What is an API?

APIYou’re looking around for a learning management system, and after tirelessly searching you eventually discover the perfect one. It has features you never even knew that you needed until now, your learners will love using it, and your stakeholders will love the low price!

There’s just one problem… You have existing systems which are integral to your business, and your brand new LMS will be worthless if it can’t play nicely with them.

It’s at this stage in the process that you’ll start hearing about APIs. But what exactly is an API? And how does it allow systems to interact with one another?


APIAn API is an Application Program Interface. Using one will allow one system to interact with another, so one could request information from or control the functions of another.

Think about how you connect a mobile phone to a computer. You need a cable with a connector for the phone on one end and a connector for the computer on the other end.

The API acts like the socket of each system. Knowing what the connections inside this socket look like, you’re able to build a cable to match. Once the connection is established, the two systems are able to communicate.

It’s important to note that just having an API doesn’t mean two systems can immediately talk with each other. You still need to build the connection, or cable, between them to link together the functions you’re going to be using.

Using an API in online learning

As you can imagine, allowing your LMS to interact with other systems can open up a whole world of opportunities! Here are a few potential integrations:

  1. HR System:

    Chances are that your organisation uses an HR system to manage its employees. Since this system will already have all of your employee data, the integration will allow you to transfer it directly across to your LMS. It’s much easier than manually creating thousands of learner accounts!

  2. CRM System:

    Many LMSs are also integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) systems, and sharing information between these two systems can be hugely beneficial. For example, you can easily see correlations between completed training and sales performance, so that you know what’s working. Or you could automatically push relevant training content once a salesperson reaches a crucial point in their pipeline.

  3. SSO:

    Another classic use of the API is for single sign-on (SSO) between two systems. There are few things that learners hate more than having to remember dozens of different usernames and passwords for everything they use! By integrating SSO, signing into one platform will automatically sign them into the other as well, making the experience run much more smoothly.

  4. eCommerce:

    Your LMS may include eCommerce functionality, but by using the API you could pair it up to a store on your website. When someone purchases the course through the store, they will automatically be sent to the LMS where an account will be set up and waiting for them, letting them get stuck right into their learning.

  5. Social media:

    By integrating with social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, your learners will be able to share directly to their network. This will let them shout about how great that video was, how much they loved that eLearning unit, or how proud they are of the badge they just earned!

These are just a few of the ways an API can be used, but there are countless other inventive ways to pair up your systems! For more information on our Academy LMS and its API, check out our integrations page.

Keep an eye out for plenty more entries into our Online Learning Glossary over the coming weeks!

And if you’re looking to put together a massively successful online training programme, then you’ve come to the right place! Download your free Engagement Engine Workbook to map out a strategy which uses gamification, social and personalised learning:

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