Monday, February 16, 2015

xAPI Privacy Questions with Aaron Silvers

Aaron Silvers has been a leader in the Experience API (xAPI or 'TinCan') community for years. In fact, if you know about xAPI, it's a pretty good guess that Aaron had a hand in you learning about it.

But even if you don't know about xAPI, you should care. It's one of those big-dot-deals that will let learning practitioners drill to the crux of things: performance.

For the past couple of years, Aaron and others in the xAPI community have guided me along the road to better understanding the potential xAPI has to be a truly transformative technological framework for the Learning and Performance community.

But I have questions.

As we arrive in a world where data increasingly has power and value, I imagine my own experiences being captured and analyzed and exchanged as part of a bigger data set--a sort of currency that describes the path I took to performance, along with minute details of my life. While I have no concerns about employers or others with whom I've entered into agreements using this data, what happens when a third-party analytics company gets ahold of it? Do they have a right to use it? Do others, who legitimately captured this data for reasons I agreed to now have the right to sell it?

My friend, Aaron Silvers, has a perspective on this. I feel quite fortunate that he was willing and able to share it with me:

Aaron can be found at many learning industry events, and online at

You can learn more about xAPI at

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Visual Communication is a Core Competency

e-Learning expert Tom Kuhlmann recently posted an article called "Essential Guide to Visual Thinking for E-Learning" in which he shared links to a number of great resources on Visual Thinking. 
Tom's post got me thinking about the importance of visual thinking and how so many of my influencers would probably consider visual thinking among their most valuable competencies.
These are people who are tops in their areas of focus: consultants, authors, speakers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and true thought leaders (not self-proclaimed). It makes a lot of sense that visual thinking would be so consistently prized among them. They are, after all, thinking beyond the norm; connecting ideas and concepts that may have never before been connected. Having a visual way to do this is bound to facilitate the kinds of expansive thinking in which they so often engage. 
I've heard it said that people can generally process pictures and symbols faster than they can read and interpret words. What's more, if you're explaining something and you show an image that visually conveys your ideas along with your words, isn't it easier for people to understand the ideas and concepts you're sharing? We need only to look back on our own experiences to confirm this is true. 
So why not invest in our own visual communication competency? And where better to start than visual thinking? 
Reading the article reminded me of the "40 Days of Doodling Challenge" posed by a number of my friends. It essentially works like this: 
1. Learn something about visual thinking and visual communication (that's where the article comes in, but there are many, many other resources to draw from). 
2. Every day for 40 days, draw something to convey a concept or idea that you would normally express in words. 
3. Post your drawings to social media. (This helps you get feedback and encouragement, as well as encourages your friends to improve their own competency as well.) You don't have to post them all, but of course, if you do, you'll create a handy visual reference to your progress.
The thing is, you don't have to be an artist to do the 40 Days of Doodling Challenge; it's not about drawing pretty pictures, but rather, using simple images to convey ideas. 
an example of doodling; guy with a though bubble showing two photos

Why 40 days? The idea is that if you do something for 40 days, you'll get comfortable enough with it to form a habit. I do, however, know some folks who are doing 100 Days of Doodling, and it's easy to see that their skills are improving even more, and they seem to be having more fun! 
If you read this article and watch the linked videos, you'll have been exposed to the basic concepts you need to begin your own 40 Days of Doodling Challenge. 
In the end, you'll never regret improving your own visual communication and visual thinking competencies, and you'll find that you use these skills virtually every day and in almost every aspect of your life.

Visual Thinking and Design Books I Like: (from newest to oldest)


Sunday, January 25, 2015

xAPI Privacy Questions: Who Should Own My Experience Data?

Years ago I was involved with a company that dealt with medical informatics. Among other things, this small firm was building an innovative Electronic Health Record (EHR); this was not too many years after the passage of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and the design team faced some interesting questions about the data they would be capturing. While the need to manage the privacy of the data was not in question, the ownership of the data was.

Think about it: I'm a patient. The data is just representations of my health, so in a sense, I generated the data. Shouldn't it belong to me, almost in the sense of a unique composition of music belonging to the author?

Experience data is or can be as personal as health information. It is, after all, a reflection of life choices, thoughts, and performance. While a company paying me to take an e-learning course may have some de facto right to use the captured scores from assessments, as we move toward a more distributed model of experience information capture, who else should have the right to see that information?

Does a prospective employer have the right to scan my xAPI records and infer certain thinking patterns and qualities based on an analysis of my choices, learning outcomes, and other experiences? Could that be part of the application process they require of prospective employees? Will they need a waiver from me--a HIPAA-like consent document?

A simple illustration of experience data in action:

Google is capturing a lot of information about my behavior. Here's a map of where I traveled one Saturday, courtesy of Google location services on my Android phone and Google Location History (

Between the timestamp, GPS, and distance information, I can quickly see a picture of how "fast" I rode my bike in the morning. And there's pretty good evidence here that I went to watch the Norfolk Tides beat Pawtucket 3 to 1.

I choose to share this information with Google. I see a fair exchange. I'm getting value from their network collecting detailed information about my activities when they turn that into information I can use. And they extract insight from my data that enables them, on a grander scale, to identify patterns of human behavior, which they use to generate revenue through targeted ad sales, marketing insights, services, and much, much more. Information is the currency that fuels their business model. I'm sure they'd like to get their hands on the details of performance that will someday be generated by my xAPI data. And yours.

The questions that linger with me are: Who will be able to sell them that information? And in the end, who has the right to decide if and how they can use it?

Other thoughts on data ownership:

My friend, Aaron Silvers has been quite involved in xAPI for years; you can read some of his recent thoughts on this topic here.