Part 3: The Tin Can API – The Compelling And Practical Use Cases You’ve Been Waiting To Hear

vTrainingRoom"Help me understand a use case for Tin Can.  And, can you tell me how your company is using Tin Can in its services?"

Having just wrapped up two prior interviews with one of the guys over at DevLearn's "Tin Can Alley," (see Part 1 here) and with the guys over at the Callidous Cloud booth (see Part 2 here), I then stopped over at the exhibitor booth for VTrainingRoom.  They were "Tin Can Adopters" (a prominently displayed badge identified them as such).  There I spoke with Managing Partner Michael Roberts where I posed to him the questions above.  Refreshingly, Michael was up to the challenge.

If the previous two interviews did a great job of giving us a high-level picture of the Tin Can API data flow, then vTrainingRoom's Michael Roberts was stellar in his ability to articulate a couple of compelling and practical use cases.

learning record store

(courtesy: scorm.com)

During our interview, Mr. Roberts deftly walked me through a scenario using the plausible example of an instructor led CPR course, with a subsequent hands-on lab, followed by actual usage information transmitted from an automated electronic defibrillator (AED).   Now think about it; what if you can gain insight from information transmitted from each of those modalities, and do it all from one information repository?

Listen Closely

Take a careful listen as he describes this scenario in the interview.  It occurred to me during our interview that what he described was precisely the kind of visual that many of us  relatively non-techie eLearning course developers and instructional designers were pining for as we struggled to wrap our collective heads around what Tin Can can ultimately offer.

Below is the audio of my interview with Mr. Roberts of vTrainingRoom.  You'll remember how noisy the exhibitor hall was.  So, set your expectations appropriately as you listen in on the interview below.  However, to make it easier for you, I also took the liberty of transcribing the interview immediately below the audio file.  Accordingly, I recommend you click "Play," then scroll along as you follow the audio via the transcript.

I think you'll find that, after having listened to the playback, you'll have a better grasp of the value proposition for Tin Can.  Armed with that, you should have an easier go of it as you build a case back at home base for conducting a pilot of the Tin Can API.

(Minor plug here for this helpful DevLearn sponsor...) Consider, too, that companies such as Mr. Roberts' vTrainingRoom stand ready to help you in that endeavor.  And, of particular note is the LRS (Learning Record Store) product they've already established called vTrainingTracker.  (We talk about a free version of it during the interview.)

Finally, if this article helps you, then please share it with your colleagues.  And, I'd be interested in hearing from you via the comments below if you plan on implementing any type of a pilot of Tin Can in the next 6 months.

Audio Interview:  Michael Roberts, Managing Partner, VTrainingRoom

DevLearn12 - Tin Can Interview - VTrainingRoom

00:00:00
VTRAINING ROOM: …It’s really one of those situations where you’ve got -- really the content creators, which could be anybody, that you should just be able to send a simple statement -- a “Rest” statement -- so… the credentialing information, the actual event, what happened, the actor and the verb and all that in one simple URL call.  

Versus SCORM where you have to have a bunch of other files.  And, manifest files, and a bunch of other structure and organization.

There’s generally (difficult)...to wrap all that up.  And then once you do get it wrapped up, there has to be some kind of delivery mechanism, some place to put it, that can read that package and be able to deliver it to end users.  

So, a perfect example of an application for something like Tin Can that would be difficult to do with an LMS is something like CPR training.  

When you typically do CPR training, you enter a hands-on (instructor-led training) class.  At the end of the hands-on class (the instructor) then writes who attended the class into a signature log.  Well, how do you get that to your electronic system?  How do you get that into your learning management system? Someone has to read it, then enter the information…

MEL: Oh, I see what you’re saying.  It’s paper based…

VTRAININGROOM: …Right. And that’s even if your learning management system has some way of tracking that offline training.

MEL: Right. And SCORM doesn’t do that.

VTRAININGROOM: No they don’t.  SCORM doesn’t handle that at all. It has to be an actual bunch of courses for you to wrap it into SCORM to make SCORM work.  Another example of using that same CPR is…

00:01:16

MEL: (interrupting) Well, on that, how would Tin Can differ, then?

VTRAININGROOM: Okay, so, what you’d do is, that person who is entering that information, instead they could use, like a form, so whoever signs up and enrolls in it, when they actually attend, they could push a button, and they could then send a (Tin Can) statement and electronically say, “this person took this CPR class on such-and-such-a-day.”

00:01:32

MEL: But you’re talking about creating an electronic form to do that.  But once I do that, then SCORM CAN handle that.

VTRAININGROOM: Well, yeah, but then you’ve (otherwise) got to route that form in SCORM and you have to put it on the Learning Management System.  And you have to launch the form from the Learning Management System.  The instructor has to login to the Learning Management System to fill out that form.  You have to have some credentialed person that can get into the system and actually say “I took this training.”

And the second part could be, web-based training.   And that, you already know about.  You can go on to the website and go on to your learning management system.  Launch the content, it tracks it, now it’s a record, so you want to have the hands on part, you want to also have the other part that they took online in one central place, so Tin Can can help with that because now they’re both in one place.

And then what happens if they actually have to administer CPR?  Let's say they have to use the AED (automated electronic defibrillator)?  So, they go and pull an AED off the wall and they actually use it, right?  And then if it actually works, they could measure the outcome and they could say "the person survived."  

That AED could send the same information back to the LRS and they could have a statement in there that says, “I performed a recovery using the AED device and the person survived.”

So, now think about that.  Now you’ve got all the key pieces of information in the same central place and you can mine it for information to even say, “here’s how often you performed since the start of the training,” and “here’s how often they take follow-up courses on web-based training,” and “here’s how often we actually delivered CPR” and “(how often) we used the electronic defibrillator” and then “here’s the patient outcomes,” “are we narrowing the gap and getting more effective in delivering CPR.”

00:03:12

MEL: So now, though, we need an LRS to be able to analyze that information?

VTRAININGROOM: That’s right. The LRS’s actual requirement is not to analyze.  Although some (vendors) do that as the extra bells and whistles as a value added service. But the LRS’s primary responsibility is just to store the record and to present the record if its requested they do so.  

So you can use your existing Learning Management System to send information about courses and send statements (to the LRS) that say, “I took this course online.”  

You could (also) use a handheld device where you have a web form where you just fill out the form at the end of the CPR class and hit “submit” and (that will) send a statement that says "the following people took CPR in my class on such-and-such-a-day" and that goes into the LRS.  

The defib device -- the provider of it -- can basically send a statement to the LRS, they all communicate…

00:03:56

MEL: So, the LRS is the key component that makes it seamless across all the different formats?

VTRAININGROOM: That’s right, (the LRS is) the engine that holds all the data and then you can then poll that later and say, okay, I want a report.  How many people are taking CPR classes? I want to know how many times we actually use this AED device.  And you can start pulling some of those statistics out and making meaningful information out of it.

00:04:16

MEL:  But (would I be the one who would develop) an LRS for that…?  Or, (it would probably be) the vendor to leverage an LRS and to present me that kind of reporting, right?

VTRAININGROOM: Yeah... it’s novel technology, so from the perspective of the person that sells those devices it’s probably a big leap for them to do that in-house.  They would (instead) probably want to partner with an organization like us and then just use our LRS.  It would be free for them to do that, why would they develop that in-house?

So, what we want to do is we want to be the central repository for the information and then be able to have value added services like analytics, visualization artificial intelligence to analyze that information.

00:04:56

MEL: So, how are you guys using Tin Can?

VTRAININGROOM: So, what we’ve done -- again, we just launched our LRS this week we just released it to the public -- we’ve been taking statements from the early adopters that's out there in the public and people are sending us statements, so what we’ve also decided as our initial strategy is… it’s still unclear who’s gonna do what with it first.  We think people are going to want to have integration to existing systems within the first ones who adopt the technology.

So we’ve already built in integrations with Salesforce, a lot of people use Salesforce, so if you send us statements you can say, “if I see this verb… if I see ‘completed’,  I’m gonna send that record into salesforce.”  And then you can have whatever records that you want sent into Salesforce and then match those up with, say, onboarding metrics with how quickly do they hit their sales quotas and their goals, right?   You can (analyze) response times.  If you’re using it for ticketing, you can send in ticket requests and you can say that, so-and-so customer put in a ticket and then such-and-such account reps have handled it and closed the issue… And then you can then measure the actual amount of time it takes and response times on those tickets.

00:06:00

MEL: So, this is what you guys do?

VTRAININGROOM: We can, with Salesforce. That’s the integration we’ve already built in…

MEL: So, what's the “training” piece (from the name of your company)?

VTRAININGROOM: VTrainingRoom is our brand. It’s our overall company brand. And the two products that we have right now are the LRS, which is vTrainingTracker and then we have our own LMS, which is Scholar LMS.  Those are the two separate product lines that we currently support.

So, we come from a custom builds background. We did a lot of custom builds, now we’re focusing on specific...

MEL: So we use Salesforce, and the scenario that you just described, we do exactly that kind of reporting. The thing is, we track a lot of of that stuff right now through Excel spreadsheets… and what I hear you saying is that there’s a way to basically automate those events that come out of Salesforce and then do more automated analytics on it.

VTRAININGROOM:  If they use Salesforce for the actual ticketing mechanism they can simply just do a “Rest” call at the end of a function, whatever happens (with) events in the system. They can send the rest statements through and we can track those events like, “new ticket is open,” “the ticket’s been closed”, “the ticket’s been transferred” you can track and send all those messages in and then, again, you can filter that data back out and you can say... again, it’s not useful on its own. It’s useful if you put together with it, “I’m performing training on our staff” to tell them they need their shortened response times or they need to meet the customer’s needs for different... you want to measure it next to something else.

00:07:28

MEL: And so you guys provide the visualization of that?

VTRAININGROOM: We have some reports.  In addition you mentioned Excel spreadsheets, we already have a Google Apps integration where we can pull statements out into a Google spreadsheet and then you can export it into Excel if you wanted to use Excel instead of...

00:07:44

MEL: It might actually be better to just get away from Excel and be able to just push a button and say we want to look at how many calls got answered within two hours… etc.

VTRAININGROOM: We can certainly do that. We want to be able to provide that custom build for folks. The first step is first getting those statements in and start sending data. And that part is relatively easy to do.

MEL: That would be on our end to do?

VTRAININGROOM: What you would do is you would sign up for an account for VTrainingTracker and, as long as you’re sending less than a gigabyte of statements, that’s free. That’s the free tier. It’s about a million statements. So you can send a million statements and you’re not gonna have any costs involved with that.  You’ll be able to then get the experience of sending some statements in, and then pulling some data out and seeing if it’s a good fit.

00:08:24

MEL: And then, would we create the statements? Or would it just be a widget that we put into our Salesforce app, or…?

VTRAININGROOM: It’s not as small as a widget. But, it is pretty simple for your development team to put in the Rest API (Tin Can API) it’s pretty straightforward for developers to understand.

00:08:44

MEL: So, basically it would be something on our end that we would put in so it would send a statement to our account on VTrainingTracker…

VTRAININGROOM: Right. We work with Salesforce so if you want to have that be something you want to have us write, we could certainly write the scripts to be able to do that same kind of thing on your end... We’d be more than happy to talk with your technical people to tell them what they need to do with the Rest API and get them pointed in the right direction and then we could easily be able to start sending statements in and then from there, once they kind of get what you’re trying to accomplish and get the statements in there. Then we can do some tweaking and kind of figure out what metrics you want to start storing.

00:09:12

MEL: Is there a set of canned templates of reports that you have? And then that’s kind of the ‘hook’ to say that if we want more customized reporting…

VTRAININGROOM: If you want us to be able to build custom reports for you then we can certainly do that, as well, sure.

MEL: So, are you guys primarily in the business of that kind of thing? I mean, analytics custom reporting, or are you primarily an LMS provider, or…?

VTRAININGROOM: We’re transitioning from services to more products.  We’ve done a lot more custom builds. Custom learning management systems.  But, again, we feel like this is the new frontier, this is the direction that things are going.

00:09:48

MEL: You mean, analytics…?

VTRAININGROOM: Analytics, and they’re looking to do licensed technology to do things on mobile devices and looking more to license and commoditize this kind of technology.  So, we really feel like that’s where the future is.

MEL: So, Tin Can isn’t just “fluff” then, right?

VTRAININGROOM: No, did you hear the announcement from the AICC?

MEL: It’s the big buzz, but is it…?

VTRAININGROOM: It’s beyond big buzz.  I mean if AICC (Aviation Industry CBT (computer-based training) Committee) that’s the same standard that’s used by the aviation industry and the government so that’s their standard that’s comparable to SCORM.  

(Meanwhile) the organization that’s responsible for SCORM, ADL (Advanced Distributed Learning network) the government entity that was responsible for maintaining that is the one that commissioned Rustici to actually develop this API.  To build it out and to test it and get it to the final version.  

So, on one end of it you’ve got SCORM which the US government is putting research into this.  (And) you’ve got AICC, which is what the airline and avionics industry uses that as their standard.  (Both are now saying) this is where we’re going with the next iteration.  

We had SCORM 1.2, (then) we had (SCORM) 2004, Tin Can is next.

And now AICC has said, you know what? We’re on the same page. Which is actually unique because it’s the first time that AICC and SCORM are going to be merging and using the same kind of standard and the same kind of protocol… in the past they’ve always been doing their own thing and handling it slightly differently.  And so now they’re not only adopting it, but they’re kind of merging together and both kind of coalescing and saying that this is the way that they want to go.

00:11:20

MEL: So, it’s the beginning of a promising frontier, but right now, it’s probably still… is it hype right now…?

VTRAININGROOM: I don’t know that it’s hype. I mean there are practical examples of people that are using it today and they’re building it out.  It’s not ubiquitous, but then again, what is?  

And, a lot of what people have been asking for over the last ten years, or so, just wasn’t practical with SCORM. It just wasn’t practical with AICC.  

There were a lot of technical limitations that didn’t make it possible for us to do what we now expect to do.  We expect blended learning environments.  We expect mobile learning. We expect pause-on-your-desktop and resume-on-your-mobile-devices.  We just want some things to happen and SCORM and AICC they don’t enable you to do that.

There are too many barriers to make the app possible so what ended up happening is that when people want that, every time they want to do those type of things they custom build it. They hire developers to go out there and they build a custom app that allows a customer to pause the content on their desktop, resume it on mobile using their proprietary application.

00:12:24

MEL: So, in the future do you imagine that LMSs would be replaced by LRSs? Or would the LMS functionality be enhanced?

VTRAININGROOM: So, what would happen, at least initially is that people who have existing LMSs are going to get some component, they’re gonna partner with one of the major players here.  And they’re going to get an LRS and they’re going to set them side by side.  And they’re just going to use it to fire statements back and forth and fire statements and pull reports in.

Eventually, the LMSs are either going to embed it in, and they’re going to have their own proprietary (integration), or they’re going to partner with the outside ones and they’re going to use them on the back end.  You won’t even see…

00:13:04

MEL: You mean, the LRS on the back end? Or the LMS?

VTRAININGROOM: The LRS.  (The LMS) will still maintain the front position. They will still say, you’re using our technology and you’re under this umbrella, whether its Blackboard, or whatever but in the background, they won’t handle the infrastructure. They’ll just kind of license out the LRS…

MEL: So, the LRS is the central component to making all of this seamless…

VTRAININGROOM: (The LRS is) the engine, basically, that kinds of makes everything function. Everything goes in to the LRS. The more data points you have in there it’s better for you to be able to get lines and find trends and figure out exactly what’s going on. The problem is that in the past, the data has been all over the place.  Some of it is written records, some of it is on devices…

00:13:40

MEL: Well, and that’s kind of where we want to go… like the way we deliver training right now is that customers access training through telephone calls that they schedule through GoToMeeting on our website, there’s a registration button.  But, they also call in and they’ll initiate a trouble ticket either through voicemail or set up an appointment or an email, or in a contact form through Salesforce.com.  But they’ll also access our web-based training that isn’t necessarily in an LMS, and eventually we have a Yammer social network system where maybe we can open up a customer-facing network where we can track some of that activity.

And I think that what you guys are saying is that if we can put the Tin Can API snippet into each of those pieces of it, then it all feeds to an LRS and the LRS would give me one seamless reporting mechanism to say where the activities are and to be able to find linkages so we can more effectively deliver training and support to our customers.

And, so you guys are really kind of positioning yourselves to be a power LRS kind of thing?

VTRAININGROOM: Correct.

MEL:  Cool. Well, I need your card then… (End.)


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About Mel

Mel is the online training architect and screencasting wizard at Kareo, one of Forbes' 2013 list of 100 Most Promising Companies in America. He's also the creator of Digital-Know-How, a training website devoted to developing learners' skills for screencasting and web video course development. Mel is also the chief blogger of ScreencastingWizard.com; Mel's personal blog. The comments and opinions you read here are Mel's and not associated with any other company.
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