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Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Tin Can (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Lately there’s been a lot of talk about Tin Can and how this API (application programming interface) will revolutionize how we access information and how we learn. We asked Andy Whitaker, Tin Can API Strategist of Rustici Software, to explain exactly what Tin Can API is and how it can benefit Learning and Development professionals. Although the questions are geared toward applications for L&D, there are also implications for Technical Documentation.

In a nutshell, what is Tin Can API?

WhitakerThe Tin Can API is a brand new learning technology specification that opens up an entire world of experiences (online and offline). This API captures the activities that happen as part of learning experiences. A wide range of systems can now securely communicate with a simple vocabulary that captures this stream of activities.

Boiling this down further, the Tin Can API is standardized plumbing between systems. These systems can include an LMS, a web portal, a mobile app, a simulation, a CRM, an HR Management System, a Talent Management System, a CPR dummy, you name it. All of the systems, once integrated with the Tin Can API, can send statements (records of experience) to a Learning Record Store where the data can be extracted, then mined and analyzed.

How does it work?

WhitakerPeople learn from interactions with other people, content, and beyond. These actions can happen anywhere and signal an event where learning could occur. All of these can be recorded with the Tin Can API. When an activity needs to be recorded, the application sends secure statements in the form of “Noun, verb, object” or “I did this” to a Learning Record Store (LRS.) These Learning Record Stores record all of the statements made. An LRS can share these statements with other LRSs. An LRS can exist on its own, or inside an LMS.

What do L&D professionals need to know about Tin Can API?

Whitaker: L&D professionals should be really excited about the Tin Can API. It will give them the freedom to design learning experiences they feel will be most beneficial to their learners and their organization. No longer will they be relegated to design content that only plays in an LMS. Mobile apps, simulations, serious games, web content and more can all be included in an organization’s learning and training arsenal, and with the Tin Can API these activities will all track back to the same place, the LRS.

The Tin Can API should help L&D Professionals paint a more comprehensive picture of what their learners know, how they like to learn and how they learn best, how their learning and training programs affect job performance.

How is Tin Can different from SCORM?

Whitaker: Unlike SCORM, Tin Can API is not reliant on a web browser, constant Internet connection or LMS. Whereas SCORM can only track a single learner or track a limited number of things (completion, time spent in course, pass/fail, a single score), Tin Can tracks any experience, anywhere. This opens up a world of opportunities for organizations and institutions needing to train their folks. Organizations will now be able to supplement their LMS learning with learning experiences that live outside of the LMS while still using the LMS as the central repository for all of their learning records.

The data that the Tin Can API tracks is intended to be portable (unlike SCORM). Tin Can Statements are sent to and stored in an LRS, which can be integrated with an LMS. The LRS is designed to store these statements, but is also designed to distribute these statements to other systems that have support for the Tin Can API, i.e. another LRS, an LMS, a reporting tool, a HR management system, etc.

Because the Tin Can API can be used to track any experience, anywhere, organizations can also use it to track performance support and job performance. In our opinion, this is the Holy Grail of big data. When an organization is tracking their learning/training, performance support and job performance using the same language, i.e. Tin Can, they will be able to determine the effectiveness of their training programs and measure ROI.

Will it replace SCORM?

Whitaker: Potentially, at some point, but not for the foreseeable future.

What does it cost?

Whitaker: The Tin Can API is an open specification, meaning there’s no cost to integrate with it.