Week 2 – Tracking My Journey Using xAPI

Week 1 proved very fruitful in helping me level set on some basic xAPI knowledge. And with that knowledge I was now really antsy and wanting to start collecting and creating my own statements.  As one member of my cohort put it: “I want to get out of the abstract and get into the doing!”.  I couldn’t agree more.  So in week two that became my mission.  Here is what it took.

Step 1:  Get an LRS ….for free

I learned pretty quickly that I’m dead in the water without an LRS. Seeing that I’m really investigating this on my own , spending money to get the tools I need to give this a go was not an option. Fortunately, the search was quick in finding a basic LRS I could get use of for free.  A simple google search gave me some great solutions:

LearningLocker:  I’ve been given access to this in HT2’s  xAPI MOOC.  But, for me to use their free open source solution on my own, I didn’t meet the minimum requirements.

-Tin Can’s SCORMcloud –  This was just what I needed.  It’s a cloud-based hosted LRS option, meaning I don’t need a server for the LRS.  They also offer a free version, very limited in storage, but great for running prototypes and experimenting!  Perfect. Setting up an account was very easy.  And having gained some experience with LearningLocker, I knew what to look for once I was in SCORMcloud.

Step 2:  Identify which learning tools generate xAPI statements

To actually begin this quest, I needed to decide on my goal. Where did I want to focus? Who would be my learners? I decided to settle on using myself as the “experiment”. And It would be an experiment in capturing informal learning.  Seemed like a really easy place to start.

First, I knew that Curatr, the application the MOOC was hosted in, generates xAPI statements. I’ve already seen some of my own in Learning locker (the LRS the MOOC is sharing those statements to).  So there’s one tool.

But, I have also been doing a lot of searching on the internet and read various eBooks, blogs, and other material on the web.  Knowing that this is a big part of my informal learning journey I wanted to capture it.  After messing around with some different google searches, I was finally led back to Tin Can’s site where I found a bookmarklet I could add to my browser to generate xAPI statements for web browsing activity.  Only downside with this solution is it is user generated, meaning I have to remember to “click” it in order to capture my activity.  Not a biggie for me, but could be some trouble if I was dependent on other’s doing this.  Also, it only offers four verbs to use, but it’s a start.

Step 3:  Hook up my learning tools to the LRS

Again, the MOOC really set me up to be successful here (in case you aren’t getting the idea; Take the MOOC!).  I knew I needed a “key “and “secret” from the LRS that was unique for the application or system I wanted to “join” with the LRS.  I also needed to know the LRS url endpoint. Once I had that, it was a matter of finding  where I could input this information in the preferences and settings of the application.  It actually took no time and all.

What is a key and secret? Read this basic explanation.

Step 4:  Start Learning!

I’d say this entire exercise in getting started might have taken me 30 minutes.  And within seconds I was creating my own statements!  Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 6.21.15 PM

So there you go!  I encourage you to get started too and start exploring how you might begin leveraging the data you can capture via xAPI.   Now that I’m up and running, I’m starting to get a better grasp on the stories I might want to tell and what I might actually be able to collect that is of value.  But that’s another story for another blog.


Adventures in Getting Started with XAPI – week 1

xAPI.  What is it exactly?  What does it take to start leveraging xAPI?  What is the basic stuff I need to even contemplate getting started?  Why do this?

These are all the questions that have been haunting me on and off since the summer of 2016, when I first started hearing xAPI in conversations and seeing it show up in blogs and other publications.  So, now I’m on a mission and a journey to really sort this out for myself and see what the possibilities are for learning experience design and creating truly effective learning.

My Launching off Point

Here’s where my understanding and background knowledge was coming in on this journey:

  • Had something to do with being able to capture the learner’s actual experience in different learning mediums (internet, video, eLearning, etc.).
  • Is different than SCORM but has some similarities.
  • Was somehow connected to personalizing learning journeys.
  • Heard it was a set of guidelines but not sure if it is a technology.  Much confusion on this.
  • Tin Can and xAPI are the same.
  • xAPI statements are how you define what data you want to capture.

So, as you can see.  I pretty much had no idea what the hell xAPI was.

Getting Know xAPI

I actually started to look for some simple videos and documents breaking this down for me from the very beginning. In this search, I came across some resources at HT2 labs.  Turned out it’s exactly what I needed.   They have a great eBook , for free, called The Learning Technology Manager’s Guide to xAPI.  Exactly the jumping point I needed!

In addition, I found a MOOC they opened in 2016.  It’s still open and very well designed.  I have signed up and been spending my evenings moving through week 1. Even thought it’s pretty silent in there from a social learning aspect, I’m loving the platform and experience.

Finally, to really get into xAPI , I joined a cohort I came across, that is running through April. It’s sponsored by TorrenceLearning and has the goal of bringing people together to basically experiment with xAPI and a use case.  I joined three weeks late, but figured “better late than never”.

What I’ve Learned So Far -Week 1

The MOOC and guide really has improved my ability to actually tell you what xAPI is.  The foundation it is building for me has been quite impactful.

  • I sorted out that it’s not a technology but a specification for how systems and applications store, share, and send data about a learners activity, performance, and how they actually interact with the learning.   The specification is designed to create interoperability between them. Meaning you are stuck with getting data from only your LMS, but you can capture this data from other sources of learning like a webpage, a video viewed outside the LMS and even learning done in an app.
  • I’ve also sorted out how the xAPi statements work.  They are in the form of a triple: Actor, Verb, Object.  Ex. = Mia commented on the video.   Cool!  Real language.
  • I’ve also started to sort out the technology link confusion.  The statements are part of the coding specification.  And , if I understand this correctly, the code base for this data is JSON.  I have a little experience building strings using JASON so that was a fun link to make in my brain.
  • AND to take the untangling of the technology part further, it has become clear to me that if you want to start collecting xAPI statements you pretty much need an LRS. New word!  LRS =  Learning Record Store and it’s not the same as your LMS (Learning management system).  Newer LMS’s may have LRS built in but most are very limited and do not allow you pull in xAPI from any system or application that is able to generate xAPI statements.

Week 1 in the Cohort:

Well, this has been a little slower in what has been accomplished so far.  But frankly, that’s to be expected when you are trying to pull people together from around the world to run a case study experiment.  I did participate in my first webinar with the group and joined the non-elearning, non-lms group.   Basically, this group wants to run a case study experiment leveraging xAPI with systems and applications outside of traditional eLearning platforms and an LMS.  We’re still trying to define our question and the scope of the project.  I’ll keep you posted.

With week 1 being so fruitful, I’m really looking forward to diving deeper and maybe even getting my hands a little dirty.   Come join me in the journey!  Check out the HT2 labs MOOC and share your insights in the comments.



Managing Scope in Video Learning Design

Incorporating video into your learning experiences is a highly effective way to engage learners and build understanding and retention.  But , if your videos arn’t meaningful, tightly scoped, and short, you run the risk of having a learner leave a video within the first 10 seconds.  

First, you want to make sure you have a clear objective.  It is tempting to design for several objectives, several learner outcomes for a video. But focusing the intention and design around one clear learner objective will help you understand what the video needs to support strongly and concisely. It will also keep your video from becoming too long and setting the stage for the second objective never being accomplished.

Second, develop one to two essential questions around that objective.  Doing this will help you manage the content needed to accomplish the objective.  It’s tempting to include a variety of use cases and extra information for more context when designing learning. But staying true to your essential questions can help limit this temptation and keep the scope of the learning moment tight.  This is especially helpful for managing the length of your learning video.  For example, if the learner needs to be able to state the first three things to say when answering the phone at your business, then good essential questions would include, “Why is it important to answer phones in this way?”, “How do you answer the phones effectively”.    By doing this, we have a tight framework to design the content within, avoiding the temptation to veer off into other content that is important but does not fit this scope.

Finally, identify a specific context for supporting the objective.  Context is critical in this situation for helping the learner understand, retain, and apply the learning.  Videos can be isolating to the the learner without context. As a result, you can easily end up with information and skill knowledge that is meaningless and potentially confusing to the learner.  You have to consider where in learning does this particular learning moment fall. For example, if you are designing a lesson for writing effective strategies, the learner needs to understand early that this is within the context of strategic planning and that your strategic goal has been identified.  All examples of application need to support this. 

Keeping video design short, meaningful, and learner outcome focused takes having a clear understanding of the scope of that learning moment.  Take a look at the many videos out there and see if you can identify when the scope is too large or not clearly defined.   In comparison, see if you find those videos that are tightly scoped and notice the difference in your experience.  When a learner starts scrolling and skipping parts of a video, it could be a sign that scope is too big or not very well managed.

Take Time to Identify Your Learner Entry Behaviors

I have found that carrying out a solid instructional analysis of your learner’s entry behaviors for meeting an instructional goal leads to successful performance-based learning.   Carrying out this type of analysis clearly defines the skills and information needed to reach the established instructional goal and objectives.  Here a few techniques I have used to help me identify entry behavior base-lines when designing learning courses, workshops, and training, whether it be face-to-face, online/e-learning, or blended.

  • Skills Analysis Surveys or Tests:  Creating skills-based surveys or tests are useful in determining the range of skills and gaps in skills for a select group of learners.  I usually employ this strategy for workshops and training events that require the learner to be at a particular entry behavior prior to instruction.  The skills have already been identified in the survey or tool and are used to differentiate instruction or to design the appropriate level of instruction.  Here is an example of a survey I created and used to determine skill levels and to individually prescribe the most appropriate workshop or training event.  https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1bdqbGzdUuChGaFrGeDG7VY-dmI0xKwNvAgdCddtMtmw/viewform?usp=send_form
  • Hierarchical and Cluster Mapping:  I tend to use these techniques when identifying instructional entry behaviors for a more general audience and instructional goal.  I also use it to carefully map out and align performance-based objectives to instructional activities.  To begin the process, I start by chunking the instructional goal into what the learner needs to know, understand, and do.  This helps me clearly define the learning objectives that are performance and skill-based.  It is those objectives that I tend to use a hierarchical analysis for.  This type of analysis breaks the skill down into subsequent skills necessary for achieving the desired performance objective.  These subsequent skills can easily become learning activities that support the objective and learning goal.  Of course, at some point you have the draw the line for the entry behavior/subsequent skill and that will always depend a bit on what you know about the audience you are designing for.   Here is an example of how I used the information from a hierarchical and cluster analysis to align the learning goal, objectives and instructional sequence for a blended learning course.  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3aBOgbYsCblM1hEenkyemVhcTg/edit?usp=sharing

Doing a thorough instructional analysis allows me to design and develop learning that allows for all participants to succeed in reaching the identified learning goal.  Without this type of analysis, the risk of creating gaps in instructional sequence and information increases and can leave learners frustrated and with a lack of success.  I have found instructional analysis especially important when designing for the complex situation of blended learning and online learning.  To read more on this, please visit my blog post : Blended Content and Assignments- Avoiding the Confusion https://amyparent.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/week-4-blended-content-and-assignments-avoiding-the-confusion/

I’d love to hear how you approach instructional analysis and how it benefits your design and development.

Module Development Inspired by an e-Magazine

One of my favorite e-magazine apps is ASTD’s TD magazine (Talent Development). What I love about it is my user experience with that app. TD gives me a variety of option on how to interact with the article and supplementary content that goes along with the article. It includes “bonus” graphs, data, stories, and excerpts that are available by selecting a pull out tab, or hitting a plus sign button. The amount of content facing me in any given moment is carefully and purposefully controlled, keeping the experience from being overwhelming. This includes traditional scrolling to reveal additional content, using page number buttons you click on, and even vertical and horizontal “sliding” between pages. Each article gives me a cubed-like experience within that article with plenty for me to explore before I move on to the next article. There is a natural incentive in wanting to explore and find.

So how could I mimic this experience in e-learning module development? I suppose the piece I want to mimic most is that feeling of “exploring” every nook and cranny of content presented to me rather than it being constantly pushed to me or presented in a linear fashion. Here are some challenges to consider.

Challenge 1: How to work with or get around the slide presentation mode of e-learning modules and not leave the learner feeling “lost” in the experience? Explore layering in creating a contained experience while giving the user that ability to explore content pieces in regard to that particular moment in the module. Explore using tabs or clickable symbols with supplementary content appearing as a pop-up to keep the user contained within that moment of the module. And what about podcasts embedded as an option for hearing interviews or stories relating to that module moment.

Challenge 2: How do you combine the power of e-learning modules to provide feedback and reinforce learning with content presentation power of the TD e-magazine app? At some point the learner must move away from a moment in a module. Explore prompts, timing ques, and even arrows and next buttons to lead the learner to opportunities for checking their knowledge and skill development. Explore gamification tied to the content of the module or event that moment in the module.

These ideas are early in my thoughts regarding how to blend module development, app technologies, and user content interactions and worth some more exploration. But I do see how combining these experiences can lead to a very effective and engaging user experience in the world of e-learning modules. As always, share your ideas and your experiences!

Week 5 MOOC Reflections: Quality Assurance in Blended Learning. Can it be done?

When designing traditional courses and training programs there are usually a set of standards the course or training must meet in order to be credentialed or qualify for being offered.  These standards can come from the state or from a nationally recognized organization. There are also many accepted and recognized best practices and models in the design and development of courses and training programs. So question becomes how does one evaluate blended learning courses for quality assurance? And what resources are available for determining the quality of your course?

Although the problem is relatively new and certainly has it’s own unique circumstances from the design perspective and the learner perspective, I do believe some basic course design and learner motivation theory still applies.  Here are some areas a blended course should be evaluated for.

  • Goals and objectives of the course are clear and well understood
  • Assignments and content align to the course objectives
  • There is a variety of formal and informal assessment opportunities for the student
  • Content is presented using appropriate media
  • Content is appropriate for learner audience
  • Assignments and tasks are clearly explained with clear due dates
  • Grading and assessment expectations are clear

However, when designing for a Blended Learning experience, I feel these variables need to be evaluated too.

  • Do assignments and tasks cross over and integrate to the opposite environment(f2f to online and online to f2f)?  Do they link the two environments?
  • Are the face-to-face (f2f) meeting dates clear to the learner?
  • Is the location of where to do tasks, assignments, assessments and where to submit them clear to the learner (online or f2f)?  
  • Do students have a variety of interaction opportunity with content, other students, and the instructor?

One of the unique things about Blended learning courses is that the model in which learning is blended varies.  This can make it difficult to set a very specific set of course quality control measures.  However, if you stick to basic best practices in the design of traditional, online, and blended courses you can head in a good direction for assuring quality.

Week 4: Blended Content and Assignments. Avoiding the confusion!

One of the challenges in designing blended learning is to minimize confusion to the learner regarding assignments and content location and to make sure your course stays as a cohesive course between the online component and the face-to-face (f2f) component.  

This weeks reading offered tips for addressing these two common problems with blended learning course design.

  1. Use a consistent pattern for the presentation of content, assignment submission, and even for teacher feedback.  
  2. Make sure the work online is relevant to meeting the course objectives and to the in-class activities by mapping these activities and content to the course objectives.

As a learner, I have experienced the success of having a consistent pattern to how content is presented and introduced, along with how assignments are presented and submitted.  This has allowed me to have a very clear path of what I need to do each week in order to be successful.  I’ve also experience the latter;  Presentation of new content occurred in one form whereas the next week it was in another.  This led me to feeling a bit disconnect to where I was in the course and if I was making any progress.  I found myself feeling overwhelmed at times not feeling sure if I needed to read and watch everything or just parts and pieces.  Bringing consistency does not need to infringe upon the asynchronous nature of the online side of your course. It simple builds confidence and clarity to the learner and if done well, ties the f2f content and activities more clearly to the online side of the course.  

Have you ever taken an online course that gave you so many resources only to find out that ¼ of them you just didn’t need to spend the time on? Mapping the objectives of the course to the assignments and content is a useful way to determine if your content and assignment are making sense to the learner’s journey and if they belong.  Using this strategy can establish clarity by forcing you to carefully selecting reading or media than is meant to create a knowledge foundation, select interactivity tools and activities that build on that knowledge, and select assignments that assess the learners depth of understanding.  Furthermore, mapping to the objectives can help you find those links between the online and the f2f environment to avoid a lack of integration many blended learning students can experience.  Students need to feel that the online components of the class are integrated with what occurs and is expected in the f2f components of the course.

So remember, if you ask them to do something online ask yourself what does this support or how does this tie in to what we will do face-to-face. And if you ask them to do something in the f2f environment ask yourself how does this link back to the online side? what will they do there that will tie to this?  Keeping these questions alive in your design and development process will help keep your blended course clearer to the learner and not feel like the two environments are disconnected.

Designing Assessments for Blended Learning: MOOC BlendKit Week 3 Reflections

Citations come from BlendKit 2014 chapter 3 reading: https://blended.online.ucf.edu/blendkit-course-blendkit-reader-chapter-3/

Ahhhh.. Assessment.  I live in a world that seems to be obsessed with assessments.  The desire to “prove” that learning happened , that the instructor was effective seems to be the guiding principle these days and high stakes too.  The assumption is that if assessed, and the results pass a set benchmark, than learning has happened and the student is ready to move on to their next level of learning.  Application is just not a focus in these cases.  This week’s reading about assessment strategies has a nice focus on how assessment, whether it formal or informal, is  about “how well your course makes connections between learning objectives, course activities, and the selection of site tools to accomplish assignments” as a means for understanding the depth of learning and the student’s ability to transfer learning to new contexts.

For me, the biggest takeaway from this reading is how online learning has opened up different and even new means for assessing.  Some examples included, coding exercises, multimedia assignments and self-grading quizzes.   Each of these types of assessment, formal or informal, can offer the instructor feedback on how far a student is able to go with their new learning and offers the instructor the ability to build these assessments around a variety of contexts.

The reading also was careful to point out that the majority of these assessments can also be carried out in the F2F environment.  Research on maintaining assessment integrity showed equal levels of academic dishonesty occurring despite whether the assessment was online or F2F (Dietz-Uhler and Hurn, 2011).  Therefore, the article further emphasizes the need to design with a  “focus on student learning, not student control”.  And so those instructors that evaluated student performance online and offline experienced “more fruitful outcomes” regarding measures of student depth of knowledge and ability to apply in a variety of contexts.

As I design assessments for blended learning I want to remember these two main ideas:

  • assessments provide feedback on depth of knowledge and ability of learner to apply knowledge in a variety of contexts
  • assessments are aligned to the course objectives, course activities, and course tools used
  • and assess online and F2F to really provide rich experiences and challenges for your learners

Building Interactions in Blended Learning Design: Week 2 MOOC reflections

“Whether self-directed and initiated (Mitra, 2007) or aided through advance consideration of design (darken and silber, 1996: Asbell-Clark et al., 2012), it is clear that many learning objectives can be achieved without direct guidance.”


This quote , taken from week 2 reading of the Blendkit 2014 MOOC, grabbed my attention immediately and prompted a pause in my thinking and the role blended learning course design has in supporting this statement.  And so the question that arose for me was, if this is true then what are those objectives and how do you design effectively knowing this?

The reading focuses on building interaction in a blended course and how building interaction brings together the power of technology in learning and human interaction in learning. The challenge is designing to meet the need for interaction both online and f2f.  This reading offered a couple main things to consider when in this phase of Blended learning design:

  • Keep interaction in front of your mind when designing
  • Consider how will learners know what they need to know?
  • Consider how will learners make sense of the course information given the fragmented nature and distribution of blended learning course information when compared to the structure and organization of a traditional textbook.

Interactions can be incorporated in both the online and F2F components of instruction with the intention to allow for student expression.  These expressions can be student-to-student, student-to instructor, and student-to-content.  Either way, when designing these interactions you want to consider the best method or activity for the students to achieve the course learning objectives through interaction.  And as the instructor, if designing with this intention, you should be able to offer feedback and identify gaps and growth in learning and understanding through those interactions.

As many of us know, these interactions can be everything from discussion forums (online or F2F), wikis, blogs, reflections, ect…For me, it is easy to get caught up in thinking only about how those interactions are tied to achieving the learning objectives and not stop to consider how good interactions create that “community” within your course.  This article did a nice job giving me that new way of thinking about interactions and reminding me that interactions are not just about meeting objectives but also keeping the learner engaged and connected.  Suggestions for designing interactions to meet this purpose include, allowing expression of viewpoints in your activities, free choice in presenting thoughts and ideas, and even an opportunity to talk about themselves and what they hope to gain from the course.

After reflecting on these thoughts, it seems so simple.  Now the challenge is to remember that one of my course objectives is also helping students feel a part of a learning community where they feel comfortable interacting with others and expressing their reflections, questions and needs on what is being learned.

A Blended Learning MOOC Journey: first reflections

Blended Learning is an area of instructional design that I have been exploring and designing for over the past two years.  So when the opportunity arose to take a MOOC about Blended Learning course design by UCF, you can bet I was all over that!

Our first assignment involved reading chapter 1:  Understanding Blended Learning.  Already, I am picking up some nice thoughts and areas to reflect on.  Here are few bits of information I am currently reflecting on:

  • The best strategy for design begins by clearly defining the course objectives.
  • Well defined objectives can drive and inform the content delivery method, pedagogy, and decisions for class meetings, interactions, and how often.

I personally can not agree more with these statements!  Just scroll down and read a few of my other blogs talking about the importance of clearly defined objectives and learning goals.  And in designing blended professional growth courses, I have found this strategy to be invaluable.  The very natural next step is to begin to see which objectives lend themselves to online delivery vs. live, F2F(face-to-face) delivery and so on.


However, the most intriguing thought that I pulled from this reading deals with another approach to identifying course activities and technologies that will support learning.  

  • It is suggested that when designing the lesson plans, that the teacher design for the “ideal” learning experience of a traditional setting (F2F, instructor-facilitated, student-collaborative) initially.  From there, you use a systematic approach analyzing the elements of that lesson for delivery online without compromising the effectiveness of the learning.  

When I work with the subject matter expert (SME), this seems like a very logical approach and seems to be more the case in reality.  I find myself in a similar circumstance when working with teachers who want to use technology in their teaching.  I often work with that teacher through the eyes of a traditionally written lesson and try to identify the elements of that lesson where technology will enhance or support learning without compromising the lesson effectiveness.  I like this approach to begin to understand the decision making process for online vs. F2F.

One thing is clear, designing blended learning experiences can certainly be a more rigorous and time consuming process than designing for more traditional settings.  But it is so much fun especially when done successfully!