Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

5 November 2012

Experience, the API

Clark @ 6:07 AM

Last week I was on a panel about the API previously known as Tin Can at #DevLearn, and some thoughts crystallized.  Touted as the successor to SCORM, it’s ridiculously simple: Subject Verb Object: e.g. “I did this”, such as ‘John Doe read Engaging Learning’ but also ‘Jane Doe took this picture’.  And this has interesting implications.

First, the API itself is very simple, and while it can be useful on it’s own, it’ll be really useful when there’re tools around it.  It’s just a foundation upon which things can be done.  There’ll need to be places to record these actions, and ones to pull together sequences of recommendations for learning paths, and more.  You’ll want to build portfolios of what you’ve done (not just what content you’ve touched).

But it’s about more than learning.  These can cross accessing performance support resources, actions in social media systems, and more. This person touched that resource. That person edited this file.  This other person commented.

One big interesting opportunity is to be able to start mining these.  We can start looking at evidence of what folks did and finding good and bad outcomes.  It’s a consistent basis for big data and analytics.  It’s also a basis to start customizing: if the people who touched this resource were better able to solve problem X, other people with that problem maybe should also touch it. If they’ve already tried X and Y, we can next recommend Z.  Personalization/customization.

An audience member asked what they should take back to their org, and who needed to know what.  My short recommendations:

Developers need to start thinking about instrumenting everything.  Everything people touch should report out on their activity.  And then start aggregating this data.  Mobile, systems, any technology touch. People can self report, but it’s better to the extent that it’s automated.

Managers need to recognize that they’re going to have very interesting opportunities to start tracking and mining information as a basis to start understanding what’s happening.  Coupled with rich other models, like of content (hence the need for a content strategy), tasks, learners, we can start doing more things by rules.

And designers need to realize, and then take advantage of, a richer suite of options for learning experiences.  Have folks take a photo of an example of X.  You can ask them to discuss Y.  Have them collaborate to develop a Z.  You could even send your learners out to do a flash mob ;).

Learning is not about content, it’s about experience, and now we have ways to talk about it and track it. It’s just a foundation, just a standard, just plumbing, just a start, but valuable as all that.


  1. Clark…reminds me of the fact that no one ever questions the ROI of bathrooms. They’re just part of doing business. The challenge will be shifting design principles and biz models.

    Comment by mark oehlert — 14 November 2012 @ 5:48 AM

  2. What you are describing is the Semantic Web, specificaly RDF : Subject, verb, object as a triple combined with linked data. There are a number of platfomrs that can help you design adn deploy such applications like Protege, TopQuadrant Composer. Both can use txt, xls, rdf, rdfs, OWL and can connect to various database systens like Oracle, SQL, or Allegrograph. SmartLogic Semaphore uses an older semantic standard (zThes) so it loses the “verb” part. But it is still vary useful to allow faceted search and querying.

    Comment by Bradley Shoebottom — 14 November 2012 @ 8:58 AM

  3. Mark, love that example. Similarly electricity and other ‘plumbing’ we now just take for granted. But I’ll bet that the first time you had running water, flushing toilets, and plug-n-play power, you had a very clear ROI on installation cost versus benefits.

    Bradley, I think the semantic web, coupled with the API, will be the basis for huge opportunities. This API is specifically for tracking human activity, specifically learning and performance related, but augmented with ontologies, tags, and more, we’ll be able to do some very smart things.

    Comment by Clark — 14 November 2012 @ 5:44 PM

  4. Just to be sure you saw this in light of this conversation: http://www.slideshare.net/3scale/copyright-open-source-and-apis-towards-an-interface-commons

    Comment by mark oehlert — 14 November 2012 @ 6:40 PM

  5. Mark, fair enough. I’m fortunate to not be an expert in this, and leave it to those who can make sense ;).

    Comment by Clark — 14 November 2012 @ 9:58 PM

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  7. This is all fantastic, and the implications are truly far-reaching, but what I am most curious of is how close the leading (and not so leading) LMSystems are in their efforts of supporting Experience, and even further – in implementing the plausible LRS solutions. The API idea is terrific, it was obvious from the beginning, but without the adequate support it is still more of a future than a present.

    From what I see, the LMS companies are quick to claim the Experience support in the web-site statements, but not so quick in the actual implementations efforts.

    Comment by Misha Milshtein — 23 May 2013 @ 5:28 PM

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