Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Why Every Education Company Needs an API

In this post we like to highlight the argument from Audrey Watters’ article: Why Every Education Company Needs an API (& Why Educators Should Care When One Doesn’t) (licensed under CC-BY-SA)

API stands for “Application Programming Interface.” At its most basic level, an API allows one app to talk to another app. It’s the way in which Web and mobile technologies can open up their data and their software’s functionality to others. It’s how Zynga integrates its games with your Facebook profile. It’s how websites handle accepting payments via Paypal and play YouTube videos. It’s how Instagram can share your photos to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and Tumblr.

Why does this matter in education?

Educational data is stuck in silos, something fostered by educational software – administrative and instructional – that makes it cumbersome at best and impossible at worst to move data in and out of systems. As a result, there’s lots of extra clerical work that educators and administrators have to do – recreating rosters, copying grades, downloading CSVs, copying-and-pasting, and so on. All because educational apps and software do not, as a rule, talk to one another.

Edmodo is the latest example going from a social networking site to an education platform because of releasing its API :

Edmodo’s and Google’s APIs allows other companies – MathaliciousDesmosAviary, for example – to connect their apps to these platforms, tapping into rosters, roles, feeds, assignments, calendars, documents and so on.

education software API

To follow up this issue, another later post is worth reading too : LearnSprout: Breaking Down Education’s Data Silos.

What LearnSprout has built is an API that allows other developers build education apps that are integrated with schools’ student information systems. It’s akin to a Facebook Connect so that there’s an authorization/authentication process that makes it easier to provision accounts for students (and teachers) without the old process of exporting a roster (a CSV file) and either uploading that file into another piece of software (or worse, doing the manual date try).

Their tool is free to schools. (That helps with sales, no doubt). But the distribution and sales is actually driven by the third party developers who want to be able to integrate their apps with SISes. LearnSprout offers its API for free to developers who bring in a new school. Subsequent users of the connection to that school are charged.

It’s a future of educational software that we are looking forward to, another reason is quoted here (from Anthony Wu):

Consider the potential of APIs to allow small developers to build apps for schools administration and classroom management. It’ll bring down the hegemony of large, legacy software providers selling monolithic software packages to schools for millions. Wouldn’t it be a better world if small developers can distribute into schools with free and affordable apps much the same way smartphone users have access to apps?

Further relevant concept to explore is  “open learning analytics” on the Socieity for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR) site. Thinking carefully about educational data, APIs are one way to help overcome data silos and the lack of software interoperability.


More about API(from

The API-ificiation of software – and LEGOs


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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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