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ATD Blog

Gamification Evolves: Q&A With Karl Kapp

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The rise in popularity of gamification in recent years can be attributed in part because many e-learning offerings were dry and boring to users, explains Karl Kapp, a professor of instructional technology at Bloomsburg University and co-author of Play to Learn. In our most recent installment of interviews with experts to mark ATD’s 75th year, I spoke to Karl about some of the trends making an impact on gamification and learning technology.

“Gamification gives good designers cover to do what they already know they should be doing,” says Kapp. He adds that it brings to the forefront of learning design game elements like challenge and story. What’s more, gamification gives designers liberty to build in opportunities for learners to fail.

Unfortunately, years of hype have led to a current state of disillusionment with gamification, with many feeling that gamification hasn’t delivered on its promise. Many people jumped on the bandwagon but didn’t implement gamification in a way that was helpful to learners. Kapp is quick to add that after this period of disillusionment we can expect a slope of enlightenment. He’s hopeful that designers can learn from these early mistakes and start to use elements of game design to build real action-based learning that supports knowledge retention and skill building.

To get this next stage in gamification’s evolution right, Kapp suggests designers look at what they already know about how humans learn and discover information, as well how they can leverage that knowledge. He reminds us that there is decades of evidence-based research, not to mention new studies into neuroscience, that designers can apply to all types of instruction, even those with elements of gamification.


“We haven’t changed dramatically how we learn. Maybe the delivery vehicles and technology has changed, but the fundamental processes haven’t,” says Kapp.


Interestingly, Kapp would like to see some training solutions become more difficult, saying that “we’ve made our training so simple and so easy that we’ve lost a little bit of the meaning.” He points to research about the concept of “desirable difficulty,” which asserts that if something is really easy in training it might be hard to apply it on the job. Simply stated, when people struggle to learn new skills and knowledge that information is encoded more richly in the brain.

That’s an idea practitioners challenged with designing effective training can take to heart. In other words, the more difficult it is for you to learn how to build great training, the more you know for your next design.

For more on the trends shaping learning technology, gamification, and instructional design, listen to the complete interview.

About the Author

Justin Brusino is director of content at ATD. In his role, he’s responsible for developing new content and products, including articles, webcasts, books, conferences, workshops, and more, on a variety of talent development topics. With a strong interest in technology, Justin is always looking at new trends and emerging topics that can impact the talent development industry. He is the editor of the book ATD’s 2020 Trends in Learning Technology.

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Hi, would you have a transcript available for the key points of; Evolution of Gamification: Q&A With Karl Kapp. thank you.
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