By: Dr Martyn Farrows & Jonny Parkes

As consumers in today’s world we take for granted that the internet will deliver personalized and relevant information that will enrich our lives in two or three clicks of a mouse, or taps of a screen. Yet all the time, we hope that our data will be secure, or we’re prepared to offset the risk with the convenience that these web services offer to us.

Most of us don’t see – and don’t care – what’s happening under the surface to make these experiences seamless, personalized and secure. Driving many of these seamless online experiences are APIs (or Application Programming Interfaces). APIs are a means to enable different technology platforms or systems to interface with each other – normally, with the intention of sharing data for a specific purpose. Think of a virtual handshake.

APIs open up the possibility of endless data interactions and have the potential to deliver a richer and more meaningful user experience. The phrase “API Economy” has been coined to capture the value (commercial or otherwise) of all those interactions.

APIs in Learning

Key ingredients: Big Data and Open API’s

At the heart of the discussion about APIs and learning is ‘data about learners’ – and how that data can be used to design more effective learning experiences. Think about the potential number (and value) of data points that a learner generates during their interactions with devices. If a learner reads something, shares something or interacts with someone in the workplace, outside an LMS, is it recorded as a usable data point?

However, there’s a catch. The API economy requires an open ecosystem to be fully realised. Open API ecosystems are a key driver of innovation – enabling niche providers of web services to enrich our online experiences based on open access to data. Generally speaking – and for good reason – the corporate learning world has been slow to embrace the ‘open’ principles behind the API economy – for example, open data exchange about learners and their learning experiences. There are commercial and practical reasons why this is the case – from data privacy, confidentiality and data protection through to centralised procurement and vendor lock-in.

But, as web-based applications start to dominate the learning technology market, generating Big Data about learners, the explosion in ‘Learning Tech’ APIs has the potential to have a profound impact on how we manage and deliver learning. Simply put, there are enormous implications in terms of being able to better understand our learners – and what we do with the information that we gather.

What might this look like in practice?

Imagine a scenario where hundreds of thousands of data points – from many different, divergent yet interconnected sources – are available for each individual learner in your organization. What does that mean in terms of performance and talent management?

And imagine if you had a data model which enabled you to not only profile each individual’s learning needs, but also to simultaneously track and tweak the interventions required based on the organization’s core competences? Whilst it may sound futuristic and in the machine learning space, it is a technique that is already being used to great effect in many other consumer spheres, for example profiling online consumers and targeted digital content marketing.

So an API-driven approach – one that will generate innovative, agile and user-centric solutions – has the potential to disrupt the learning technology space. At the Learnovate Centre (, we have spent the last couple of years researching the prerequisites for a functioning API economy in learning technologies.

This blog is the first of two blogs looking at APIs in the learning technologies environment, The Blog is leveraged from the presentation by Learnovate’s Dr Martyn Farrows (Centre Director) and Jonny Parkes (Chairman) at Learning Technologies 2016.