Just posted a comment on Dr. Eric Fox's blog post from last fall on his thoughts on the Tin Can API: A Behavioral Scientist's Initial Thoughts on the Tin Can API, Big Data and Learning Analytics. If you haven't read it, you should. My comment to him is re-posted below. Let's keep the conversation going.
Data is meaningless out of context
GREAT post and happy to see you've delved into one of my biggest issues with the Tin Can API. Ironically, someone pointed out this post to me, having just left ASTD's TechKnowledge conference where there was continued buzz and interest. As a immersive learning designer and someone who has struggled with how to quantify practice into meaningful data, I am thrilled that there maybe an emerging standard that could help capture that data. The problem, as you correctly point out, is that reporting activity neither demonstrates learning nor performance improvement.
The hard work is in establishing actual performance metrics and measuring improvement through various learning activities. Simply reporting that you did something doesn't show qualitatively OR quantitatively whether that activity has any impact on what you know, or what you can do better.
I see potential here, but it troubles me that people are too "oooh! shiny!" about one minor piece of a much bigger piece of work, namely, correlating activity to performance. There are A LOT of potential problems with the Tin Can API, and so far, I haven't seen any best practices, use cases, or case studies that demonstrate its most effective use. Another problem? Those directly involved in the creation of the Tin Can API jumping into every discussion and squashing the much needed conversation among the rest of the community. Much like a community manager who tries to force conversations in a certain direction, there has been much talk in the industry about our inability to have deep conversations about the pros and cons of the Tin Can API without the developers and evangelists inserting themselves and trying to guide the conversations. Like pushy sales people, they are becoming a turn off for people who want to research, investigate and share their own conclusions. If I want to hear the sales pitch, I'll talk to a sales person. If I want to talk to my peers, I go to social media. Unfortunately, the sales people have hijacked these social conversations and are creating an atmosphere where no one wants to participate.
It reminds me too keenly of my experience with virtual worlds...the developers so in love with what they had built that they stopped listening to the concerns, needs, and objections of consumers and their potential customers. When you build something, you sometimes get too close to it to be able to see the chinks in the armor. When developers start arguing with naysayers, it's a clear sign that it's time for them to let go. Like an artist, you can have intention with your work, but the true meaning is what every person brings to it. It may be time for the developers to step down, and let practitioners lead the next phase of the discussion to help the Tin Can API survive its inevitable fall into the "trough of disillusionment."
Let's hope the conversation continues and that the real problems with the Tin Can API are not ignored. No system is perfect, but ignoring the problems, or trying to squash the conversation about them, does not make them go away. I'm hopeful that we can all learn from each other in making the Tin Can API useful and meaningful.