Karl M. Kapp, Ed.D., CFPIM, CIRM, is a scholar, writer and expert on the convergence

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ABOUT KARL KAPP (Professor of Instructional Technology, Bloomsburg University):

Karl M. Kapp, Ed.D., CFPIM, CIRM, is a scholar, writer and expert on the convergence of learning, technology and business operations. He is a full professor of instructional technology at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA, and serves as the Assistant Director of Bloomsburg’s Institute for Interactive Technologies. He received his Doctorate of Education in Instructional Design at the University of Pittsburgh. He has written six books including the best-selling learning book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction and its accompanying how-to book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook: Theory into Practice.


As part of our tenth anniversary celebrations, we proudly present ‘Crystal Balling with Learnnovators’, a thought-provoking interview series that attempts to gaze into the future of e-learning. It comprises stimulating discussions with industry experts and product evangelists on emerging trends in the learning landscape.

Join us on this exciting journey as we engage with thought leaders and learning innovators to see what the future of our industry looks like.


1. Learnnovators: What are the current trends in Game-based Learning and Gamification? Where (which areas/domains/audiences) are each of these methodologies helping to create more positive and impactful behaviours than traditional styles of learning?

Karl: Gamification, as a term, has only been around for about five years (2008), and so I think the entire “gamification” concept is still an emerging trend with its best days still ahead. Having said that, one of the areas that grabbed quickly onto the gamification concept was sales training. I have seen a number of sales training initiatives around gamification. Another trend where gamification is gaining ground is onboarding or new employee orientation. I was recently at the Disney Institute and saw a fascinating onboarding program Disney does with a gamified environment, which is a lot more interesting, engaging and thoughtful than memorizing information about a company to learn its history from a PDF or online module. Other organizations like Delta Airlines have created games to teach employees who handle flight reservations geography, and still other organizations are using gamification for compliance and safety training. Gamification can be impactful in a number of areas. So the trend is increased use of gamification for learning in a variety of subject areas from onboarding new employees to safety training, and for all types of training.

In terms of game-based learning, I see we are evolving away from simple games based on Jeopardy-style boards to more sophisticated games used to teach systems and relationships. The commercial equivalent is something like ‘The Sims.’ In ‘The Sims’ a player has to weigh certain variables and make tradeoffs to keep his or her character healthy and happy. I have seen a couple of applications of complex corporate tradeoffs being fashioned into a game-like simulation. In those games, the players are running a company or entering a new market and they must understand how to make the proper tradeoffs among various decisions with which they are confronted. Educating people about tradeoffs is one common skill that is being taught increasingly with games, and that is at the management and executive levels.

2. Learnnovators: As we know, the present education system was a design perfected for the needs of ‘industrialization’. What kind of a shift in thinking do you visualize for building an education system that aligns with the dynamically changing demands of this knowledge age?

Karl: To match the on-demand information age where creating content is as important as consuming content, we need to think about dis-integrating knowledge and think of learning as a process instead of an event. Right now, a lot of really good information is contained in online courses which are an hour or so long, and those courses are locked up into a learning management system (LMS). To gain access, a learner must remember that a valuable piece of information was in a course they recently took, they must then log into the LMS, navigate to the course and page through the content until they find the information they are seeking. In today’s fast paced environment, that is not going to happen. To me, that’s an industrial model where we have care-takers of knowledge, people who decide how knowledge is to be packaged and distributed. Instead, learning and development folks need to create multiple paths to knowledge. We need to create YouTube like learning ecosystems that are easily searchable. Microsoft has such a system for some of their training. We need to have mobile enabled content that doesn’t require tracking by the LMS and we have to get rid of the notion that if learning isn’t tracked it’s not formal or not valuable. Learning should be constantly interwoven into a person’s daily activities and we need a shift in thinking that involves freeing knowledge and treating all learning as a process that is not finished but continues as we need to know more and more. Content, information and knowledge is constantly being created in all types of venues, places and locations, the learning infrastructure needs to support that process by being quick, accessible and adaptable to the needs of learners.

3. Learnnovators: How do you look at the interesting shifts happening in learning paradigms (such as social learning, flipped classroom, Bring-Your-Own-Device) fuelled by the enormous possibilities thrown open by emerging technologies (such as data analytics)? What will future learning look like?

Karl: As cyberpunk novelist William Gibson has been reported as saying, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed”, the concept of thinking about learning as a process is embodied in the ideas like flipped classrooms, and bringing-your-own-device. These elements, enabled by technology, provide the tools needed to think of learning as a process and not as a onetime event happening in the classroom. The future, according to futurist Daniel Burrus, is always an “and.” He said that most of the time we think the future is going to be one thing or another. More often than not, it is one thing “and” another. Though we have cars, we still have horse drawn carriages, although in a much more limited role. I see learning like that; we will always have traditional classrooms and we’ll have mobile learning, flipped classrooms, learning via alternative reality, learning via an apprenticeship. I think that technology is opening up channels of learning and, in the near term, not really shifting the channels. In the longer term, channels will shift, but we are still at the beginning of understanding all this technology in relation to learning. I think the most massive and impactful shift will be when we figure out how to do adaptive learning via a computer-based system. MOOCs and other online instruction is still the old “broadcast model” where everyone gets the same content whether they need it or not. When systems start to provide the content I need differently from the content you need, we will have taken a giant step forward.

4. Learnnovators: How is gamification going to influence this learning revolution? What are its cognitive advantages? How do you think this method will disrupt the traditional thinking of ‘learning’?

Karl: One of the things that most people don’t realize is or think about is the concepts underlying gamification are built on powerful theories and practices which are heavily supported by research. Those theories and practices are going to highly influence the learning revolution and lead to a learning paradigm that is based on information-age sensibilities as opposed to industrial age. The foundational blocks of gamification are engagement, autonomy, mastery and progression. We know from research that people learn more when they are engaged and actively interacting with content. Gamification fosters interaction and engagement. Second, people are better learners when they can make their own decisions related to learning (especially if they have some experience with the content). This is the concept of autonomy. Good gamification environments allow the leaner to make decisions about what to learn next and what areas of interest are to be pursued. Then the idea of mastery comes into play. This is the sense of satisfaction that comes from learning new content that is important for us. So the learner makes a decision about what content to master and when they master that content—they obtain a sense of satisfaction. But how does a learner know they are obtaining mastery, through a sense of progression. What badges and achievements do for the learner is to create a visible outcome of progress. The learner can see how far they have come and how far they need to go. These four elements are information-age, and not industrial-age, educational elements.

On a more practical level, technology now allows us to provide learning in smaller pieces through a concept called spaced rehearsal or distributed practice. This is the concept of learning a little at a time instead of cramming. In the industrial model, we cram as much information into the heads of the learners as possible in eight hours of instruction and hope they learn it. In the distributed practice model, we can “feed” small learning bits to learners everyday for weeks at only fifteen minutes at a time until they learn the material. We can then send a periodic “check” or assessment to see if the knowledge is retained and then, if not, send more instruction. The concept of distributed practice has been known for decades as an effective learning technique but who wants to “study” every day. Game-elements help learners look forward to quizzing themselves everyday on the content and make it enjoyable to engage with the content every day. Once people understand the foundation of gamification and see the results from practical implementations, it will disrupt many of today’s learning approaches.

5. Learnnovators: How do you think emerging technologies such as Experience API and Game Analytics will spur the growth of game-based learning and gamification to make them more powerful?

Karl: Right now I think that a great deal of learning management systems and learning measurement systems are based on the idea of counting the number of hours or number of courses a person has taken. This is a ridiculous and ineffective measure of learning. Just because I attended a class, that doesn’t mean I learned anything. I think with new data gathering protocols like Experience API, we will be able to measure what a learner did with the knowledge they just received. Did they apply it on the next computer data entry screen they were completing for work? Did they proceed on daily tasks more quickly because of the learning? These are questions we can now begin to answer. The analytics will allow us to measure and identify what a learner is doing before, during and after the learning experience. When we tie that to business outcomes, we will be able to correlate learning events with business, and have a powerful tool. The data side of gamification (tracking, monitoring and measuring) will provide a powerful tool.

6. Learnnovators: Where do you think the industry is today with respect to the adoption of gamification in learning? What is the level of receptiveness from stakeholders (parents, educators, and learning and development professionals)? How do you think this will evolve in the future?

Karl: Well, six years ago, game was a four letter word in most organizations. It was not to be taken seriously. We added the “ification” to it and suddenly people see the potential for learning. I think that is a wonderfully positive move forward. Yet, we are still in the early stages of gamification for learning.

By no means are the concepts of game and gamification universally accepted as valid learning strategies, so we have some work to do in terms of educating more learning and development professionals of the value of these tools. We have to also apply them intelligently. Everything doesn’t need to be turned into a game and we don’t need to gamify all content. We need to be intelligent about how we approach our stakeholders so they understand that it’s not about “fun”, but it’s about learning. There is a growing body of really solid research that explains why games are so valuable from a learning perspective, and we need to let people know about the research. Also, we can’t become overzealous, we need to admit that games aren’t the only answer in terms of the changing educational landscape; they are a tool in a very large tool box.

We also need to remind people that games have been around for hundreds of years and are an effective method of conveying knowledge. While the recent emphasis on gamification and games seems new, many of the ideas, concepts and approaches are actually quite old and that they have been proven to work over the decades. Gamification is, in many ways, a repackaging of existing concepts into a new form, but it’s not an entirely new concept. Still it is not always well accepted; I think time will be on the side of gamification.

7. Learnnovators: We are excited to see more and more learning management systems and platforms extending their support for gamification. What are some of the other interesting trends and developments happening in this regard (such as Open Badges)? How do you think these kind of supportive systems and services are going to evolve further to power up gamification?

Karl: At some point, all types of Learning Management Systems and even modern computer systems will have gamification elements as part of their interfaces. I see a number of trends converging to bring together badges, levels, and points for everyday business software such as order entry software, ERP systems and even Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. Gamification in one way or another will be pervasive in learning and productivity software.

Specifically, Open Badge is a great initiative in terms of bringing together various reward systems. One issue that is arising is, when a number of different badging agencies compete for recognition, then the badges lose meaning; so a project like Open Badges is great for bringing together different badges under one roof (provided the others agree to play). The interesting thing is the process of enabling folks to give badges to others. The overall issue with all badging or rewards processes is to ensure the person actually earned the badge. Groups building parameters around these concepts make a great deal of sense.

Another interesting initiative is called World of Classcraft. World of Classcraft is an educational augmented-reality multiplayer role-playing game. Played in the classroom, students play as one of three classes, gaining powers, while risking a terrible death. Using the concept, students gain experience points for good actions and take damage for bad actions. As they gain experience points, students level up and gain powers that can be used in the classroom. I think more initiatives like World of Classcraft are needed. You can learn more about that project at http://worldofclasscraft.com/en/.

As gamification matures, I think we will eventually see some accrediting agencies spring up around badging, new programs developed like World of Classcraft, and a growing focus on adding elements that increase learner engagement in all types of learning venues.

8. Learnnovators: In this age where most learning happens ‘informally’ (through on-the-job-learning and peer-learning), how well do you think gamification aligns with informal learning? How would you differentiate gamification in the context of formal and informal learning? What are the differences with respect to strategies that need to be adopted while gamifying learning in these two different types of situations?

Karl: Informal learning can have elements of gamification such as having users vote up or down content or giving points for reviewing a certain number of videos or other types of gamification for viewing content outside of a Learning Management System. However, I think that gamification leans a little more toward formal learning. If set up correctly, a gamification effort is a formally structured process to propel learners through content. So, I think, for the most part, gamification is best structured as part of a formal learning process.

I feel that informal learning doesn’t need the motivation and point structure of gamification. While Gamification is fun and engaging, that’s not the same thing as informal. The structure and thinking about gamification needs to be formal and structured. I don’t think I would differentiate informal and formal gamification, I think it is formal in most cases.

Of course, there are some organizations that have set up “gaming commons” which are a group of learning games that employees can play at any time and are not necessarily part of a specific course. I guess that is an informal approach to distribution but, for the most part, games and gamification lean toward formal learning.

Continued… Click HERE to read Part 2.

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