • The size of the software application
  • The stability of the software application
  • The level of user ability
  • The desired level of interactivity
  • How Software Training is Built

Software training solution developments follow our standard development process with a few tweaks:

  • We make sure that we understand the domain or business knowledge that also must be communicated in the training.
  • We locate and leverage any existing training materials or technical documentation on the application.
  • We make sure we know the skills that are necessary to run the application, the skill gap level of the potential audience, the receptivity to various learning strategies, and any location or department customization needs.
  • We sit with the application itself and with your technical liaisons and subject matter experts to ensure that we understand and can use the application the way it was intended.
  • We construct useful job aids.
  • We rely on your technical liaisons and subject matter experts at each key decision point in the Rigorous Project Management process to validate the technical accuracy of the material and pay particular attention to testing any interactive simulations.

What’s Different About Training for Software Applications?

The custom development of training for software applications requires a specialized approach.

Such training can be delivered as an e-learning solution, as instructor-led, in a virtual classroom, or via some blend of all these approaches. A blended approach often works best, and many clients choose this route.

Instructor-led

If instructor-led is the alternative you think is best based on the number and distribution of the participants and other decision factors, we will design and create the course materials, including the presentation, instructor guide and the participant guide, based on the individual software application and the ultimate work product/activity needed. Envision will also provide an instructor as needed to teach the software application or provide a “Train the Trainer” session to enable your current training staff to deliver the materials.

E-learning

If e-learning is the way you choose, the possibilities get very interesting. Envision will create online modules and job aids to train the participants on the software application. There are a few ways to go about it, based on the importance of the software to the organization, its complexity, and your willingness to invest in interactivity.

Consider the following increasing levels of interactivity as the basis for the e-learning development:

  • The course would utilize explanatory text, application screenshots and field definitions, much like an online manual.
  • The course is an automated presentation, showing a run-through of how the application works.
  • The course presents automated simulations of the use of the application, showing actual screen captures of mouse movement and the steps needed to complete activities.
  • The course does all of the above and also allows the participant to actually practice using the application in simulation mode by being guided through the clicks and activities necessary to learn the software.

Webinar

When considering training for software applications, a virtual classroom approach is often the best way to go because it provides the best of both worlds. It allows you to exploit the full potential of the interactivity enabled by e-learning while gaining the benefits of having the learning session led by an instructor. A virtual instructor provides presence and a guide through the material and gives the participants someone with whom to interact, both during the presentation and after. We have found that phone call symposiums after a virtual classroom session provide a great way to follow up, so participants can ask questions and apply the knowledge they have gained to their particular situations.

And of course, if you really want a blended solution, nothing stops you from running a true instructor-led class with all the participants in the same room going through the same e-learning course at the same time. The combinations are endless and we are happy to work with you to find the right blend of technologies to get the job done within your allotted budget.