The future of training will pass through big data

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We are really honored to start our serie of exclusive interviews with Mike Rustici, President of Rustici Software and eLearning standards Guru.

Mike has made a career out of helping others understand, apply and implement SCORM. Widely recognized as a leading expert in the field, Mike is highly influential in shaping the future of eLearning standards.
Mike’s company, Rustici Software, is currently leading the way in supporting the next generation of learning standards through their work with the Tin Can API. This includes writing the initial spec, making all of their products Tin Can conformant, and helping the greater community to adopt the Tin Can API.

[CA] First of all Mike it’s a real honor for us to guest you in our blog.
We are trying to explain to the italian audience that what is happening in e­Learning industry in the last years will impact our lives and our companies hugely.
The Spec 1.0 is out. Today, what is the state of the art of Tin Can Api?

[MR] I am constantly amazed at how quickly Tin Can has evolved and started to be adopted. Dozens of e­learning vendors have already included support for Tin Can in their products and many more are in development. Tin Can is ready to be used in the real world. It has moved past theory and into reality. We are at an important inflection point for the technology, Tin Can is ready, it has a lot of promise and a lot of excitement, but it won’t succeed unless we finish building out an ecosystem of tools and technologies that capitalize on it. We need to continue to build on the tremendous early momentum for Tin Can to be a long term success.

[CA] Tin Can is impacting all the actors of the training process: the trainers, the learners, the providers (platforms, content, services), the companies and the organizations. Is there a more important actor from your point of view? Who will play the main role in this first phase?

[MR] Personally, my most important priority is in seeing adoption of the Tin Can specification. To that end, the tool providers are the most important actors right now. If a tool vendor includes support for Tin Can in their product, then suddenly thousands more are able to start using Tin Can. We started our evangelism with the tool vendors for this very reason and we are excited by their enthusiasm and efforts. It is important now to encourage providers to implement the features of Tin Can that go beyond what SCORM can do. These paradigm shifts will take more time and thought on behalf of the established vendors, but are opening up new opportunities for new market entrants.
The next phase of Tin Can adoption is getting companies and organizations to start adopting Tin Can capabilities. It is an exciting time right now as so many companies are starting to do pilot project that utilize Tin Can. The next big strategic goal for the Tin Can community is to get a critical mass of real adoption to demonstrate that Tin Can is more than just a lot of hype.

[CA] Tin Can Api will help people to track and share their learning experiences (from school to work) and let organizations and companies to collect not only traditional training data, but also other business data. It will let us to create the whole picture. What do you think about this data explosion?

[MR] I think the explosion of data that Tin Can enables us to collect is both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, we will have unparalleled opportunities to understand how people learn, what they know and what impacts that knowledge is having on actual job performance. On the negative side, so much data presents significant challenges of scale. Making meaning out of a large pile of relatively unstructured data is the challenge of our day; the best minds in computer science seem to be working on this problem for the likes of Google and Facebook. Hopefully we will be able to apply these big data technology advances to the
learning industry over the next few years.

[CA] The most powerful aspect of Tin Can Api is the statement freedom: “i did this” can describe a wide range of experiences (almost all) and probably this power could be scary. What kind of suggestions can you give to a Company that is approaching Tin Can Api and is thinking to create its own vocabulary?

[MR] First, we always recommend that companies start small. There is so much you can do with Tin Can that it is tempting to do everything all at once. We are urging companies to start with a small manageable project they can introduce one or two Tin Can capabilities and show a clear success before moving on. Right now, we urge caution for companies trying to create their own vocabularies. It is important that we as a community seek to reuse existing vocabulary definitions before creating new ones. Several registry projects are in the works to address this need for reuse.

[CA] During last weeks the Prism scandal is creating alarmism and fear about big data and security leaks. What can you tell about Tin Can Api and data security?

[MR] Tin Can was designed with security in mind. All Tin Can requests can be securely transmitted and authenticated. To the best of my knowledge, the Tin Can API itself is highly securable, however the real security leaks tend to come from holes in how systems are implemented. Tin Can can’t make any assurances the people will actually implement it in a secure fashion, it can only be structured so that people can implement it in a secure manner.

[CA] Tin Can Api will follow our children from first classes to last work’s training. This process will involve schools, universities and companies.
Today, who is in the most advanced position (in Tin Can adoption)?

[MR] Certainly the corporate sector is leading the way in Tin Can adoption, but that is to be expected as Tin Can grew out of SCORM which was heavily geared towards the corporate and government sectors. I am personally very excited about Tin Can’s potential to positively impact education and there have been some really exciting early adopters in that space.

[CA] Tin Can Api is just a specification, but really powerful. Theoretically it will be able to impact not only the e­learning industry but also all our lives.
Projects like Tappestry are showing this potential. So the future seems to be written. But often great technologies can fail.
Are there enemies of Tin Can Api? Are there critical aspects? How we can convince a skeptic?

[MR] Tin Can has enjoyed tremendous early success, but there is still a long way to go and the future is far from certain. In my opinion, the biggest threat to Tin Can’s success is mediocre adoption. If the companies that produce Tin Can enabled products do so just to check the box that says they have Tin Can rather than fully embracing the spirit of Tin Can, people will see it as just a lot of hype.
There are still some big unanswered questions for how Tin Can will be adopted and used that we need to address as a community before the full utility of Tin Can will be realized. If the volunteer momentum behind the spec community dies off before these problems are solved it could create quite a mess.
The best way to convince a skeptic is to show them something that is working. That is the big task that our company is focusing on right now, implement Tin Can in real scenarios that real learner are using and real managers are analyzing. If you’re working on a project like that or are interested in a project like that, we want to hear about it.

[CA] We are a blog about data visualization, big data and infographics. So our last question can’t be different:
how much are important data in your business?

Even though we are a small company, we love looking at data. Our office’s common area features a company dashboard on a big screen that looks at key metrics for our company. We look at sales numbers, customer sign ups, customer satisfaction, and most important, who is number one in our ping pong rankings!


Huge thanks to Mike. You can follow him on twitter at @mike_rustici.

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