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Karl Kapp: Focus on the Learner


Tue Jun 02 2020

Karl Kapp: Focus on the Learner

During the Association for Talent Development’s Virtual Conference, author and Bloomsburg University professor Karl Kapp in his live session answered an array of questions about getting started with microlearning and gamification, about tools and platforms, and about gaining buy-in.

Ahead of the session, facilitated by Ryan Changcoco, senior manager for ATD’s Management and Healthcare Communities of Practice, conference attendees were encouraged to listen to two on-demand sessions by Kapp: “Beyond Gamification: Think Like a Game Designer to Create Engaging, Meaningful Instruction” and “Microlearning—Short and Sweet: Making Microlearning Work in Your Organization.” The latter was co-facilitated with Robyn DeFelice.


Of both gamification and microlearning, when asked about getting started, Kapp advised L&D professionals to consider learning objectives and to focus on the learner. What do learners need to know?

With regard to microlearning, for example, he suggested going after low-hanging fruit and thinking about what would make the greatest impact on the organization. This could include sending an email to customer service reps or having a short module to help employees with a task they complete frequently, such as expense reports.

When it comes to games and gamifications, many in the L&D field will likely think of the classic points, badges, and leaderboard rewards. But when using extrinsic motivational rewards such as those, explained Karl Kapp in “Beyond Gamification,” you continually have to up the reward. Instead, instructional designers can use a learners’ intrinsic motivators: challenge, curiosity, control, fantasy, cooperation, competition, and recognition.

Also in the “Beyond Gamification” session, Kapp detailed how L&D professionals can use such tools as fantasy, failure, mystery, challenge, and choice in a game setting to grab learners’ attention and desire to learn. Learners will be motivated when they have autonomy, mastery, and relatedness, Kapp noted, and this was a theme he echoed during his live session. He also reiterated having a place that allows learners to fail and struggle, creating “desirable difficulties.”

To secure buy-in from stakeholders on gamification, Kapp suggested not selling it as such but pitching it as an activity that will engage, is measurable, and will lead to positive end results. He said it is a form of “genuine authentic memory enhancement.” And yes, that four-letter phrase with each word’s beginning letter spelling game is by design.


When developing their definition of microlearning, Kapp and Defelice—as Kapp noted in the live session—were careful not to put an exact amount of time, such as three or seven minutes, on what constitutes microlearning. Instead, as they explained in “Microlearning—Short and Sweet,” they see microlearning as an “instructional unit that provides a short engagement in an activity intentionally designed to elicit a specific outcome from the participant.”

The two thought long and hard about the elements of that definition. For example, instructional unit indicates that the microlearning is a start-to-finish learning or performance support. It’s not part of a chopped-up longer module. And engagement is to indicate that the participants’ attention is tuned into the event and that they interact with that event or activity.

Further, Kapp and Defelice explained the types of microlearning: primary, preparation, pensive, performance, persuasive, post-instruction, and practice-based learning modules. The number of types hints at many possibilities with microlearning.

Amid asking questions of Kapp, attendees from around the world offered each other resources, tools and platforms, and best practices of their own, in addition to networking together.

Share your ATD Virtual Conference experience on social media. #ATDVirtualConference


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