What Can Grandma’s Vegetable Soup Teach Us about the LMS?

"xAPI software technology has the ability to track learning outside of the LMS."

In the same way that social media collects and analyzes user data, teachers collect and analyze a variety of learning experiences. The end goal is the same – to better understand the user or learner.  Teachers provide students with an assortment of experiences with content in the classroom, resources on the web or with mobile apps, and interactions with the environment through field trips.  They capture observations, summative, and formative data through these varied learning experiences.  All of it, helps guide their instructional decisions and gives them the ability to personalize learning for students. All this to say that data drives instructional decisions but comes from a variety of sources.  Teachers are aware that data must come from more than test scores to get a well-rounded picture of a student.

Where does this leave online and blended learning? Much of what they do is dependent on the Learning Management System LMS to provide data for instructional decision making. Most LMS integrate with third party applications and allow you to link to content/resources that exist outside of them.  However, what happens outside the LMS stays outside the LMS.  This, in my opinion, is one of the biggest oversights or disappointments in the current configuration of the LMS industry.  How do teachers assess the validity of the outside resources if they have no data to evaluate? The answer is, they can’t.

Teachers and students deserve better than this! But no worries, xAPI is here! xAPI software technology has the ability to track learning outside of the LMS. This is where grandma’s vegetable soup comes in. I know what does soup have to do with the LMS?  Stay with me here because it will make sense in a moment.

Dr. Wendy Oliver, creator of the Blended Learning Profile, and I were talking about xAPI and the impact on the LMS.  She began discussing the making of grandma’s vegetable soup, and Voila! the significance of the way Thrivist constructed the LMS became clear. So, let me share with you a recipe for LMS transformation.

grandma cookingWhen grandma cooks vegetable soup, she gets out the large cook pot and all the vegetables. She chops them up and adds them to the pot, fills it with water, and cooks it on low heat until done.  Some of the ingredients, like celery, completely dissolve blending into other flavors becoming a muted ingredient. Onions, however, remain a dominant ingredient with a distinguishable taste among all the vegetables in the pot. As you eat the soup, you become aware of the stronger vegetables by the way their flavors impact your taste buds. The vegetables are all working together to create the soup, but some stand out more than others.

Now let’s look at this in terms of xAPI.  The cook pot can be thought of as the LMS with all the content (vegetables and water) going into it.  xAPI lets the content come from multiple sources (like your vegetable variety). The teacher can filter the data and make decisions about what pieces are celery (less important) and which ones are onions (stronger data points).  The beauty of it is that the data comes from ALL the content (vegetables) not just one! 

In the past, the only data that could be reported on in the LMS was directly connected to what resided inside the LMS.  Sure the LMS could integrate with third party apps or allow students to access links to third party sites / resources, but whatever happened outside the LMS stayed outside the LMS as far as data was concerned.  All those learning experiences, and no data to evaluate.  Sad but true.  It’s like vegetable soup without being able to taste the onions. Why would I want to eat the soup if the most flavorful ingredients couldn’t be tasted? Same is true for the LMS, why would we not have trackable data available for content items living outside the LMS to determine the value and effectiveness of that content?  

In the coming weeks, we will explore xAPI and discuss why it was critical that it be built with this technology, and the potential impact it will have on the learning community. For now, you might want to get a bowl of your grandma’s vegetable soup and savor the flavors that the ingredients bring when working together!


Barbra Thoeming Director of Education Strategy at Thrivist, LLC