APIs are set to power education’s future. Here’s how.
The acronym API stands for Application Programming Interface. Despite being deceptively boring when spelled out (and being most often used by software developer types like us), these three letters have steadily become a part of the everyday lexicon of the mainstream business world.
That’s because of the significance of APIs to all organisations – including educators. Allowing technology systems to connect and talk with each other easily, APIs have proliferated to become a very common feature of the modern SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) world we all inhabit.
In fact, they’ve become critical enablers in the exchange of information on which our society, businesses and lives depend - and they will play an outsized role in the future of education.
APIs and education technology integration
Google’s State of API Economy 2021 Report says that, in their simplest form, APIs are ‘how software talks to software’. Through a set of definitions and protocols that guide the building and integrating of applications, they allow developers to connect software systems to deliver value to customers.
In layman’s terms, APIs have been described as the waiter in a metaphorical restaurant. By connecting the ‘diner’ with the ‘kitchen’, the waiter is the essential go-between that takes the customer order, delivers it to the kitchen, and then brings the right dishes back to be eaten.
A simple example would be a basic integration. When ReadyTech’s JR Plus Student Management System talks to aNewSpring’s LMS via an API-enabled integration, information can be shared across platforms to make the combined experience integrated and whole for the end user.
The development of an API-enabled ecosystem
APIs have the potential to enable much more than one-to-one integrations. APIs are steadily maturing over time, and now commonly use a set of standards (REST) and documentation that make them easily understandable and usable by software developers outside an organisation.
When an API is made publicly available to external developers, a tech provider (like ReadyTech) is able to build a developer community around a core product, which encourages and accelerates innovation and value being created for end users of the system (providers and students).
As Google says in its report: “If APIs are designed with the developer in mind, rather than just as bespoke integration projects, they become extremely powerful. When made to be easily reusable, APIs let developers modularly combine, and recombine, functionality and data for new uses.”
In fact, Google’s report found more IT decision makers (56%) saw APIs as either assets that help build better digital experiences and products or as accelerating innovation by enabling partners to leverage digital assets at scale (52%) than those (40%) who saw them as integration enablers.
“The more interactions there are around a given API, the more value it tends to create for all participants. That includes the firm that owns the API, the developers who leverage the API, and the end users who consume the developers’ apps,” Google states in the 2021 report.
What do APIs mean for education providers?
The rise of standard formats like REST is already proliferating the usage of APIs across the EdTech ecosystem. Their inherent usability is even causing governments in the Australian education sector to move to API-based interactions rather than sticking with traditional file-based exchanges.
The VET Data Streamlining program is one example. Collaborating with state and territory governments and the National Centre for Vocational and Education Research, the Australian Government is attempting to change current VET data collection processes (which have large time lags between when activities occur and when information on those activities is available to data users) to allow system-to-system data exchange, allowing near real-time data flows via APIs.
Because APIs make it easier for systems to connect and share information, as well as for innovation to be created within ecosystems, it is likely that the future will involve rapid developments in the platforms and services that support education providers along the end-to-end student journey.
As well as point-to-point bespoke integrations that meet the needs of educators, providers will be able to take advantage of a growing universe of offerings within an ecosystem that works together collectively to deliver value and serves to improve experiences and outcomes for students.
This is an opportunity for providers. With an array of best-of-breed software and services available by accessing an ecosystem-based product (like JR Plus) as well as accelerated innovation delivered through the system, providers will be well supported and able to keep up with change.
It’s just a part of the service that SaaS will provide educators in the future.