Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Realizing the Potential of the Tin Can API

By Joseph Suarez

Each time a major eLearning authoring tool or LMS vendor announces they are (or will be) supporting the Tin Can API, the eLearning community can be heard giving a simultaneous cheer and moan. Why would the “next generation of SCORM” cause such a mixed reaction? Here's my interpretation.

In the short term, Tin Can support is perceived as a good thing because it means organizations will theoretically have the capability to migrate from SCORM to what's being promoted as a highly improved standard for recording and tracking learning experiences. With vendors adding Tin Can support to their products, it signals a quick and wide adoption of the new standard. This is a cause for celebration to some.

However, unless the promised improvements of Tin Can are also eventually realized, the future won't likely be any brighter. For years, thought leaders in the industry have been calling for radical change that moves us beyond the simple LMS completion checkmarks SCORM has become notorious for. They would argue that to adopt Tin Can only as far as to replicate SCORM’s limited functionality completely misses the point.

Without getting into the history of SCORM, it’s fair to say that how it is widely used today was only part of what was originally imagined. Julie Dirksen described the missed opportunities of SCORM with this analogy over on the official Tin Can API blog:

“Basically, it’s like someone having a $50K budget for a new car, and spending a thousand dollars on the actual car and the other forty-nine thousand on making sure we always have a parking space.”

Chicken & Egg
Remember when fuel-efficient hydrogen cars were supposed to be the next wave of the future? A major problem keeping the idea from taking off is a classic chicken-and-egg dilemma. No one wants a hydrogen car if there are no refueling stations around, and no refueling stations are going to exist without a customer base of hydrogen car owners.

I see Tin Can as having a similar dilemma. If we don't eventually see and experience examples of Tin Can utilized to its full potential, how are we going to create enough market demand to pressure vendors to fully empower their tools with that ability? Yet how can the full potential of the Tin Can API become mainstream if that capability isn't within arm’s reach of developers?

It’s not an insurmountable problem by any means. It just requires some pioneering developers to enlighten the rest of us to what's possible. Fortunately, that may have already has begun through a Tin Can API prototypes page. It’s worth bookmarking and checking up on in the hopes of doing more cheering down the road.

What are your thoughts on Tin Can's potential?


  1. Hi, Joseph -

    I wrote up some thoughts and use-case vignettes about the *potential* of the XAPI for my org. I really think the limitations aren't in the technology. It's a simple and capable spec.

    The devil is in the details. People gotta wanna change the business rules and mindset. When they do, the tech should be ready to support it.

  2. I think that the opportunities for mobile will be a significant driver for demand as will the possibility to deploy content outside of the context of an LMS.


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