TinCan Curious

image by No Matter Project

image by No Matter Project

Here’s my recipe for starting an argument on Twitter:

1. Include the following hashtag: #tincanapi

2. Have an opinion about said hashtag

3. Send

You could be enthusiastic, suspicious or apathetic, it really doesn’t matter. For some reason project TinCan has become a divisive bi-partisan issue. You’re either with us or against us.

I wasn’t especially interested in TinCan until a few weeks ago. I was somewhere between apathetic and suspicious. The over-zealous marketing probably accounts for this. Late last year Jane Hart voiced her reservations on Twitter about the value of trying to manage learning through SCORM or TinCan. This resulted in a rather patronising blog post on the Tincan blog titled “Helping Jane Hart Understand TinCan” Not cool.

But I was asked to help cover the TinCan API session via Twitter at this year’s Learning Technologies Conference. So I had a reason to learn more. To prepare I attended an excellent webinar with Neil Lasher on the Monday before the conference. Neil explained the nuts and bolts and demonstrated how you can use TinCan to track learning interactions without using the LMS. We tried a SMS text quiz using Neil’s PhonetoKnow platform and the answers were recorded in the Wax Saltbox LRS (which you can try for free btw).

I then read some of the articles on Tim Drewitt’s handy Scoop.it Topic. On the Wednesday I attended the Tincan session with Tim Martin from Rustici software. By this point my mind was buzzing with ideas and questions.

Still Not Loving LMS

I am not an advocate of the LMS. I avoid using our LMS whenever possible, which frankly is most of the time. The Love Learning campaign I’m involved in at the moment makes zero use of our LMS.

So why am I interested in TinCan?

I think TinCan could be the end of the LMS as we know it.

Do you have an internal business networking platform? No matter which platform you use, everyone has a profile page. Most of the sections on your profile will probably be completed by the user. So John in marketing can claim to be good at PowerPoint, but you only have his word for it.

What if John had his Learning Record Store  linked up to his profile page?

What if this could talk to some sort of rating app? People could rate John’s performance or slide design from their phone as they sat through one of his presentations.

Could that generate a TinCan statement?

What if, when he gets to 10 positive ratings on his presentation skills it triggers a “Presentation Pro” badge using Open Badges, which then gets displayed on his profile page and his LinkedIn profile?

He gets instant feedback and recognition. People in the company know that he’s the man to talk to about presentations (or he gets exposed as the fraud he really is!)

What if you ditch your LMS all together like Stefaan van Hooydonk at the Philips Lighting academy? Instead of a LMS they have a web portal containing learning resources for employees to use in any way they see fit. They rely on web analytics to monitor what is being used and certification quizzes to monitor what people are learning.

They’re doing this successfully without TinCan. So can TinCan add value here?

Instead of just tracking the most popular resources on the portal, by number of hits, they could see which learning paths or sequence led to the best results on the certification test. They can then use the data they collect to suggest the best paths for people to follow.

Before I go any further I need to make absolutely clear, if I haven’t already, that I am in no way a TinCan expert. One of the reasons for writing this blog is to check my understanding is correct.

So, rightly or wrongly, I’m starting to look at TinCan as Google analytics for learning. Only instead of tracking who does what on an individual site, it flips that and follows the person, recording what they do on multiple sites. That throws up lots of valid privacy concerns. But what if it was a bookmarklet, like the ones I use to record bookmarks on Diigo and curate content on Scoop.it? I’m in control of what goes into both those sites. Tappestry already offers this service using TinCan.

So it’s not a big leap to think I could start recording my learning in a similar way. That’s practically what I’m doing already with diigo isn’t it? But it’s a hassle, am I really going to do that for everything I learn. How could it be more user-friendly?

What if diigo generated a Tincan statement? “Sam read an article, annotated it, saved it”. This auto-generates a statement which shows up on my internal business networking profile page, containing the metadata I added to the post making it instantly available to anyone on my company network. That would be quite cool. And because it’s not locked in the LMS I can display the same information on my LinkedIn profile. Perhaps after I’ve shared 10 items, that people rated as useful, I might get a “Super Sharer” badge to go on my profile?

TinCan is exciting because of the possibilities it offers. We could use it to reward and recognise people who take control of their learning, which in turn can motivate people who still need to acquire this habit. We could integrate it with tools we already use. Or we could just use it to collect lots of irrelevant data.

I don’t know how realistic any of this is and I suspect we are some way off any of these ideas being feasible. That’s why I wrote this post, that’s why I remain TinCan curious and open to the possible.

(Ryan Tracy just wrote an excellent post on TinCan too. He comes at it as a LMS advocate, which makes an interesting comparison.)

Post by: Sam Burrough (39 Posts)

Posted in blog, cool stuff Tagged with: , , , , ,
16 comments on “TinCan Curious
  1. kategraham23 says:

    Thanks for this post Sam, I’m at the point where I ‘get’ the concept of TinCan and there’s a lot of talk about it across the industry but I’m not hearing many people talking specifics. I too had a good conversation with Neil Lasher about it last week which helped a lot. It’s interesting it’s become such a divisive subject – and I agree it’s important we’re able to have the debate and look at things from both sides – and more importantly, to understand the detail of just what’s involved. It won’t help anyone to dismiss it or dive straight into it without a good level of understanding of just what it entails and what the impact of it will be.

    • sam says:

      Some of the people in the know are very cautious about when we’ll be able to do the speculative stuff I talked about. The main priority seems to be how do we replicate what we use SCORM for at the moment. I guess they want to walk before they can run. As you can probably guess that doesn’t interest me much!
      However, I know Saltbox are practically there with a way to integrate their learning record store with SharePoint and as I said Tappestry already lets you record informal learning with a bookmarklet, so maybe we’re closer to the interesting stuff than the experts are letting on?

      • I’m finding my way here too, but surely xAPI and SCORM can co-exist in the same piece of content?

        Why can’t a learning object be uploaded by SCORM into a corporate LMS also update the user’s personal LRS? Corporate and personal records are satisfied.

        In fact how many LRS stores can the xAPI update? My personal one, my LinkedIn one (I would love LinkedIn to have an LRS), my work one…

        • sam says:

          Hi Steve – thanks for your comments, to be honest I don’t really know the answer to your questions. I’m not a LMS hater, I’m just stuck with one I hate. The ideal LMS in my mind would be invisible. And from the few LMS providers I looked at whilst visiting Learning Technologies a few weeks back, it seems that’s the way things are going. The front end in some platforms at least is basically an internal social network. Whether or not you want to buy the LMS vendors’ take on a social platform is another question.
          Taking up your point with the badges.. Open badges are issued by a badge issuer, so the employer or educational establishment would probably be the one issuing the badges, you can’t just award yourself badges.
          As far as xAPI and SCORM existing in sweet harmony, I think the aim of Tincan is to actually replace SCORM. The first applications the working group have been addressing are replicating the functionality of SCORM, presumably so they can get rid of it all together at some point. From what I gathered at #LT13UK most LMS vendors will have a LRS somewhere within the LMS. I’m not sure what the deal is with multiple LRS. It sounds like it would make more sense to have one personal LRS that all the other systems could call on – LMS, LinkedIn etc. But I know next to nothing about such things! If you want to learn more there’s a lot of vigorous debate going on, just check the #tincanapi thread on Twitter.
          Thanks again for your comments – hopefully we’ll meet soon at a weeLearning event

  2. The issue here Sam is that Experience API (I won’t call it TinCan because I don’t think that it helps) is morally neutral. It’s a data channel. If that’s used for good or ill, xAPI is indifferent. The world you portray is the world of opportunity I see available with xAPI. The naysayers are, I feel, only taking that position because they, like you, don’t like LMSs (neither do I) but they don’t see the freedom of xAPI. Ironically they may be flaming you on Twitter, using an app on their phone, which calls on an API to free them from the tyranny of using the Twitter website. The sign in on this very blog for user details to be tied up? Using an API. xAPI just gives us in education/learning/training a standard so we can do the same kind of funky stuff, with a feature set that suits us. #Danwrotearamblingpostreplywithoutrecoursetoparagraphbreaks.

    • sam says:

      I think we need to be careful with the language we use when talking about TinCan and not just whether we call it xAPI or Experience API. Things are already pretty tetchy out there so lets not label anyone as naysayers etc. People have valid doubts about what this thing will be used for, we need to try and move away from the party politics that have sprung up around the topic and have a mature debate about it should be applied.

  3. Ryan Tracey says:

    Thanks for the shout out, Sam.

    Your idea of using Tin Can as a Google Analytics for learning is excellent. That gives the recording of all the informal learning activity a point.

    I also like your badging idea, which reminds me of Mozilla’s Open Badges initiative: http://openbadges.org I don’t really agree with the ratings angle, though; we can see how LinkedIn’s skill endorsements have become reciprocal and therefore rather meaningless. But (as you can guess from the line I take in my blog) if it were the training provider who issued the badges, that makes more sense to me.

    • sam says:

      Hi Ryan – thanks for the comment and for your blog yesterday. It definitely spurred me on to finish this post. The badging idea was indeed the Mozilla project. I think the latest version of Curatr http://curatr.co.uk/ is already using TinCan to issue Open Badges. I think the problem with LinkedIn endorsements s that they are not connected to any real world experience, so like you said you get “I’ll endorse you because you endorsed me etc.” If you had an app that let you endorse people when they witnessed the skill actually happening it could add some credibility to such a system.

  4. Ryan Tracey says:

    Oh right, I didn’t click the link (sorry). I’ll check out Curatr… sounds interesting.

  5. Janet Clarey says:

    Just a quick question…you mention one alternative to an LMS as “a web portal containing learning resources for employees to use in any way they see fit…[that relies] on web analytics to monitor what is being used and certification quizzes to monitor what people are learning.” How is that not an LMS? If you had to write a definition for an LMS what would it be? Just curious.

    • sam says:

      Fair point. I suppose it does have the same functionality. However, most LMS I’ve seen add layers of complexity and frustration to the user experience, i.e. registering for offerings, curricula etc. This was just like using the web.

  6. First of all let me start off by saying that we are an LMS vendor and that I do appreciate your position, and my intention isn’t to drag this post into a pro-vs anti LMS discussion. But I think it’s important to feel out it’s role in the environment you postulated.

    An idealised LMS, and I’m not saying we have it either BTW, does bring structure which is important.

    For example John created his badge because he’s at the bleeding edge. What if Sarah did a badge as well, but using a different platform? What about the other 80% of the workforce who wouldn’t know, nor are interested in a badge? The idealised LMS (call it what you will) brings that structure so that when you want to report on (or search for) people with the presentation badge then you can because someone configured the employee records to have one.

  7. One aspect rarely discussed (and should be) is the amount of dev work required to implement xAPI across an enterprise – tagging content, writing JSON statements, sending statements, building an LRS, figuring out authorisation protocols, privacy issues… If you don’t have a handful of smart developers at your disposal then xAPI is simply not an option for now. It makes an LMS look trivial and this may be its downfall.

    • Sam Burrough says:

      That’s a great point and despite writing this post over a year ago, I’m only just on the verge of dipping my toes into the xapi waters Now. It’s undoubtedly going to involve a lot of learning for me personally, but it’s also pretty exciting to have the opportunity to put it to good use and maybe contribute to the wider initiative.

  8. Ryan Tracey says:

    Excellent point, Roger. It seems to me that to use Tin Can, the average Joe must have an LMS that is xAPI compliant, use Scorm Cloud as the LRS, or perhaps rely on the browser bookmarklet (which of course is somewhat limited). Frankly I can’t see many people rendering their other activities Tin Can compliant by adding in the necessary coding as you say.

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