eXperiencing an x(Experience)API cohort

When I first learned about xAPI, I knew intrinsically its value  and couldn’t wait to find a project to use it.  It took two years.  A project in Zambia had put in their workplan to take data from eLearning AND mentoring applications and put in one database.  Ah-ha! I thought.  That’s what xAPI does.

First, a little background: The project in Zambia is updating and improving health provider’s skills and knowledge is areas such as HIV/AIDS and TB using a blending learning approach.  eLearning modules are being developed in specific fields and will be distributed on tablets to clinics and facilities.  Mentors will visit the health providers at their clinics and work with them to strengthen their skills.  Learning and performance data!

xAPI can link that learning and performance data. In fact, any type of learning experience that a learner does. It collects data from these learning experiences, puts them into one location, a Learning Record Store, where the data can be analyzed and the analysis can be visualized.

Keeping it simple, I told the team that xAPI is a specification that will put the data in one place.  Then I asked them, “So what? What do you want to do with the data?”  It is hard question.  Really hard. They looked at me and realized that they could not answer the question but repeated “We want the data in the same place.”

Data will be from eLearning and mentoring (tracking visits and competencies) plus data from health facility, interviews, surveys, etc.  Examples of analyzing and correlating the data could include: How does eLearning and mentoring relate? Does the mentee assessment scores relate to competencies? What is the relationship with the quiz, competency and health indicators from clinical records?Ideas of data for statements

“Yes, that’s it!”  The team and I then began our journey into the world of xAPI.

When I was in Zambia earlier this year, I arranged a call with Megan Torrance of Torrance Learning to give an overview to the team.  One member of the team came in late and was scribbling down acronyms and notes.  API, LRS, x in xAPI, huh?  When she asked about the API, I told her that I did not want her brain cells to be used to remember that acronym.  x for Experience and LRS for Learning Record Store was enough.

At the end of the meeting, she was a bit overwhelmed and asked for someone to explain again how it worked.  A colleague took a pen, a pencil and another object, his phone.  Pen is eLearning, pencil is mentoring data, phone is LRS.  You can take the data from this, holding up the pen, and from this, holding up the pencil, xAPI takes the data and puts it here, his phone.  That about sums it up. People got the basic idea of being able to put the data in place.  Nonetheless, it still doesn’t answer the question of what to do with it.  It is a process.

Around this same time, Torrance Learning was starting a new xAPI cohort, bringing together teams of people together to work on xAPI projects and learn more about xAPI. I asked Megan if this project could be a project to ask for help with for the upcoming cohort.  Absolutely!

To make it happen, our people needed to be onboard before we brought new people from the cohort in.  The health informatics advisor in Zambia was eager to try it out and said that we could use dummy data.  DUH!  The data didn’t matter.  It was the process.   The monitoring and evaluation person and a lead on the project who has a technical background were in.  For the mLearning data, the person who developed the mLearning app understood the value of xAPI, wanted to try it and thought it would be great.

I couldn’t make it to the first xAPI cohort meeting but the project was introduced. Then emails started popping up for people wanting to work on the ‘Offline Mobile Developing Country’ team.   The people interested in joining the team included someone who is affiliated with the same university, who managed the team; a learning analytics specialist who had already set up LMSs, wrote statements, knew what do; an instructional designer with tons of experience; and a person who had worked in global health and was now involved with eLearning.

At one point, when I realized that we had the team we needed to make it happen, I was a bit in shock.  I was on the call with the team just prior to going to Megan’s session on The xAPI: What Does an Instructional Designer Need to Know? at the Learning Solutions conference in March.  I walked into the session with this look of bewilderment on my face and said to Megan that this was going to happen.  Hers was the look of excitement.

Over the weeks, the learning analytics expert patiently explained what the each step of the journey was.  At the top of the list was data.  The project had not yet started so we had no data.  We needed some dummy data.

The mLearning developer pulled data from another country.  For the mentoring data, the health informatics person in Zambia met with the monitoring and evaluation person and drafted the fields for a mentoring form. He magically created a spreadsheet filled with profile data of some learners with fields such as province/district they are located, cadre, facility, etc; information about the mentoring visit such as data, assessment scores and recommendations; and even matched the unique identifiers from the mLearning app to the learners unique identifies in the mentoring data.

Mentoring data xAPI sample

The learning analytics person kindly reviewed the data and created xAPI statements from that.  Incredibly generous of him!  He explained each part of statement and how he applied the fields from the dataset.  It was such a great lesson.   Everyone on that call was captivated and enthralled.  I think most of us were blown away. How did he do that?
Map Data to xAPI statement

I am still trying to wrap my head around how he wrote the statements.  He gently explained that we did it the other way around.  It is best to start with the questions that you are trying to answer.  What are you measuring?  What correlations are you looking for?  What do you want to see happen and analyze the data to see if it did?  I thought you needed to know the questions before you could write the statements and couldn’t figure out how he created them without knowing what we wanted to know from the data.

Since we did not have the questions, he instead creatively made assumptions based on the data that we shared with him.
Connecting learning and mentoring data

He checked the statements in ADL’s xAPI Lab. He set up a LRS for us.  We couldn’t believe it: xAPI statements and data were there – in real life.  And all in his free time, at night, after kids were asleep.  I have thanked him over and over and over again.

xAPI statement

It hard to learn about xAPI and even harder to put these statements together. Where are all those recipes??!!

And then the official xAPI cohort was done.  Getting started is the hardest thing ever.   Gracious, giving people supported the project,  just because.  What a gift that is.  We have a glimmer of what xAPI is and can do.

In Zambia the mentoring forms are now being drafted and finalized.  Some of the eLearning modules are near completion. The tablets that we are procuring and distributing tablets with the eLearning are being tested

As we are putting together a monitoring and evaluation plan, I kept peppering our monitoring and evaluation person for questions about what are we trying to measure and find out – across the data, not each individual piece of data.

Do the scores on the quizzes correlate to the time spent on the eLearning with how the providers assess themselves on a competency as compared to what they should do according to the competency and how does it affect what is going on in the clinic, are people getting better but they can’t better if there is no medicine so we need to bring in the levels of medicine that they have….

How do you write these into xAPI statements and then query the Learning Record Store and visualize the data????

The journey into xAPI started with the gifts of many people.  Thank you to everyone. What a fabulous beginning.


LMS evolving to a Digital Learning Environment

LMS image

I am loving this from EDUCAUSE REVIEW:   “Our thinking about digital technology in higher education is shifting away from seeing it as IT infrastructure and instead toward conceiving it as a digital learning environment.

YES!  It is not about the technology. It’s about technology supporting learning.

The article described six trajectories about digital technology in higher education:

  1. device ownership and mobile-first;
  2. the textbook and open educational resources (OER);
  3. adaptive learning technology;
  4. learning spaces;
  5. the next-generation learning management system (LMS); and
  6. learning analytics and integrated planning and advising services (IPAS).

They had lots to say about each. Worth reading if you have chance.

I am most interested in the LMS. In this same publication, they have an article on What’s Next for the LMS? Considering the LMS market in the US is projected to grow at a rate of 23.2% from 2014-2019 according to this report, it is an excellent question.  I can see that growth in my work with the growing interest and number of requests for a LMS.

The  article notes five critical domains of core functionality.

  1. Interoperability and Integration: ability to integrate tools and to exchange content and learning data
  2. Personalization: ability to have different pathways to reach learning goals and adapt to the learner
  3. Analytics, Advising, and Learning Assessment: ability to analyze all forms of learning data
  4. Collaboration: ability to collaborate at various levels and digital spaces
  5. Accessibility and Universal Design: ability for all learners and instructors to participate

I love how they break it down. I am able to map some of it my learning vision.

Interoperability and Integration
ability to integrate tools and to exchange content and learning data

Interoperability is why I am so interested in the Open Health Information Exchange.  OpenHIE’s vision is to empower countries to implement health information sharing architectures that improve health outcomes. If we are collecting learning data and people are completing trainings, how do we connect what is happening in learning to government health systems and registries? How can data can be transferred and exchanged from one system to another? It is through interoperatibility that these systems can talk to each other.

ability to have different pathways to reach learning goals and adapt to the learner

Essential for learning. Technology can enable better learning. It is an area for future development that I would come back to. It takes alot to set something like this up.

Analytics, Advising, and Learning Assessment
ability to analyze all forms of learning data and “must include support for new learning assessment approaches, especially in the area of competency-based education”

Competency-based education (CBE) is a big focus these days.  What do people actually know and can do with that knowledge?  In the US, a Senate hearing was recently held on “Reauthorizing the Higher Education Act: Exploring Barriers and Opportunities within Innovation.” CBE is one of those innovations.

In a letter sent to Congress by a group of 17 institutions piloting CBE, they said “Accreditation, no matter the organization doing it, tends to focus on inputs and prescription, whereas CBE shifts the focus to outputs (the claims one makes for learning and what students can do) and assessment (how we know students have mastered the competencies).”

So how can it be demonstrated that the person achieved the competency? And specifically, what indicator can show that? How can we use the LMS to collect the indicator? Everyone loves data.

One such mechanism is the Experience API.  It is a specification to track learners’ experiences. The learner performed an action. “I did this.” An event took place. These events can be as simple as “accessed a resource”, “watched a movie”, “played a game”, “passed a test” or “visited a location”.

With xAPI these actions are collected and stored. It is an overview about what and how people have developed their knowledge, skills and competencies. It is a way to track learning with performance. Can they do that competency?

Designing xAPI will take time. You have decide what are the actions to track and what would be the most helpful in what you want to assess. That is the challenge but totally possible.

ability to collaborate at various levels and digital spaces

Social collaboration. Some people use the phase social learning.  People learning, sharing, asking questions among their peers and mentors.  Does  it matter what term: social learning or social collaboration?  I am not sure, but I find it interesting as I think about how social interactions support learning.

Jane Hart describes the difference between social learning and social collaboration:
“Social learning, is of course, not a new concept or a new term; we’ve always learned socially – from our parents, siblings, friends and from our colleagues at work…But a new definition of social learning has emerged in the last few years; one that implies the use of social technology to underpin learning…”

She believes that something is missing in the new definition “…since it takes no account of where and how most social learning takes place…” Additionally, how do you take into account “…when teams and other groups of people, learn IMPLICITLY from one another as a consequence of working together?”

She uses “… social collaboration to describe the sub-set of social learning that is focused around the learning that takes place from working together, and where the emphasis is on achieving business objectives, and measuring its success in business or performance terms.”

Like I said, it probably doesn’t matter which term you prefer to describe the learning.  But when it comes to describing the tools, they are collaboration tools.  They do need to be part of learning system and made available, whether it is for students doing group work for an assignment or business teams creating a product or simply to pick someone’s brain.  Nonetheless, in any case, it is still up to people to develop techniques and strategies on how to engage with each other using the tools.  That is what I want to work on.

Accessibility and Universal Design
ability for all learners and instructors to participate and start from a universal design approach

Of course! And globally, got that in many goals and plans.  For example:

World Summit Information Society‘s Plan of Action – Action Line 3 “Access to Information and Knowledge”  and other lines include action points on inclusion of persons with disabilities.  They focus alot on how to gain access to information and knowledge using accessible and inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). At the recent World Summit Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2015 in May, they further discussed “Making Empowerment a Reality – Accessibility for All.”

The Sustainable Development Goals talk about ‘inclusive’ in many of the goals:

  • Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  • Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

I want to integrate some of these concepts in my work as I talk about a LMS.  Will one system have all these features?  Most likely, not.  It will be a mash-up.  Is it the future of learning systems?  Absolutely.

People come to me and request a LMS.  The initial thought is that with this piece of IT infrastructure to disseminate and access content, people will learn.  It is much more than that.  It is to use digital technology to create the environment conducive to learning.  What a huge mindset change.  It is the next generation.


Take the first step on the eLearning Roadmap

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu

eLearning RoadmapIn the work that I do in eLearning, I find that people “don’t know what they don’t know.”  They know some buzzwords like LMS and eLearning. They think technology is a cool thing to do. For many, technology is a learning solution to reach more people and reduce costs for training. But they don’t know the many paths, stops and destinations it takes to do eLearning.

There are alot of those paths, stops and destinations. I created the eLearning RoadMap to have a place to begin when people say that they want to do eLearning. When I start describing what is involved with integrating technology into an activity, they are usually quite surprised.

In big looping overall terms, the destinations and stops on the roadmap are fairly self-explanatory.  Underneath are many paths that need to be traveled.

“Every project has a needs assessment.” Do you know what the digital literacy level is of the people that you want to work with?

“Of course, you need content.” It means adapting the print and face-to-face training materials in a format good for eLearning, not making .pdfs available to all.

“Duh, you must have a system for the technology.” To many it is the hardest part, but it actually the easiest.

Implementation usually stumps people. They have no idea how much there is to think about when planning and implementing technology. People’s eyes get wide when I start rambling about that.

“Yes, we need to monitor and collect data.” I am thinking about data beyond how many people took the training and what their quiz scores are. I want to connect learning data to health systems. There is talk constantly of connecting learning to performance but how? Let’s figure it out.

For me the first step on the journey of eLearning is describe these stops, destinations and paths.  And what an amazing journey it will be.

eLearning modules: Disposable or Recyclable?

RecyclableWe think of an eLearning module traditionally as formal learning.  Several of the projects that I am working on are creating eLearning modules. The modules will be used once by someone and then they are “thrown” away by that person.  With the amount of time and resources that go into creating them, it makes me sad that they are disposable.

eLearning Modules Are Dead… They Just Don’t Know It asked this question: “Have you ever, in your life, used an eLearning module as a just-in-time resource? Have you ever voluntarily gone back to do an eLearning module just to reinforce its learning?

In addition to being disposable, modules are now dead, too?  That made me even sadder. It got me thinking about the content itself in the module.  There is great information in these modules.  An amazing resource.  What the subject matter experts put into them is really useful.

How can we recycle the module to support learning and performance?  We turn wind into power, we take two or more things from different sources and create a mash-up, we reinvent ourselves.  I don’t mean just sharing it as an Open Educational Resource for others to reuse.  In this case, how can we extend a module from formal instruction into a useful resource to refer to?

In one project that is creating eLearning modules, support and mentoring are part of the project. (YEAH!  Real people.)  Mentors will be identified at the district level and visit facilities on a regular basis.  The eLearning part is to reinforce a topic and/or introduce updated guidelines.

The objective is to complete that training.  Tick.  The formal education is done.  Good-bye module. Sadness.

The eLearning module is only formal education.  But I even know that module has important facts about dosage and recognition of symptoms.  Can we create the module in such a way that it will both provide framework and necessary information in the formal module and also be used for reference?    The information is there.

I think that it is possible to design and create a eLearning module with that end in mind. I don’t think it would take much change in the actual development.  It is “simply” organizing the information into the micro chunks that could either easily be found in the module or pulled out and put into a different format such as a job aid to access that same information.  Of course, everything is easier said than done.

Perhaps it is asking too much.  But considering the great need for resources and how much money is spent on creating a module, let’s not make eLearning modules disposable and recycle them.

Is it a Learning Activity or Teaching Methodology?

elearning isI participated in a workshop recently with subject matter experts. The workshop was on how to create an eLearning module.

eLearning module may only be two words, but it caused a lot of confusion. For our project, we explained that we will use these modules as supplementary material. We said it a few times. Then at the end of the day, when we asked people to write down questions that they had, they posted responses like:
• Is eLearning mainly for procedures?
• Can eLearning be used like a library reference?
• eLearning is a supplement to traditional learning

eLearning is not one thing
People can get stuck in their heads that something is about one thing. We told them that the eLearning module was for supplementary material in this case, and that is all that they took away. However, we certainly did not want them to walk away from the training that eLearning is only for one thing. We explained to them that it could be many things: a lesson, a course, reference materials, simulation, review or study aid.  It not one thing.

Ah-ha. They got that eLearning can be many things. They understood now that it is only in this project that we were using eLearning to create supplementary material.

Module? What’s that?
Module stumped a few people. Confusion stemmed from their understanding of a module is the main topic with sub-topics under the module. In our case, a module is equivalent to a lesson. It is lesson under one of the sub-topics. If we were to creating eLearning for the topic, we would have many eLearning modules.

Ah-ha. Different uses of the same word.

Two words: eLearning module. So many questions stemmed from two words.

Learning Activity or Teaching Methodology?
Another one was the word to describe the pedagogical methods using in teaching the lessons. We were using training and learning activities. Huh? Blank stares.

Eventually someone asked, “Is that different from teaching methodologies?”
“No, it isn’t.”
Teaching methodologies is what they use when they create their lesson plans.

We were working with subject matter experts. Most of them are educators. They understood completely the definitions and use of language in this scenario once we explained it. They made associations with what they already use. You could literally notice that thoughts and ideas processing in their minds happening throughout the week.

Language is Culture
We always talk about knowing our audience. Start with what they know. Language is culture. When teaching about eLearning, you need first to understand how they teach. What does their lesson plan template look like?

Even if the group that you are working with are not educators, they were students once. Everyone can remember what a lesson was like in a classroom. The base is there.

Think Different
I had everyone stand up in the classroom and asked them to cross their arms across their chests. Then I asked them to cross their arms across their chest the other way around. They had to think about which arm was under the other that they do out of habit. Can you do it? It’s uncomfortable. You have to think about it.

That is what eLearning is about. Educators have a habitual way of teaching based on the way that they assume students learn in the classroom. Now they have tweak their thinking of how their students learn in order to create eLearning modules.

To help them do that, define the terms and concepts you are using in eLearning in a way that they can associate it, add to or tweak what they already know. Maybe one day they will not to have to think so hard about how to reverse crossing their arms across their chest.

Visioning a Learning Process and System

Learning Process and VisionI think about learning.  A lot. I look at learning as a process.  I think about the system that is needed to be in place to make learning happen.  The sketchnote is my attempt to visualize how I am currently thinking about learning. (Yes, I drew it.)

All the pieces of the vision exist not a holistic system.  Let me explain.  I look at the process and system in three main areas: content, system and data.

Nos. 1 and 2 are about content.
Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 are about the system.
Nos. 7, 8, 9 about data.

1. Creating content for all devices
People have access to desktops, laptops, smartphones tablets or feature phones.  Although we know how fast the use of smartphones is growing, the majority of people that we work with and need the most access to information have feature phones.  As we develop learning materials and adapt print and face to face materials, we have to adapt them to use on multiple devices.  It is a tremendous amount of work, but if we want to reach the greatest population at this point in time, we have to do that.

Content is developed and adapted for different devices and then…

2. Loading content onto the system
Learning platforms to disseminate materials exist for each device. But is there one system that connects all of them?  If you are working with the same group that have different devices, wouldn’t it be great to load the content and disseminate the course to everyone even if they are accessing it on different devices?

Content is loaded onto a Learning Management System and then…

SYSTEM 3, 4, 5, 6
A system is needed to manage the content and track learnings.  It is what a Learning Management System (LMS) does.  I am calling it a LMS  because it is common terminology.  It may be another type of system.  It doesn’t really matter what it is called.

3. Accessing the content
The content is disseminated through one platform.  Learners receive the content and access activities through the different devices as described in No. 1.

The learner accesses and does activities and then…

4. Tracking the learner
We want to capture the experiences of the learner for a number of reasons. We first want to see how people are doing, if people are doing anything, where there are stumbling blocks, where people need help.  Second, on the learners’ side people love to see what they got right.  Third, everyone else besides the educators and learners these days wants to track learning.

How do you track if learning is happening? An assessment, yes.   It can also be in gathering information, interacting on social media, watching a video, achieving milestones in games and simulations, performed work tasks and outputs, participating.  Tracking these experiences that are part of learning adds more value in looking at how learning is taking place.

The system has the capability of tracking learning experiences and then…

5.  Storing learner’s experiences: Learning Record Store
The learner performed an action.  “I did this.”  An event took place.  These events can be as simple as “accessed a resource”, “watched a movie”, “played a game”, “passed a test” or “visited a location”.   These actions are collected into a Learning Record Store (LRS).  A LRS is essentially a database where each learner’s experiences.  It provides an overview about what and how people have developed their knowledge, skills and competences.

The system captures and stores the learning experiences and then…

6. Awarding open badges
Once the learner completes the course, the LMS has a record of completing the course. Certificates are important.  We know that. What can digitally represent those pieces of paper?  They are called open badges.  They recognize the skills, knowledge and competencies that the learner has achieved.

Badge has been issued, then…

7.  Interacting with other health data systems
We now would like to tell other health systems that the health worker has received a badge for meeting certain competencies or other job-related tasks that they have done.  It can be the national association or ministry, for example, who gives licensure for health workers.  We want to inform them that the health worker has completed the training.

The LMS will inform other health systems…

8. Sending data: Health Interoperability Layer
How does that institution receive that information?  Think of a badge now as data.  Data can be transferred and exchanged from one system to another.  Open HIE is the architecture which data is exchanged between health systems.  Each system has to build a layer, the health interoperability layer, within in their own system that allows the system to then exchange data with other systems.

The LMS has a layer built into the system to share and exchange data with other health systems and then…

9.  Receiving learning data
Each country has a different system that registers health workers and/or keeps track of in-service training and/or provides licensure or certification.  It may be the health worker registry or a ministry or a national association.  If the Health Worker Registry, for example, had a field for education, it would be shared with the Health Worker Registry.  Under education, the badge would indicate that health worker has the necessary competencies.

The health worker has completed their learning, and it has been recorded at the national health system level.

And that’s my vision of a learning system and process.