The Layers of the Tin Can Onion

Mike Rustici Identifies The Many Components of the Tin Can API

Experience API, Pedagogy and Learning Comments (0)

Though we’ve covered the Tin Can API extensively here on our blog and in our newsletters, it’s clear to us that there are a lot of people that still don’t quite get everything that the new standard signifies for the learning community.

The Tin Can API can be thought of as an onion, according to one of the people responsible for bringing the specification to life. Community education is a key aspect of informing the skeptics or uninformed.

Mike Rustici, whose company Rustici Software is responsible for developing Tin Can, delivered an hour-long webinar today that focused on many facets involved with the evolution of the SCORM standard. This was articulated as four layers of the onion in the presentation.

In Layer 1, Mike talked about what Tin Can would allow people to do. He highlighted the following areas:

  • Mobile learning – “Not to say we can’t do this now,” he said, “but if we try to do mobile learning right now, we run into this problem where there’s nowhere to track it.” He also said SCORM would get in the way of creating mobile learning.
  • Simulation – “Once you take a simulation out of the Web browser that can’t be delivered in a small package, SCORM gets in the way” here, as well.
  • Educational and serious games – “Games aren’t always well-integrated into our learning management systems,” he said. Mike said it would be good for his daughter’s teacher to see the strides she’s made in the math games she plays on her iPad.
  • Performance support – “Tin Can is going to allow us to launch training from anywhere,” Mike said. It’s training at the point of need.
  • Tracking of real-world activities – Learning happens in more places than on just a computer. Mike said learning happens when reading books and attending a conference in addition to learning in a classroom.
  • Access offline and long-running content – This can be accomplished, but Mike said it takes some workarounds. “We learn much more effectively when our training is spaced out over a longer period of time,” Mike said.
  • Security and authentication of content – “SCORM is inherently insecure,” he said. Any Web developer can trick an LMS into thinking a person has completed an eLearning course when, in fact, they haven’t.

Layer 2 revealed Tin Can recording our learners activities at deeper levels. Specifically, as hinted at in Layer 1, everything is learning. We agree. “Learning happens everywhere both formally and informally,” Mike said. He suggested people learn far less from SCOs and from the classroom what is learned in a real-world, live situation.

With regard to key enablers, Tin Can differ from the previous version of SCORM in that it doesn’t need to know about an activity ahead of time. This is what enables informal learning. In other words, an activity can launch from anywhere. “Anything in the world can be…recorded as a learning experience,” he said.

However, one of the challenges is figuring out what constitutes a learning experience. Theoretically, watching any YouTube video could count as learning using Tin Can. Filtering out the noise is key.

Though, Mike said, “big data gives us a big opportunity.”

This could be figuring out how people like to learn, finding the least and most effective learning paths, and finding which people are best at learning. He gave the example of looking at job candidates with equal job experience, but one accomplished in 6 months what it took another 10 years to do. He said he wanted the worker who could learn quickly because they may need to keep shifting their learning into different areas.

In Layer 3, Mike talked about freeing the data.

“What goes in must come out,” he said.

Data can be analyzed and moved around so that it can go to where the learning data is delivered, to different LMSs or reporting tools, and even to other LRSs. This allows organizations to consolidate LMSs.

He also pointed to the importance of a personal data locker, meaning that an individual would have control over his or her data. This means that data would travel with a person from job to job. We at Float see this as a huge opportunity for organizations to significantly reduce training costs, overtraining and also assessing skills of new hires with limited investment.

Finally, Layer 4 correlates performance with training. “Training data can now be stored in the same place as the job performance data,” Mike said.

Mike also likened some of the under-the-hood aspects of Tin Can to the sewer system. “When they’re working well, they just kind of disappear,” he said. “But when they’re not working, they cause all kinds of problems.” A colorful metaphor, indeed, but we’d recommend skipping it next time since the webinars are delivered at lunchtime.

The webinar recording has been posted to YouTube in case you missed it.

“This industry’s about to get blown wide open,” Mike said.

Well put, Mike. See you at DevLearn.










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Adam Bockler is the communications manager for Float, responsible for all of Float's marketing initiatives. In addition, Adam is a certified DDP Yoga Level 1 instructor, a certified personal trainer, a martial arts instructor, and a graduate of the Black and Brave Wrestling Academy.

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On October 9, 2012
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