What’s the Difference: External vs. Internal Learning Record Stores

Is the learning record store (LRS) in your LMS or LXP providing the data and information you need to understand all the learning that’s happening across your organization? Or, are you limited to the data within that particular system? Remember, without a comprehensive view, it’s hard to know what’s really working and where your learners need support. In this blog series, we’ll explain what you need to know about the differences between internal and external LRSs.

Before we get started, let’s explain what we mean by “internal” and “external” LRSs. Plenty of learning tools now incorporate an internal LRS of some type as part of the tool’s functionality and features. These LRSs can be a place where xAPI statements generated by the platform live and even act as the platform’s core data store. Or, the LRS can just be a place where xAPI-enabled content stored in the platform can send data.

These internal LRSs often have restrictions and limits around accepting data from external learning record providers. Some internal LRSs might even restrict important information—such as the verbs and activity types used in the statements being sent to them from the tool itself.1

An external LRS, on the other hand, isn’t provided as part of another product. It’s something that an organization purchases separately for various reasons, which we will get into in this article. Generally speaking, the three main things you need to consider when comparing internal and external LRSs are:

  1. The value each type of LRS offers
  2. Data processing and extraction methods
  3. How an LRS fits into the larger learning ecosystem

We’ll cover each of these areas in more detail in future blog posts. But for now, here’s a preview of what’s to come.

How do internal and external LRSs collect and process learning data differently?

While internal LRSs offer some insight into the learning that’s happening in your organization, that insight is limited to the learning inside your LMS or LXP.

Not all internal LRSs are fully conformant with the xAPI 1.0.3 specification. As a result, you may only be able to  utilize a small portion of the xAPI specification. And when an internal LRS isn’t fully compliant, an LMS or LXP will reject statements if they don’t match the documentation.

And although some platforms have internal LRSs, they don’t all generate and send xAPI data from platform events, content views, SCORM completions, etc., to the internal LRS. They may only track statements from other xAPI learning record providers that are being launched from the product (as long as they meet their own requirements).

Even the platforms with true LRSs—that generate great xAPI data from non-xAPI content and the platforms' interactions—can present challenges. That means they don’t generally allow you to send outside xAPI statements into the internal LRS, so you can only report on the data contained in that platform.

And last, the reports available inside all of these platforms are pre-canned. While some vendors and providers can add new reports, actually getting the work done can be difficult.

Why should you consider the potential role an LRS can play in the future ecosystem?

While each situation is unique, one of the main considerations is data access. For instance you need to be able to provide access to performance-level data if you want to perform comparative analytics—which allows you to not only delve into what content was consumed and by whom, but also how that content has impacted those learners and also look at content utilization across multiple learning systems.

Up Next: Which offers more value—an internal or external learning record store?

Our next blog post will dive into an LRS’s value dependent and independent from a learning platform. Specifically, we’ll explain how you tell if a platform is fully xAPI conformant and how this might affect statement structure and the detail of your learning analytics.

1 Part 3 of the xAPI specification is quite clear about what an LRS must do to be an LRS. A platform that places limits on what kind of statements can be stored it could potentially not pass the LRS conformance test suite and be considered a conformant LRS—so it could be argued a platform that does this is not a true LRS. However, an LRS that does not allow you to send statements to it from external activity providers/learning record providers could still pass the conformance test.

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