Tin can in practice part 1.

Tin Can API logo

Originally published in Inside Learning Technologies and Skills Magazine, April 2013

Helping individuals succeed is the most important thing we can do in an organisation.

Tim Martin, Rustici Software

Personalised learning and performance support

The truth is that Tin Can, by itself, is just a mechanism for capturing lots of data from lots of places. It's what you do with the data that provides the power to transform the functions of your LMS. Below we look at examples of how the Tin Can API and its data can be used to improve the individual learning experience.

Here's one scenario:

1. Find, experience, capture

Let's imagine I want to learn about email marketing. I log onto the corporate LMS. I find an e-learning course that's five years old. It's out of date and practically useless.

With Tin Can I have the freedom to find my own learning. A quick Google search and I instantly find some great resources from industry experts detailing the most up-to-date email marketing methods. I open one and read it. It's great - just what I need - and my gaps in knowledge on the subject are filled. Before I close my browser I hit the 'I read this' button in my browser toolbar. Tin Can API powers the 'bookmarklet' - the button on my web browser toolbar - which is already hooked up to my LMS, so when I press the button a new learning experience is recorded. I don't even need to be logged in to the LMS, it's just there.

The next generation LMS should support the sharing of experiences between learners. By providing rating systems, shared experiences can be voted on and rated by the community. This creates a system where the best experiences rise to the top for everyone to benefit from - a community of practice.

2. Share

Let's say I thought the email marketing guide I just read was so good that I want to share it with the rest of my team. I can open up the LMS and press the share button on my experience, publishing it to the rest of my team.
A few of them open the link in the experience and think it is a valuable resource. They press the 'like' button and because it is popular the experience shows up in the trending panel to encourage other learners on the LMS to take a look.

Curation and analytics

Learners are likely to expect a next generation LMS to be relevant and updated with the latest available information. As learners pull in their own experiences and share with their community, it becomes even more important for expert learning curators to sift and refine content, respond to learners' input, and ensure it is work-relevant, and impactful.

Tin Can API provides the data. Powerful learning analytics tools will collate this data to provide curators with knowledge to improve their learning environments.

3. Curate, analyse, improve

The curator reviews the analytics and sees that a shared learning experience on email marketing is popular. They also notice that the learners using the resource also go on to investigate the subject in more detail by attending webinars, reading books, etc.

The curator is curious as to how these additional resources compare with the email marketing e-learning course that is already on the LMS. The data for the course shows that it has lots of launches but hardly any completions. The average time spent within it is five minutes. Another startling difference is that learners who have launched the course have not gone on to learn more about the subject.

The curator decides to replaces the current five-year-old SCORM course on the LMS with the free web-based resource that the learner has shared. The next time a learner searches for information on email marketing on the LMS there is a relevant, up-to-date resource, rated and curated.


Do you ever find yourself on Amazon looking at a product that is not quite right for you? You look down the page and there is a small panel that says 'Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed'. You read, discover and often find exactly the right product.

The data that Tin Can API collects also allows the LMS to make relevant and genuinely useful recommendations to learners based on the learning they review.

4. Peer-rate and recommend

A learner navigates to the page on the LMS where the newly curated email marketing link is located. Next to it is a panel called 'learners who used this resource also viewed' and within it are the following links:

  • Webinar - The science behind email marketing
  • YouTube Video - The value of email marketing
  • Vimeo Video - Email marketing and SEO

These links are generated automatically by analysing the Tin Can API data generated by all the learners using the system.

Improved learning for everyone

Once embedded in our working lives, Tin Can API will generate the kinds of data we as learning professionals have been craving for years. Finally we will be able to apply 'Big Data' analysis to learning interventions. This analysis will drive innovation in learning, as we better understand what does work, what actually helps and how we really learn. The next generation of learning promises to be better, more engaging and work-relevant.

Why should organisations care about Tin Can?

Tin Can API helps us move beyond the restrictions and narrow focus of SCORM, into a distributed world of resources and connections that fit into our daily lives (see Tim Martin's article 'Tin Can and a new class of study' - Inside Learning Technologies and Skills Magazine, April 2013).

Tin Can allows us to make use of this previously lost information - first by capturing it, and then by leveraging it. So, what can you do with it?

  • Begin to capture and share the invisible 70%: Using Tin Can will help your organisation to capture the learning experiences that are currently invisible. This will help you understand and manage your workforce better. Great experiences can be shared and more employees can take advantage.
  • Make your learning environment better: Tin Can API's Big Data provides everything you need to perform powerful analytics on how learning is being experienced and applied (or not!) in your organisation. This will help organisations make informed decisions to improve the learning in their organisation, making it more relevant and business-focussed.
  • Make more use of an employee's previous experiences: It allows individuals to take control of their learning experiences, taking them from one employer to the next. So you will save time and money re-training staff members that are already qualified.
  • Unleash the power of native mobile learning: The API will allow native apps to be developed for learning that can work on any LMS, just like SCORM.
  • Devise entirely new learning scenarios and experiences: Instead of being constrained to traditional e-learning, platforms and learning initiatives can combine a diverse mix of experiences - visiting locations, taking and uploading photographs, performing a form of task, completing an assessment, engaging with colleagues (face-to-face, or through social media). Taken together, and recorded to the Learning Record Store, these activities can combine to provide evidence of learning. And the data that is collated will allow us to gain valuable insights into the most effective learning streams.