Lambda Solutions, Zoola Analytics, And The Curious Case Of xAPI Underachievement

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Lambda Solutions, Zoola And The Curious Case Of xAPI Underachievement
"Farnese Hercules" by Justin Ennis is licensed under CC BY 2.0

xAPI is one of the most groundbreaking technologies that have ever fallen upon the EdTech world. Its presence will be felt for decades and will transform every participating solution in the ecosystem.

All the previous statements are true, widespread, and largely accepted. So why is the excitement lacking? Where is the “killer” xAPI app? Could it be that, by being true to its outstanding facts, potential customers get suspicious? Or is the world of education not ready to know all the truths xAPI is likely to uncover?

On an exclusive interview for MoodleNews, VP of Products at Lambda Solutions, Stewart Rogers, shares their perspective on a technology they continue to pioneer, and the pain points that jeopardize the xAPI value proposition to customers. It is clear xAPI issues go beyond a simple branding problem.

Stewart Rogers’ Quantified, Accurately Formatted Testimony

Rogers logs 15 years of experience in learning technologies. With a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Product Management skills, his career has been tied to education since at least 2010. Interestingly enough, this was not by choice, at least not at first. Currently, he is also an Instructor for BrainStation and mentor at the UBC Sauder School of Business, besides his duties as co-Founder and Lead Organizer at ProductCamp Vancouver. His current engagements also work as a sample of the thriving EdTech ecosystem in the metro area. Despite its relatively discreet profile, it has become a “destination city” for top regional and global talent.

It made sense for the Lambda team to embrace xAPI to the best of their ability. Zoola Analytics, their reporting and analytics solution, became the ideal candidate for xAPI. Rogers himself has a special interest for dashboards that present information in a visually appealing way, and that let decision makers act expediently. He even took it upon himself to educate customers on xAPI and the thorough developments offered by Lambda.

The results were… Okay. “Our customers ‘get’ it.” They understand the appeal of xAPI, perhaps even appreciate the efforts made by Rogers and Co. that speak to their expertise. But in plain truth, they are not asking for it. Most are fine by the limited traceability offered by more familiar specifications, like SCORM. There are no real discussions about putting xAPI to the test, and higher-level goals like the ROI on learning feel a light year ahead.

From conversations with clients, he does not think xAPI will reach the mainstream in less than five years, and that is assuming a “trigger event” will take place, probably in the form of a product that figures out how to make people “wrap their head around it” at last.

A modest proposal: ‘Frictionless’ recording, ‘mindless’ storage

Many of the xAPI claims, such as its never before seen potential for insight about how we learn, while true, remain largely on a theoretical realm. Just because something has been possible in the past, to someone under certain circumstances, it doesn’t mean it’s instantly true for everyone. So perhaps advocates have been disingenuous, if not misleading, about how practical it actually is to get real value from xAPI-encoded data.

Then again, it might also point to a patent state of contentment among most learning organizations, who do not see why such a greater quantifiability is worth pursuing. Even those who have declared an interest in more evidence-based learning and searching for an actual learning ROI, seem hesitant to open their processes to the scrutiny xAPI might demand.

Maybe when people claim “xAPI” isn’t ready for prime time, it should be read as apps today do not make a good job of introducing xAPI into the existing content, course and curriculum design pipelines. “xAPI is a hammer in search of nails,” Rogers believes. In this context, it is easier to analyze the implications for designers and developers:

  • There is a need for xAPI-ready instructional design tools. Actually, there is a need for instructional design tools, period, especially open source.
  • The definition and functions of a “Learning Record Store” are still too obscure for the average teacher and designer. Complementary relationships between LMS and LRS deserve a lot more exploration.
  • Perhaps we will finally be ready to welcome the almost mythical role of “Quantitative Storyteller.” In this case, it would be a xAPI-fluent instructional designer who can articulate a lesson’s long narrative with measurable behavior checkpoints.

Regarding Lambda and Zoola Analytics, among their encompassing set of next-gen features, xAPI is not a headline yet. Not to say Rogers is not optimistic about its potential. “xAPI is in its early days. At this point, the changing landscape of EdTech is likely to transform the LMS. The next generation will be more mobile and modular.” Maybe among these twists and turns, xAPI will have a way in. Within Vancouver’s startup culture, Zoola Analytics evolves incrementally, through Agile and Lean approaches. It makes it easier to keep an ear on the ground.

“We stay on top of the technology. There are things that we do [with xAPI] that are unique. The technology is ready. We are ready. People are not.”

Disclaimer: Lambda Solutions is a sponsor of MoodleNews.