An Introduction to the Tin Can API

Jul 19th, 2012 | By | Category: Software and Tools

Editors Note: We’re really happy to welcome Andy Whitaker as a guest blogger!  We’re also very interested to see how the Tin Can API can bolster and enhance SCORM systems and offerings across the rapidly expanding digital learning landscape.  You owe it to yourself to give the Tin Can API a good look.

Tracking the other 90%.  An Introduction to the Tin Can API

What percentage of your learning experiences are delivered through formal, e-learning instruction or courseware? Does it even approach 10%?  Where does the other 90+% of learning happen?

Tin Can API Logo

As you ponder this question, the list becomes incredibly long.  Why then have we limited the educational experiences we track to just formal e-learning courses?  Learning is happening everywhere and most of it isn’t tracked or accounted for.  It’s time that we pay greater attention to the learning experiences taking place outside of a formal e-learning environment.  I’ll argue that these are the experiences that really matter.  These are the experiences that paint the true picture of what a learner knows.

So what’s the solution?  More on that later.  First, more about the problem.

Depending on your familiarity with e-learning and training interoperability, you may or may not be familiar with SCORM.  I’m not about to go down the path of explaining SCORM (if you’re curious, or a glutton for punishment, you can learn more here).  In short, SCORM is an interoperability specification adopted by the e-learning industry over a decade ago.  SCORM makes sure that e-learning content can be played in any Learning Management System (LMS), and that any LMS can play all e-learning content (as long as it’s SCORM conformant).

SCORM was a visionary technology for its time, but it comes with baggage.  This baggage has contributed to our limited ability to track learning experiences where they happen.  To track a learning experience via SCORM, we’re looking at a single learner, launching a formal course, in a browser, from within an LMS, i.e. the <10% I mentioned earlier.

There is a better way.  Enter the Tin Can API.  At its simplest, the Tin Can API is the next generation of SCORM that allows e-learning to use modern technologies in an interoperable way… it lets us do all of the fun stuff we want to include in our learning programs but just can’t because SCORM gets in the way.

Think back to your list of where other learning experiences happen (the other 90%).  With Tin Can, we can track all of these experiences in a way that many systems can understand.  The fact that you’re visiting and reading this article is a very relevant learning experience.  With Tin Can, we can track it.

So what else is made possible by the Tin Can API?

The Tin Can API opens up a new world of trackable learning experiences and environments.  Here are a few examples to get your gears turning.

Operate anywhere and track via any system:

  • Mobile Applications
  • Serious Games
  • Simulations
  • Informal Online Learning
  • Real World Performance
  • CRM and HR Management Systems

The Tin Can API lets you do things that weren’t easy or even possible in SCORM:

  • Launch content outside the LMS
  • Maintain complete control over content delivery and user experience
  • Freely navigate a learner across disparate content
  • Add security to prevent users from cheating
  • Learning can happen offline

With the Tin Can API, you can deliver a richer instructional experience:

  • Interactive and adaptive learning experiences
  • Multi-modal learning experience (ex: reinforce your CBT with text message refreshers)
  • Blended learning
  • Learning experiences that span long time periods

The Tin Can API is happening.

With Tin Can, our industry should prepare for an inevitable sea change.  Those who adopt will have a better understanding of the effectiveness of their training programs. They’ll start to identify the training paths that lead to the most successful outcomes.  This is huge for the organization and the learner.

We’ve only scratched the surface of what Tin Can enables in this article.  In fact, we’ve really only exposed the first layer and part of the second (See Layers of the Tin Can Onion to dig deeper).

For more information on Tin Can:

  • What is the Tin Can API?
  • Why adopt and who’s adopting.
  • Developer knowledge base and resources.
  • Tin Can API community chatter.

About The Author – Andy Whitaker

Andy Whitaker is a Tin Can API Evangelist with Rustici Software. He spreads the good news about Tin Can and helps products, systems, and applications adopt the Tin Can API. If you’re interested in learning more about Tin Can or you want to become an adopter, get in touch with him (

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