xAPI Approaches ‘The Chasm’

Before Thanksgiving, I attended eLearning Guild’s DevLearn 2016 conference and the xAPI Camp that was held the day before.  One of my primary goals was to add to my knowledge and understanding and to get a feel for the innovative products that are already implementing xAPI.

Three days of great conversations, a dozen presentations, and an equal number of demos with the vendors left me excited about the prospect of xAPI and the impact it should have on Learning and Development over the next 5-10 years. (A special thanks to Watershed for their xAPIGo game that made learning fun and provided a tremendous example of the power of xAPI.)

But in my conversations with the several dozen vendors and other professionals who are part of the xAPI community who were at DevLearn, I began to come to the conclusion that xAPI is fast approaching “The Chasm.”

Diffusion of Innovation Theory

In the 1960’s Everett Rogers developed the Diffusion of Innovations Theory

that describes the different classifications of people when deciding to adopt a new product or idea.  These five groups (innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards) communicate and adopt innovation in a rather rigid sequence, depending on the prior group for the assurances they need to jump on the bandwagon.  Each group has a responsibility to “sell” the following group on the innovation.  Because each group has very different values regarding the technologies they use, the communication between the groups can be challenging.

that describes the different classifications of people when deciding to adopt a new product or idea.  These five groups (innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards) communicate and adopt innovation in a rather rigid sequence, depending on the prior group for the assurances they need to jump on the bandwagon.  Each group has a responsibility to “sell” the following group on the innovation.  Because each group has very different values regarding the technologies they use, the communication between the groups can be challenging.  The most difficult transition is between the Early Adopters and the Early Majority.

Crossing the Chasm

In his 1991 book, Geoffrey Moore defines this transition as “Crossing the Chasm.”  It is chossing-the-chasm-coverthis point when success or failure of an innovation will most likely occur.  To successfully move from an idea adored and championed by the innovators and early adopters to a marketplace leader views as the new status quo, an innovation must meet the following challenges:

A single company launching an innovative product finds crossing the chasm a massive challenge.  In the case of an industry standard like xAPI, there are scores of different companies, organizations, and individuals with varied interests and competing models for success in collaboration and opposition to each other to move the adoption of the specification forward.

The Early Majority doesn’t like ambiguity.  They want things to work the way they are supposed to.  They have very little tolerance for innovation they don’t understand.  The “what’s in it for me” mindset must be heeded.

Is xAPI ready?

Moore points out that early attention to preparing to cross the Chasm during the innovation and early adoption stages eases the crossing.  Here xAPI is in good shape.  The community of individuals and organization that has built up around xAPI is robust, passionate, and open.   Finding the right way to incorporate the Early Majority into the community without alienating them yet remaining a focus of passion for the Innovators and Early Adopters will be the key.

A cautionary message is necessary around the conceptualization of the product positioning, the whole product, and the marketing strategy.  My experience of the overall messaging coming from those who were at DevLearn was too technically focused.  Valid statements that are generated in compliance with xAPI are truly things of beauty if you know anything about coding.  But the continual, “and this is what the statement looks like” will be a barrier to L&D Directors, Line of Business Managers, and the Executive Suite.  We need to create a message of business solutions and better learning outcomes.

Another obvious challenge is going to be not overwhelming Early Majority citizens with more new data then they are ready to receive.  If you think in terms of the 70:20:10 model, we could be expanding learning 9-fold as we implement solutions to reach informal and social learning.  As we build xAPI into our learning designs, the amount of data that can be generated is astronomical.  L&D folks are not currently equipped to absorb all this data effectively.  To help cross the Chasm, we need to:

  • Model implementation strategies that throttle back the amount of data thrown at them for analysis, so they can adapt to the future of big data,
  • Advocate education around big data and learning analytics,
  • Provide analytics tools that not only crunch the data, but also teach the operator about what they are doing.

Overwhelming Early Adopters is a guaranteed way to get them to start shutting down.

Other challenges are easier, but still need to be attended to:

  • Providing tools and guidance in moving SCORM based materials to xAPI will be vital
  • A clear understanding of what tools create xAPI statements, what a Learning Records Store is and is not, and simple, but powerful analytics tools will ease adoption.
  • Proof cases that demonstrate the abilities of xAPI conforming experiences, business results that can be displayed because of xAPI data, and ease of implementation will easy the minds of the Early Majority
  • Pricing models need to be tested and adapted to meet the expectation of L&D, Business Partners, and IT.

All of these are in process already.  Again, successful output of the xAPI community.  The activities that DISC (Data Interoperability Standards Consortium) has on the roadmap for 2017 address many of the challenges that will be faced in crossing the Chasm.  But, there is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to assure a safe crossing.

If successful, xAPI will dramatically change the nature of Learning and Development and it’s role in the organization.  We will be able to measure our work with a rigor and accuracy we’ve only dreamed of to date.

(Photo by Blake Richard Verdoon provided by unsplash.com)

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