Why Care about LRS xAPI Conformance, Compliance, or Any of That Nonsense?

Does it matter if your internal learning record store (LRS) is fully xAPI conformant? The short answer: Yes, but it also depends. In this blog post, we’ll explain how xAPI conformance plays a role in both internal and external LRSs and the type of data and resulting learning analytics you can expect from each.

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.

What does it mean when an LRS isn’t fully xAPI conformant?

Not all LRSs are fully conformant with the xAPI 1.0.3 specification. That potentially means you can only utilize a small portion of the true power of xAPI. When an LRS isn’t fully conformant, it  will either reject statements or simply not allow you to use statements if they don’t match its documentation, or the specific parts of xAPI it allows.

When an LMS or LXP isn’t fully xAPI conformant, it might affect statement structure and the detail of your learning analytics. Some platforms for example, will only allow you to utilize statements with certain verbs like completed or experienced, while rejecting statements containing any similar-but-different verbs (e.g. finished or watched). Or, the platform’s LRS could be missing something such as the state endpoint—which means learning content that uses this endpoint would simply not work.

What’s the State Endpoint?

The state endpoint allows the storage and return of data about the current state of an activity for a particular learner (e.g. bookmark, state of play of the simulation, other state variables). In other words, the State Endpoint stores data about an activity/agent combination. Example URL composition: https://myLRS/xAPI/activities/state (Source: Advanced Distributed Learning Network)

How can I tell if an LRS is xAPI conformant?

Start by checking the xAPI Adopter Registry to see if an LRS or learning platform utilizes an xAPI conformant LRS. Keep in mind, though, this list doesn’t always reflect the most current information. And often, platforms that use another LRS may not be listed, as the LRS it uses is listed on the registry instead. You can create an account on the LRS conformance site and run the conformance test yourself—all you need is an xAPI activity provider for the LRS you want to test!

What’s the difference between conformant and compliant?

Conformance is voluntary adherence to a standard, while compliance is forced adherence to that standard. In other words, conformance is a voluntary step to prove your compliance to the specification or standard.

If an internal LRS is fully conformant, can you get better, more detailed analytics?

An LRS does not need to provide any analytics to be considered an LRS. So when an LRS is fully compliant, it simply means you can connect any xAPI learning record provider to it, and be sure that—as long as the content meets the xAPI specification—the LRS and learning record provider will work together.

Take, for example, an LMS that claims xAPI support and has an LRS—which only accepts five verbs and four activity types. Any other xAPI statements are rejected and dropped into the ether. This LMS does, however, pull data from xAPI statements that follow its rules and add the activities to the user transcript.

One of the worst cases of this example might be a learning platform that accepts all xAPI statements, but changes those statements and reformats them into its own format. It does add the original statement as an additional property, but the statement is totally unusable in any other platform now!

Are there workarounds or solutions to not having a fully conformant LRS?

Yes. Here’s what you need to consider:

  • Know your LRS’s limitations and expectations—and work with them, not against them.
  • Understand how to build content that will work with these platforms. This is easier said than done, and is probably going to require quite a bit of trial and error.
  • Work out if you can automate the push of its data to a conformant LRS. Most LRSs have a way of pulling data from, or pushing data to another LRS—which would allow you to mix this data with other organizational learning data.

Why does an LMS or LXP have an LRS if you need an external LRS for all the extra bits?

In many scenarios, having an internal LRS allows an LMS or LXP to say “Yes, we support xAPI.” And while this is accurate, chances are they aren’t fully understanding the scope of what supporting xAPI means. So it’s important to consider your goals, both short- and long-term, and the tools and technology needed to meet those goals.

Furthermore, remember that an LRS—at its core—is for the processing, storing, and portability/passthrough of learning data. Thus, having a system with a conformant internal LRS is a step in the right direction—at the very least because your learning platform has a base-line understanding of xAPI and can enable the portability of your data.

Up Next: Tracking xAPI Statements from Learning Record Providers

Stay tuned for the next blog post in this series, when we’ll discuss learning record providers, tracking xAPI statements, and data extraction methods.

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