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Make informal learning count: xAPI and the future of digital training

Training courses often overlook the impact of informal learning because they don't have the means to record or assess it, but technology like xAPI could amend this.

Why is it important to make informal learning count towards overall training assessments? Ideally, we would be learning every day in some way. The spaces of time between formal training hours can be just as useful as the hours themselves, because this is when we reflect on what we have learned and apply the learning to our real lives. However, the potential of this time is threatened by the way that formal courses often operate. When we know that the time outside of a course isn’t going towards our official process, we actively stop ourselves from thinking about the material in our spare time.

This means that we miss out on the kinds of learning that really stick: informal discussion, putting lessons into practice and finding real-life applications of a subject that we might not have noticed before.

Informal learning in practice

Imagine you are taking a Spanish course which involves a combination of face-to-face conversation practice with your tutor, and online tasks and quizzes. The flexibility of the online elements is handy for you because you have a busy lifestyle. You must complete a certain number of conversation hours in order to complete the course.

Coincidentally, you meet a Spanish person outside the course. They happily converse with you in Spanish for half an hour, and correct a few mistakes that you make.

This was as useful to you as any of your conversation lessons. However, it won’t count towards your face-to-face quota because it came about outside your course.

Such instances of ‘informal learning’ are increasingly recognised as important features of any education process. The space in between official teaching blocks when we reflect and apply what we have learned in our everyday lives is crucial to processing the information. With technology such as xAPI, it is possible to digitally log these events and their contribution to your learning process.

xAPI makes informal learning relevant

Experience API or xAPI is a set of technical standards that allows content distribution across different systems. It has largely replaced SCORM, an older set of standards with a more limited set of benefits. One major reason for this lies in xAPI’s ability to record data from all sorts of learning experiences. The ‘Experience’ part of its title comes from this capability.

When an LMS works with xAPI, a learner can enter their informal learning experience straight into their course. The xAPI standard then communicates this across to the main system. xAPI can record and process three-part action statements, like ‘I conversed in Spanish.’ Or, for a plant identification course, ‘Jeff identified a sycamore.’

xAPI can even record this information offline. When Jeff is on a countryside walk without signal, he can still input this contribution to his plant identification course.

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