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Tin Can API: A Vision of the Future

Preston Shewbridge

If you work in e-learning and haven’t been hiding under a rock for the last year or so, you’ve probably heard the buzz surrounding the Tin Can API. The “Experience API” is our future, and for many tried-and-true instructional designers, it’s an ominous one. As the industry slowly shifts from rusty old SCORM to shiny new Tin Can, e-learning experts must consider what Tin Can’s takeover might look like—how it could affect what we do fundamentally, how it might change the world as we know it, and how to prepare for that reality. But to do that, we must go…to the future!

.   .   .   . 

10-15 years later

Bzzzzz—Your Apple Watch gently vibrates your wrist: Lunchtime! Your hyper-ergonomic robotic office chair automatically rotates toward the door and stands you up on your feet. You step outside your office with only one thing in mind: cheap Chinese food. (Some things never change.)

You take to the sidewalk, a man on a mission. But just then, your Terminator vision-enabled Google Glasses issue you an alert:

ALERT: POI Approaching - Female / Attractiveness: 10 / Distance: 50m

A bonafide 10 is headed your way.

This changes everything. We’re not talking about your daddy’s (or momma’s) “10”. This woman is a 10 according to years of data compiled from likes and comments on social media, heart rate accelerations during eye contact, babbling verbal reactions, and shameless testimonies to the sheer beauty of this individual. Seeing one 10 a year is lucky. Chinese can wait. You must talk to this person. 

You settle into a jog, carefully eyeing her location on your HUD. As you round the corner, your eyes water as though you've seen the light of a thousand suns.

Her glorious golden locks glint in the sunlight, and her eyes shimmer like the Caribbean. You quiver in excitement and terror, but like a kamikaze, you throw yourself at her anyway. With everything you have, you muster your best smolder and say:

…to which she replies, “Hvað?”

Oh no. Blinded by love, you missed the other alerts:

ALERT: Language - Icelandic
ALERT: Compatibility: 1.9/10

Desparate and running out of options, you resort to the universal language of love.

“Panda Express?”

She politely laughs, replies, “Nei takk”, and walks by.

ALERT: Soul = Crushed

.   .   .   .  

Present Day

If you think this hypothetical sounds ridiculous, think again. By combining the activity feed subject-verb-object information structure of Tin Can with wearable smart tech and Big Data, a world in which data capture and analysis are seemlessly integrated into every decision we make is closer to reality than you might think. And like the Icelandic 10, that is both terrifying and exciting. 

Just imagine if everything you ever did—every grade you got, every game you played, every word you spoke, every success, every failure—was cataloged, analysed, and broken down into metrics that rated you along every human capacity. On one hand, you would have a living, breathing resume of everything you had ever done and everything you were capable of doing with you at all times. Like a video game, you could quantifiably understand how talented or skilled you were and in which areas you were most likely to succeed in life. You wouldn’t have to “prove yourself” or “pay your dues” unnecessarily to show people that you were good at anything. True meritocracy might finally be possible. 

But is it worth the price? Depending on what control you had over your data, you might never be able to outrun your past; the  “new kid in town” might go extinct. With access to such powerful information, it would be all too tempting to categorically believe in the persistence of past performance rather than the possibility of future change. And furthermore, personal and societal pressure to pursue what you are best at, and not what makes you happy, could become overwhelming, even inhumane.

I don’t mean to make Tin Can sound dreary, and this “vision” may never come to be. It is certainly an exciting development with implications far beyond e-learning. And that is why we must carefully consider how we wield this technology as instructional developers in the future. As its gatekeepers, it is our duty to consider what consequences it may have and how we can manage those consequences.

For more information on Tin Can, visit,, or this article