The Secret to Driving xAPI Adoption


John Wanamaker was retailer (amongst other things) in the mid to late 1800s. He was something of a sales and marketing genius. But he knew the limitations of advertising: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted," he said. "The trouble is I don't know which half."

  Advertisers have been trying to work out which ads make money and which ones are a waste of time since, well, the dawn of advertising. For marketers, solving Wanamaker's dilemma is the Holy Grail.

According to the Google's 2013 "Founders' Letter", people use Google search 100 billion times a month. When Adwords first arrived, the promise was that you could track how effective your ads were. If people clicked on your ads you paid Google, then you could track what each person did after she clicked on your ad (the "clickstream"). Then you could tweak and optimise from there. (Social marketing, and so on, are new but related fields).

So the business world has become obsessed with tracking and data. People have think about conversion rates, cost per click, automated A/B testing, inbound marketing, optimising keywords, clickstreams, marketing to social networks, and so on. Where once a great deal of advertising was guesswork, a great deal of it is now data-driven. To make a profit you need to measure everything. It's about testing, analysis and interpretation of data.

Training & Wanamaker's Dilemma

The training department is suffering from the same lack of data advertisers faced before the mass adoption of the internet. "Half the money I spend on training is wasted," a training manager might say. "The trouble is I don't know which half."

Sure, training departments have been using elearning since the late 90s. But elearning is only a small part of what a training department does. What about coaching? What about supervision? What about performance measurements?

Elearning is only a small part of all that. All that other activity remains in isolated databases, in files in cabinets, in apps, in spreadsheets, in supervisors' heads, locked away in various silos. It's really hard to gather all that disparate data together into a form that allows for easy analysis.

Enter: Data-Driven Training

But that is changing. There is a way to solve the training department's variation of Wanamaker's Dilemma. It uses a combination of three things:

  1. mobile devices - phones, tablets & wearable computing;
  2. faster networks and better systems integration;
  3. xAPI.

Mobile Devices

For example, now you can use your phone to complete an observational checklist in situ. No more making notes, going back office and sitting in front of a PC. You can use apps on mobile devices to do everything from attendance reports to data driven coaching.

Faster Networks

Faster networks allow these apps to send moment-by-moment data to the cloud for aggregation and analysis in real time. So you can see things as they happen. Not weeks or months later (if at all).


What about last element, "xAPI"?

Imagine that you have:

  • an LMS,
  • a system that tracks training expenses and point of sale data (an accounting system for example),
  • and something like xapiapps to help you carry out observation checklists, track training sessions, and so on.

How do you gather all this data together in one place for analysis?

First, you need a standard protocol. One that allows various systems to send training activity data to each other.

xAPI provides that.

A course, mobile app, LMS, HR system, etc, can then send data in a standard format.

Second, some systems receive data, too. Systems such as Watershed LRSSaltbox and Learning Locker. (They're known as Learning Record Stores or "LRSs").


So xAPI, mobile devices and faster networks allow you to start collecting data; data about the rest of the training department's activities. All in your chosen LRS.

Once you login to your LRS and start running reports you can start to solve the training version of Wanamaker's Dilemma. "Half the money I spend on training is wasted," you might say. "And if I look at this report in Watershed LRS I can tell you which half!"

For example: the LMS will tell you the modules Jeff completed. The xapiapps observational checklists used by Jeff's supervisors will tell you if the training worked.

Perhaps one elearning module isn't emphasising some things well enough. You go back and improve it.

You coach Jeff in the new material and note it in the coaching app. Then you set a reminder to do some more observational check-lists a month later ...

Over time you'll be able have data that tells you whether or not Jeff's performance has improved. What about new staff put through the new elearning? How are they doing? All this is linked to the accounting system - it adds dollar amounts to the cost of training, coaching and so on. It all gets linked together in the LRS for analysis.

The New Breed of Training Professionals

As each training department's Wanamaker's Dilemma is addressed, we'll see a new breed of professional looking at training from a new angle. They'll be experimenting. They'll be turning the profession on its head. They'll be changing the way the training department is viewed.

This new breed will be obsessed with tracking and data. More and more training and supervision will be data-driven. Data-driven training departments will be seen integral rather than peripheral to increasingly data-driven businesses. They'll be part of a revolution in training made possible by the xAPI, mobile devices, and faster networks.

Imagine if you could improve sales by 1% by tweaking the training program - and prove that the tweak caused that 1% increase!

But hang on a second.

It's a great story.

But making the story a reality requires adoption.

The Secret to Driving xAPI Adoption

At xapiapps, we knew people understood the benefits of the new, data-driven approach. Training professionals told us they were sold on the idea. (They knew they were suffering from Wanamaker's Dilemma.)

But taking action was hard. xAPI was abstract. People were confused. "So this is the new SCORM or isn't it?". "What does it do?" It could help people do all sorts of great things. But the question that always came up was: "Okay, how do I get started?"

There were so many choices, so much to think about, so many new ideas, so much new jargon. We noticed clients were suffering from decision paralysis.

So we decided we had to do three things:

  1. Solve a tangible problem in concrete terms. (Minimise the number of new buzzwords.)
  2. Map out the steps to take (again, in concrete terms).
  3. Require as little configuration as possible.

At xapiapps, we:

  1. Focused on a data-driven approach to the training and the supervision of staff. (Mostly in retail and other customer-facing businesses.)
  2. Built apps that did one thing and did it well (e.g. observational checklists, attendance, coaching) - with no tech buzzwords involved.
  3. Set up a 2 minute process to integrate with the three main LRSs.

After the initial pitch on the benefits of solving Wanamaker's Dilemma, the action became:

Get Started in Less than 10 Minutes

With xapiapps, you can start data-driven training in less than ten minutes.

  1. Sign up the LRS of your choice (around 2 mins)
  2. Sign up to xapiapps (around 2 mins)
  3. Set up the xAPI integration (around 2 mins)

(We'll even help you do it.)

Copy_of_TES_LRSThen you can start using our simple apps to do observational check-lists and keep track of training sessions and coaching. (xapiapps handles user and device management. It sends real-time streams of training activity to your chosenLRS.)

Then you can log into your LRS. You can start testing, analysing and interpreting the data that comes in. You start solving your Wanamaker's dilemma. You can start joining the new breed of training professionals in less than 10 minutes.


  • Training departments are going through the same change that the marketing industry went through thanks adwords et al.
  • Mobile devices, faster networks and xAPI are the technology behind the change.
  • The training professionals that are using data to solve their own version of Wanamaker's dilemma are the new breed of training professional.
  • People are sold on the idea, but have trouble getting started. We made the process less abstract and more tangible.
  • Our proposal became: "Get Started in Less than 10 Minutes". You can start joining the new breed of training professionals in less than 10 minutes.