Tin Can: My First Impressions From mLearnCon 2012

Tin Can : First Impressions

I attended a session by Aaron Silvers, Community Manager at Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL). The session interestingly was titled ‘Design of the Possible: Powered by the Tin Can API’.

Given below is a short summary of what I gathered from this session and is my first impression. Post the summary I also raise a few questions. Skimming through the session notes and reading about Tin Can, some of these questions have become stronger.


  1. Tin Can is designed to provide a common data storage for learning experiences across a number of devices/platforms/media/information systems.
  2. Tin Can is not a replacement of SCORM but it’s a whole new API. This point needs further explanation because if one can get a clear sense of this, it is much easier to absorb what Tin Can really is and also then to realize the potential this API eventually has. SCORM was designed primarily as an interoperability standard and allowed/enabled data interchange between learning objects [mostly elearning courses] and an LMS environment. The focus of SCORM was on the micro data pertaining to a course access by a learner. Tin Can is nothing like this. Tin Can aims to ‘record’ a learner’s learning experiences (wherever and in whatever form they happen). A learning experience could happen outside any form of learning/training event and could be as simple as accessing, say, Facebook. Tin Can focuses on activity logging to create a personal learning stream which is beyond the boundaries of a learning system within an organization. Though not in exact same words, but I heard this at the session –‘Tin Can will enable a personal digital learning identify for each learner and this identity will persist outside a company’s environment and owned by the learner herself’.
  3. The backbone of the Tin Can API is a concept termed LRS – Learning Record Store. LRS is the single, safe data store where a learner’s complete learning stream (all instances of activities logged) would be stored digitally.

How will Tin Can help?

While elaborating and discussing the bigger picture and vision of Tin Can, the following examples came out which explain the potential use of such an API:

  1. One particular example which stayed with me very clearly was to take a case of a successful sales performer in an organization. To be able to identify what specifically this sales performer has done to achieve success and to replicate (or attempt to) that for other team members would be a great benefit for the organization in creating a successful team. Assuming the LRS was in place for this high performer, and then using analytics it would be possible to identify patterns, behavior traits, and almost map this high performer’s relevant activities which can then create a case point for further analysis and use. Also, going back to the point of Tin Can not being SCORM, this example very clearly explains that.
  2. In effect, Tin Can has been designed with a grand vision of creating a world where no learning is ever lost and a record of the learning persists throughout. In addition, it is not limited to a very small world of eLearning (in the context of a person’s learning experiences) but encompasses every single learning experience of the person.

Some questions that I’d like to raise:

I truly believe that Tin Can is a great step forward and the mere idea of a Learning Record Store for an individual is a great concept. Existence of Tin Can API also indicates that this is not just a concept anymore and that there is a tangible interface available for use to start building on this. However, I do have a few questions of my own. I didn’t get time to raise them in the session but nevertheless would put them here. I hope I get some answers.

  1. Who would create, manage and own this LRS?
  2. Would there be a single identity (e.g. ADL) who would take up responsibility of having an LRS for each person?
  3. Again – will it be a regulated LRS or an open LRS?
  4. Who would handle such an amount of data and also provide open API for others to access this data for intelligent analytics?
  5. Would organizations create their own LRS ecosystems for their employees and these may or may not communicate with an external public LRS. Since the entire idea of Tin Can is to create a personal LRS for each person, I am not able to visualize an organization’s role and responsibility in this. Of course, it is too early and many of these questions will be eventually answered.
  6. What about data privacy? Since there is no limit/restriction to a learning activity how will sensitive data be filtered/handled? E.g. what activity on Facebook would constitute a learning activity? This is very subjective and vague as while chatting up with a friend could be a learning activity for someone, accessing an article through FB may be a learning activity for another. How will learners control and protect their data? This, in my view, would pose a serious challenge to the concept of Tin Can as anything a learner does outside confines of a formal, organizational ecosystem would be mostly private and personal. The answer may lie in slowly and selectively defining what constitutes a learning activity and expand upon it gradually. And, of course so many other systems would have to adopt Tin Can too to enable this.
  7. From a business perspective – how will companies create a standard environment around this?

As the title of the post states these are my first impressions. Adoption of Tin Can is definitely a priority for us at Upside. While we figure out more about Tin Can, we would love to hear your thoughts on it as well.