Advancing the LETSI Run-Time Web Service API

by Jonathan Poltrack (ADL)

As part of our research into a new learning platform, we are evaluating Application Programming Interface (API) technologies that solve issues resulting from the SCORM ECMAScript API. By now, you have probably heard of ADL’s Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) award to Rustici Software’s Project Tin Can.

One of the main drivers of the Project Tin Can “Experience API” work is the LETSI Run-Time Web Service (RTWS) project. The LETSI RTWS Group took a look at the limitations of the SCORM ECMAScript API and started an independent project to address known gaps. Their scope was small, but significant. Phase I of the LETSI RTWS project resulted in a web service API definition that maps to the SCORM 2004 API along with prototype source code and a developers guide. The folks at LETSI stated some clear goals for the RTWS project including:

  • Out-of-browser experiences
  • Offline and occasionally connected training
  • Removing cross-domain scripting limitations
  • Enabling delivery on alternative devices and formats
  • Security
  • Section 508 compliance
  • New business models

Project Tin Can will look at the LETSI work along with other APIs in use today. The result will be a recommendation for a new API to supersede the legacy ECMAScript API.

What are ADL’s plans for LETSI RTWS?

Project Tin Can helps find a way to enable future learning experiences. ADL’s internal technical team is also researching the LETSI RTWS work with a focus on increasing learning systems’ capability by enabling the use of out-of-browser content such as simulators, games and virtual worlds.

The scope for the ADL technical team work is two-fold.

First, we intend to prototype the RTWS as specified in the LETSI developers guide to provide guidance to those using legacy systems. Areas of concentration include:

  • Cross-Domain Solution: Solution to the ECMAScript API cross-domain scripting issue
  • Reporting: Gaining access to learners’ data after they have experienced content
  • Non-Web-Based Content: Tracking content that is not rendered in a browser
  • Repositories: Launching learning resources located on a content server and repository
  • System-to-System Exchange: Transferring learner data between systems

We plan to release best practice documentation on applications of the LETSI RTWS API, as is, along with prototypes of the newly enabled features in action. We will use the ADL Learning Technology Lab (LTL) to illustrate a distributed network of systems working in harmony as a result of the web service approach.

The second part of our scope includes the use these RTWS prototypes as a context for our new API work, including Project Tin Can.

In this phase, we will bend, twist and manipulate the LETSI RTWS API to perform functions required to support the use cases documented through our Future Learning Experience site. Prototypes will illustrate complex uses of the web service API to:

  • Adapt content based on competencies or global objectives
  • Allow instructor injects into learning content during execution
  • Support multiple learners in a virtual world scenario
  • Track learners’ data in several distributed systems
  • Enable transfer to new types of data

These prototypes give us all — the team within ADL and the community at large — something to play with. It will provide a means to discuss our approach: Is this the right direction? Is it a “50% solution”? What’s missing?

At ADL, we have a principle that’s been ingrained in every member of the team since the earliest days: “Working code trumps all theory.” It is our intent to show the value of a web service API on our path to specifying an API for a new generation of learning content. We aren’t unique in thinking that a service-based approach is warranted.

So, we look to you, the ADL Community, to work with us to prototype, specify and implement as we go along. The benefits are easy to see, and in the coming weeks we should have something to show for it. Stay tuned to here and to ADLnet.gov for more information.

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