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Degreed Does Data: Everything to Know About APIs

Big data is disrupting everything we know and in ways that many don’t understand. To help you keep up, we’re launching a new series Degreed Does Data — to explain the big ideas and what they mean for how we learn.

This installment clarifies one of the most important tools on the internet — which most people know nothing about — the API, aka the application programming interface. 

“So what are APIs?” is a literal million-dollar question because understanding their potential and capabilities could make — or save — your company millions. Let’s take a deeper look at this game-changing technology.

API (Application Programming Interface)

Definition: A software design that uses standardized coding to make particular programs more compatible, more adaptable and more secure.

You know those icons that let you share an article directly from a news site to your social media accounts? What about the button on an event page that instantly adds it to your calendar? How do those work?

No, Facebook, Twitter, and Google have not hacked news sites and event pages. They just use APIs to make sure everything can connect smoothly.

An application programming interface can be simply explained as a common code. Take the example of a news site that lets you share directly to social media. The web designers at the news site don’t know all the code that Facebook and Twitter are using. But they do know the APIs that Facebook and Twitter published for adding certain features — such as sharing — to other websites.

Without an API, the web designers from the other sites would have to carefully study thousands of lines of code from Facebook and Twitter. Even if they could figure out how to make those sharing icons, the feature would break down with every update. Plus, social media accounts would be more vulnerable to hacking. 

To avoid all those problems, developers at organizations everywhere have created countless APIs. You can find an API to get the latest weather forecasts, to buy anything from online retailers, or to make your smart home devices work together. APIs can also keep your identity secure, like with a single sign-on that confirms your login credentials across websites.

Learning takes people to every corner of the internet in search of the clearest explanations and the smartest analyses. This requires a platform that seamlessly links all the different applications together and safely connects users with anything they need. APIs are the key to secure learning across applications.

3 Questions to Ask Tech Vendors About APIs

How does this tool use APIs to connect to other applications?

Interconnectivity is a huge benefit of APIs. Your learning is limitless if you can move between your online courses, your mentor’s suggested reading list, and the latest content trending in your organization. To know what can connect on your platform, you need to know the APIs. With these integrations, you will build a culture of learning. People will make a habit of using the platform which plugs them into every educational opportunity available.

How do APIs make this solution more secure?

APIs don’t just make it easier to connect to an application, they can also make the connection more secure. Your tools must protect your employees’ personal information and your organization’s insider expertise, even as they browse the pages of paid providers and public websites. APIs make sure these outside sources only access limited information about your people, even as your organization keeps track of everyone’s learning progress.

How is the Experience API (xAPI) used on this platform?

As learning systems have multiplied, the wisest designers have created a structure to help everything work together. The Experience API (also known as the xAPI) is the foundation for online learning. Basically, the xAPI tracks subjects (users), verbs (how they’re engaging in content) and objects (the content they’re consuming). That means it provides a consistent record that “you read a blog post” or “David watched this video” on any platform with xAPI. Once you have this data, it’s easy to find out who is learning the most, what methods people prefer and which resources are most valuable.

Learn More About APIs

What is Open? A Simple Description of APIs (2 min video)

This quick clip from the developers at Best Buy uses the analogy of a deck of cards to illustrate why APIs are so useful.

The API Revolution (infographic)

SmartBear starts with the simple stuff, then breaks down the most important types of APIs from across the internet.

How APIs Work — An Analogy for Dummies (10 min article)

This blog post compares an API to a bank teller, explaining how it helps you get what you need while still keeping everything secure.

What is the Experience API? (3 min article)

The group responsible for the xAPI provides a helpful summary and links to many of the best resources about the Experience API.

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