API stands for “Application Programming Interface,” which is a name for a piece of code in each system (usually an app’s server) that allows two applications to transmit and receive data or commands to and from one another. More specifically, an API defines a protocol around this communication.
A defining feature of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) are “endpoints” – these are effectively the receivers in an application that can be “called” (communicated with) by an external system.
APIs have several endpoints which can be used e.g., for fetching or updating user data, creating something, or deleting data in the receiving system. APIs have become extremely useful and even business-critical for some applications.
API integrations provide a clear benefit to whomever is integrating with the LMS. APIs themselves can be configured by the LMS provider to make it easier for customers to implement their use cases. They also allow for additional flexibility for customers to do the things they want to do on an LMS platform that cannot necessarily be accomplished via the platform’s UI.
Some common functions are to invite users automatically in an LMS when a course is purchased in the customers’ webshop. Another use case would be to fetch user data in bulk from an LMS for analysis in, say, PowerBI. The opportunities are limitless!
In this article, we will discuss some of the interesting features and use cases of APIs, specifically around integrations for learning management systems (LMS).
Definition of API integration
An important note: an API is not the same thing as an integration. As mentioned before, an API is a set of rules that defines how applications can communicate with each other, while an integration is the actual connection and coordination of two or more applications to work together.
APIs are how integrations are achieved, as they provide the necessary guidelines for communication and data exchange between the applications involved.
Integration essentially “sits” on top of an application’s API. This may sound intimidating, but it is simpler than you think! You can refer to the following metaphor: Think of an integration as a waiter taking orders from a customer (an external system) and delivering them to the kitchen (application) to get the desired outcome.
How Do APIs Work in an LMS
Overall, LMS APIs provide a means for external applications, services, or tools to interact with the LMS system, enabling seamless integration, data exchange, automation, and customization.
They open opportunities for creating a more tailored and integrated learning environment.
- Data retrieval: Developers can programmatically access course, user, enrollment, and grade data through API calls.
- User management: LMS APIs allow developers to create, update, and delete user accounts, manage permissions and roles, and handle authentication.
- Course and content management: APIs facilitate the creation, updating, and deletion of courses and content, including modules, lessons, assignments, quizzes, and multimedia resources.
- Enrollment and progress tracking: LMS APIs automate enrollment, course roster management, and user progress tracking for synchronization with external systems.
- Integration with external tools: LMS APIs support seamless integration with third-party tools like content providers, video conferencing, assessment, and analytics platforms.
- Reporting and analytics: APIs provide access to reporting and analytics data, such as user activity, completion rates, and assessment results.
- Customization and extension: APIs empower developers to customize and extend the LMS system by building custom interfaces, plugins, or extensions to meet specific requirements.
Types of API Integrations in LMS
Typical cases to take advantage of API integration is to be able to import information to the LMS or to export information from it.
Usual details that are synced are employee details and accounts, organization groups, course completion information, available course information and different types of expanded data exports to perform analytics. In many cases the goal might look like it’s simple but in reality it requires use of
Below you can find some of the most common scenarios where LMS API is utilized:
- Sync employee information to and from an LMS to ensure they have content available according to their role in HRM system
- Transfer course completion information to a HRM system to have up to date training records automatically
- Assign a customer who has made a purchase from a webshop to the correct content they have purchased
- Build a data dashboard to PowerBi to track learning events from the LMS
These are only some popular examples. The complexity can be very different depending on the approach. Just pulling grades from the LMS can be done by using just 1 endpoint in the API, but if there are multiple courses and multiple type of courses it will become more complex. Don’t worry though – with a well documented API it’s just matter of putting things in order.
How to Implement an API Integration In an LMS (Learning Management System) or LXP
Before you implement an API integration, it is critical to know what is needed on both sides (both the LMS/LXP and the system you are integrating into). It is also important to outline exactly how this integration will satisfy business needs and scope the project accordingly. Another practical part of the implementation is a person to assess and build out the integration itself.
This could be either a software consultant or an in-house developer. Whoever ends up building the integration should have knowledge of both systems as well as a firm understanding of what technical capabilities are needed.
Communication between stakeholders on both sides and the builder is crucial to ensure a smooth development experience and successful implementation.
During implementation, the developer will need robust documentation of the LMS/LXPs API. Documentation is a cornerstone of product development, so the LMS provider should already have this prior to implementation.
Lastly, prior to the deployment of the integration there should be a testing phase, where the developer works together with the provider’s development team to make sure the integration functions correctly and data flows to the right places.
API Integration Case Study With Claned
Cases where API integrations are important part of the setup are often those where you deal with large volumes of data and records to transfer over.
Imagine managing records for just five employess — you can probably manage it using a pen & paper and an Excel sheet. But how about managing 1000 employees’ training records from Claned and having that information be up to date in an external system. In these cases, the only way to manage everything is to use an API.
A common challenge in the beginning is to understand what information is actually required. To make your integrations fast, reliable and resource-efficient you need to build it in a way that makes most sense.
One very good example of a standard Claned integration is linking Claned to a system that controls access to a work site.
For an employee to have an access to the work site, they first need to complete a training. Let’s break down the steps required to achieve this:
- User is added to a work site (that has required trainings)
- User has an account created to Claned
- User is sent a link to sign in to Claned with SSO
- Software checks if training is completed
- Completed training information is updated to customer software
Here we can see that API has removed the following tasks from a human: invite the user the Claned, assign them to a correct course, follow their progress and update their information to an external system once training is completed.
Here, the API integration allows all this to happen after initial action has been taken outside of Claned by adding the user to a work site.
With this type of automation you can easily see the savings in terms of time and money. Doing the above in the volumes of 1000s would create such a delay, that gaining access to the work site could take days instead of minutes after completing the training.
Few Examples of Sending and Retrieving information From Claned
Challenges Of API Integration in LMSs and LXPs
Implementing API integration in systems like Learning Management Systems (LMS) and Learning Experience Platforms (LXP) can present several challenges. Here are three examples:
- Data Mapping and Synchronization: One significant challenge is ensuring proper data mapping and synchronization between the integrated systems. LMS and LXP platforms often have different data structures and formats, which may require careful mapping and transformation of data fields during integration.
Inconsistencies in data models or data fields can lead to errors, data loss, or incorrect information being transferred between systems. Additionally, maintaining data integrity and keeping data synchronized in real-time or near real-time can be challenging, especially when dealing with a large volume of data or frequent updates.
This can be combatted by using a standardized data format (like JSON) in the data model, and ensuring the correct API endpoints are implemented in the integration code in a resource-effective manner.
- Security and Authentication: API integrations often require secure authentication and access control mechanisms to protect sensitive data. LMS and LXP systems typically handle internal information, including personally identifiable data (user data), grades, and course content. Ensuring secure authentication and authorization between the integrated systems is crucial to prevent unauthorized access or data breaches.
Implementing secure communication protocols (such as HTTPS), using encryption for data transmission, and employing industry-standard authentication methods (like OAuth or API keys) is necessary to prevent this. Failure to implement robust security measures can put user data and system integrity at risk.
- System Compatibility and Upgrades: Another challenge lies in managing system compatibility and upgrades. LMS and LXP platforms evolve over time, with API endpoint updates, new features, and bug fixes being introduced. API integrations need to be maintained and adapted to accommodate these changes.
Upgrading one system may require adjustments or updates in the integration code to ensure continued functionality. Compatibility issues may arise if the API version used in the integration becomes deprecated or incompatible with the latest system updates. Managing versioning, backward compatibility, and staying up-to-date with API changes and deprecations can be demanding and may require proactive monitoring and maintenance. The LMS/LXP product development team should be diligent in documenting and informing customers of these changes.
These challenges emphasize the importance of careful planning, thorough testing, and ongoing maintenance in API integration projects. Addressing these challenges effectively can help ensure a smooth and secure integration experience, enabling seamless data exchange and enhanced functionality between LMS, LXP, and other integrated systems.
In summary, APIs serve as a means for different applications to communicate and exchange data with an LMS or LXP, enabling seamless integration, automation, and customization.
APIs allow systems to retrieve data (such as course information and user data), manage user accounts, handle course and content management, track enrollment and progress, integrate with external tools, and access reporting and analytics data. , Challenges in API integration include data mapping and synchronization between systems with different data structures, ensuring secure authentication and access control to protect sensitive data, and managing system compatibility and upgrades.
However, by diligently addressing these challenges, customers can leverage API integrations to enhance their learning environments, automate processes, and meet critical business needs within their organizations.
API integrations for these systems provide numerous benefits but require careful planning, understanding the requirements of both the LMS/LXP and the system being integrated, and finally a technical implementation informed by solid communication between stakeholders.