If you want to take a peek into the future, then you should look no further than APIs and what they bring to the table. Unfortunately, too many vendors in the e-learning space have failed to see the power and potential of this capability, and have decided to ignore them.  It is too bad, because what they can do far exceeds what is available today, and enables YOU the end user to have the power and control to unlock possibilities for your learners – regardless if they are your employees, customers, wholesalers, etc.

API

An API (Application Program Interface) enables an interface from a piece of software to communicate with another piece of software (in its simplest form) or multiple pieces of software (called a mashup).  Facilitation now exists between the pieces of software, similar to interaction between a human and a computer (again, in a basic example).

Open Architecture

APIs are open source code, so that developers (inc. your IS/IT people) can make modifications or changes in the code to suit your needs. Some APIs are pre-built and thus, code access is not possible (depends on the API).   Google code is open source code, so you can manipulate. If you choose not to manipulate the code, you do not have to.  Twitter has APIs, so does Facebook, even Linkedin.

Typically APIs are free. However there are vendors who sell their API solution wrapped in a piece of software.

API Protocols

For people who want to manipulate or change the code or want to create their own APIs.

  • AIM
  • Atom
  • Blogger
  • DTC-XML
  • Gdata
  • GET
  • hCalendar
  • iCal
  • Javascript
  • JSON-RPC
  • POST
  • REST
  • RSS
  • SMS
  • SOAP
  • XML-RPC
  • XMPP

APIs available in popular programs – SAAS

Include:

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Google
  • Flickr
  • SCORM Player communicating with your vendor’s solution, for example, if you were creating your own LMS and Rapid Intake’s rapid e-learning authoring tool, it includes a SCORM Player API

APIs available today

There are thousands available, ready for download and you do not have to manipulate the code, or for some you can, it is completely optional.  Here is just a few of ones I like, that are unique and you could use in your LMS/LCMS/CMS, Learning Portal (caveat: your vendor must be able to accept APIs, otherwise it won’t work)

  • After the Deadline –  checks spelling, misused words, style, and grammar with advanced AI and NLP techniques
  • hiogi.com – mobile search based on the knowledge of a worldwide community. Users ask questions and get answers via SMS. Use the API to access the database of answered questions, unanswered questions, add new questions, and manipulate a user account. Hmm, mobile learning pushed to the next level?
  • Hunch – questions and answers service that offers solutions to user-entered problems. Hunch’s answers are based on the collective knowledge of the entire Hunch community. Hunch is designed so that every time it’s used, it learns something new.  Adaptive Learning with a Social Q/A twist.
  • Cliqset -social web service that helps users share and discover content and discuss it with other users. The RESTful API allows developers to create accounts, edit profiles, monitor real-time comments and more. Responses may be formatted in either XML or JSON

Let’s say though you do not want to add the specific site in your LMS, etc. No problem. You could create your own API and develop something similar.  The point is, you can see the capabilities, the options, the “huh” cool factor and the light bulb, hmm factor.

Mashups

Are taking multiple APIs – API + API and creating a new application that power boosts the combination. Can you have more than one + one? Yes, you can have as many APIs + APIs as you want.  Though it would be API + API + API, etc.

Examples:

  • Post your status update in Linkedin and it appears in Twitter
  • Post your blog and status –  appears in Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo
  • Search for restaurants in Google and Google Maps shows up with the various restaurants on the map

Social Media Solutions that have multiple APIs built in their system, basically they are a mashup in a sense

  • FourSquare – a social networking platform that intertwines the power of geolocation, other vendors in this space include Loopt
  • Layer – platform that combines visual, geolocation, social network capability, and other features in one solution – its real power is as an app on smart phones, incl. Droid

Why would I want to have an API in my LMS/LCMS or CMS?

Simple, it gives you lots of features and capabilities that may not exist in your current solution. Let’s say you want your own web conferencing solution and not the one the vendor has partnered with. You can find a web conferencing api (free) and integrate it with your solution. Maybe, you want to incorporate some micro-blogging features in your LMS, which does not offer it as part of their platform.

Locate some micro-blogging APIs. Twitter is an example of a micro-blogger, btw.  You want e-commerce, but your vendor doesn’t offer it or wants you to pay for an add-on module. Uh, forget that.  You can find an e-commerce API, plus APIs for a shopping cart. Want to accept PayPal? No prob. API.  Facebook like features? No prob. API. Wikipedia capabilities? MediaWiki API.

Mashups Possibilities

After a quick scan, here is a brief list of some cool Mashups you can use..without having to change the code – and remember you integrate these with your LMS/LCMS, CMS, Learning Portal, etc. Integrate for our terms, means interface. Thus your LMS is the one piece of software and the mashup is a combination of other pieces of software (multiple APIs).

These are just examples that do exist today and available to download, with many showing examples on respective directories.  Again, either incorporate into your LMS/LCMS/CMS or your learning portal. Create your own Mashups based on these examples or along these lines or whatever.

  • Noterize and Box.net – a note-taking app for the iPad that allows you to view and annotate PDFs and PowerPoint presentations. Its integration with Box.net enables you to save annotated documents to Box from within the Noterize environment
  • letmesleep.in – allows professors to connect with their students when students need them the most: a class cancellation.

Now what if you create a Mashup that takes this premise but sends a SMS to the student or sends information in the LMS to that specific end user or end users in a synchronous based learning environment.

  • Elodexa – an e-learning document search engine and online viewer. Uses Google Docs
  • printfriendly.net – can create printer friendly versions of any blog and select articles to print
  • MyVidster – social bookmarking plus videos. Collects videos from the entire web and shares with friends or a larger audience
  • Producteev- cross-platform task management application

If your users can upload YouTube videos into your portal or LMS, or create their own videos, and you develop something along these lines, what is the learner power for them? Collaborative? Yeah.  Social Learning? Yep. Remember in order to have social learning, you must have a social media type incorporated and social bookmarking is a type of social media.

API and Mashup Directories

HTML5 Player

Longtailvideo created a HTML5 player that contains a simple javascript API which can be used to request the various playback states
(position, volume, state). Control the player through a number of available methods (play, pause, stop). Track the player state by listening to certain events (buffer, complete, time).

Moodle and Drupal

Moodle has quite a few APIs, including a SCORM Player. Drupal has a significant quantity of APIs, including shopping carts.

Rapid E-Learning Authoring Tools

As forementioned, Articulate offers an API for Articulate Online, Captive has one for a SCORM Player and does Rapid Intake.

LMS Vendors

So who uses APIs in this space? Many do, because surprisingly they do not mention it on their web site or literature. You have to ask them.

Questions

When I worked at companies and was exploring LMS vendors, one of my top three questions was if they accepted APIs and Mashups.  Responses always were the following:

  • Yes
  • No
  • What’s that?

If it was the last two, the phone call ended. If they do not offer them, why would I want to use them? They are not cutting edge, they do not see where the market needs to go or is going.   So, what do you do? Ask them. And then ask them if there is a cost for integrating APIs. It should be free, albeit I do know a vendor or two who charges a one-time fee for setting it up and doing this.  Why?  Really, how much of a cost impact is it to you in relation to pleasing a client who is purchasing your system, possible add-ons and might recommend your solution to someone else? Especially in the social media age of instant communication.  Is the fee worth it?  I think not.

Vendor Reasons

There are only a few reasons I can see why they do not want or do not offer API or Mashup integration.

  • Greed. They want you to stay with their preferred vendors that exist in their system or use only their add-on mods
  • Fear. They are worried of potential problems to their system, even though they – the vendor works with the customer – to integrate the API or Mashup. BTW, always have the vendor test to make sure it works, and you do as well. Never, assume it works after the integration.
  • Partnerships. Ties back to the financial stake angle. They sign deals with other vendors to be integrated into their system. Do they really want to enable you to have a similar type of offering, which is free, and thus you are not using their preferred vendor or partner?  Partnerships are often seen in web conferencing solutions, but they can exist with other solutions embedded in the platform.
  • Buggy Whip Syndrome.  They love to say they understand the market, you have that client angle, plus they believe their solution does not need to offer the capability, after all they know more than you do.  If you doubt me on this point, how many vendors in 2008 offered a social learning platform, even though the buzzword Web 2.0 appeared in 2004?  Now the new buzzword is Web 3.0 (I hate buzzwords). But, pitch that to them and hear their answer. If they say, yes..say okay what is it? You will hear crickets.
  • Price. Ties back to greed and financial spin.  Totally bogus. Trust me, they will find other ways to recoup the alleged cost.

End of the Day

Open source and end users becoming content producers is the next evolution of the net and thus learning. APIs and Mashups (depending on what you pick) offer these options. Trust me, your learners will thank you, you will be seen as “getting it”, and best of all, from a ROI standpoint, the cost will be zero.  More importantly, the benefits will soar for your audience, and after all isn’t that what it is all about?

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