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Learnnovators Gazes Into The Future of E-Learning With Karl Kapp

Author: Kart Son
by Kart Son
Posted: Apr 02, 2014

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 Badgeis 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

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.

9. Learnnovators: What are the differences (with respect to strategies) between applying gamification to instructor-led training vis-à-vis self-paced learning?

Karl: Not sure there are different strategies, perhaps different tactics; one might use an audience response system, one might award badges automatically; but I don’t think that the strategies are different. There are four elements for applying gamification in any environment. These four foundational elements are engagement, autonomy, mastery and the sense of progression.

Engagement: The learner needs to be engaged with the content, thinking about it, interacting with it and reacting to what happens with the content and doing task related to the content. The learner needs to engage with the learning. It can’t be passive. This means activity in the classroom, engagement with students and the content and rich interactions among students. In the online environment, it is not different. There needs to be engagement with the content and other students.

Autonomy: The learner needs to be able to make choices about how much effort to put into the learning, what to do next and in what order they want to proceed. The choices can (and should) be bounded by rules and parameters but within those rules and parameters, the learner should have a great deal of choice. Within the classroom, this means rules for answering questions, participating with other students and for sharing or divulging knowledge. In the online environment, the need for autonomy is the same.

Mastery: The efforts need to result in mastery of content, context and application. If the gamification doesn’t lead to mastery of knowledge, process or content, then it is not an effective gamification effort. Regardless of classroom or online environments, students must feel that the gamification efforts are leading to mastery of content.

Progression: Gamification helps a learner to visualize progress. It allows the learner to see what they have learned, be recognized for learning up to that point, and then encourage them to move forward with a visual depiction of the progress they need to make towards total mastery. Again, this strategic element should be part of both classroom and online gamification efforts.

10. Learnnovators: As we know, many other areas including application software training (Examples: ‘LevelUp for Photoshop’ and ‘Ribbon Hero 2 for Microsoft Office’) draw power from gamification. How do you think this trend will evolve further?

Karl: Right now, these applications use gamification for learning and then, once you are done learning the application, you can then start using it. The gamification level is a learning level separate from the actual operation of the application. I think in the future, more applications will be game-like in their operation. In other words, you will "play" a mission on your own project. The feedback for using PhotoShop will be more game-like itself. You’ll get a badge for removing a background on your own image instead of doing it as part of a training mission. The actual use of the software will be more game-like instead of just the learning about the software being game-like.

11. Learnnovators: You say that ‘We need to think more like Game Designers’. What would be your advice to today’s instructional technologists who aspire to incorporate gamification in learning?

Karl: My first piece of advice is to play games. You cannot think about gamification or be comfortable implementing gamification techniques if you do not play games. And I don’t just mean play the games, I mean play and analyze those games. Figure out why one game was deeply engaging while another turned out to be boring. Determine how the scoring system drove you toward mastery of the game (or away from it.) Playing games with a critical eye is important to learning to incorporate gamification in learning. Also, don’t just play one genre of games, play many genres. Don’t just play first-person shooters; also play puzzle games or adventure games. Playing a variety of games will lead to a greater understanding of how game mechanics and game dynamics can be applied to learning. If the process was easy, everyone would do it. It’s not easy to think like a game designer while creating instruction. Game design is action oriented—what do we want the player to do. Instructional design, on the other hand, tends to be content oriented—what content do we want the learner to know. To think like a game-designer when creating instruction, we want to think about what we want the learner to "do" not just what we want the learner to know. This seems like a little shift but, it is actually a large change in thinking for the field of instructional design.

12. Learnnovators: What would be your advice to companies who want to start experimenting with gamification? How complex and expensive is the adoption (of gamification) for a typical mid-sized company?

Karl: Gamification does not need to be expensive. The problem is that most people think of gamification as points, badges and leaderboards.But actually, it’s a way of thinking about instructional development using the sensibilities of game development. To illustrate my point about not needing technology for gamification projects, I’ll give you an example of a project I worked on this past year. I was brought in to help redevelop a course that was focused on training individuals on how to conduct an internal investigation within the organization. The course was designed in a very traditional fashion. The course started with several course objectives such as "The learner will be able to understand the five steps of conducting an internal investigation." Then the course provided a list of terminology the would-be investigators had to learn.Next, it presented a model that needed to be followed, and finally a simple role-play where a small portion of an investigation was enacted. The problem was that after the individuals left the two day class, they still felt uneasy and uncertain as to how to conduct an evaluation. They knew all the pieces, but didn’t know how to apply them all together in one cohesive investigation.

I decided to flip the class. So, when the trainees came to the two day class, the class opened with the following statement. "An employee at the company has just walked into your office and told you that she suspects her boss is embezzling money. What is the first thing you do?"There was no objectives, no defining of terms, no model to follow. The learners were thrown into the situation. Then, as they asked questions and moved along within the investigation, the instructor provides both pieces of information related to the case and instructional information. At one point, the instructor produces the "Investigator’s Handbook" and the learners can use the handbook to help them in the case. So, from the time they walk into the classroom until they leave, they are in the role of an investigator. They have to form interview questions, decide who to call as witnesses, and ultimately make a judgment call about the alleged embezzlement.

All throughout the two day class, they are guided by the instructor. This immerses them in the learning process and at the end of the two days of instruction; they have actually conducted a mock investigation. They know what forms to use, what questions to ask and what procedures to follow. They know because they did it. That is an example of a gamification solution that doesn’t require high tech programming or development. What it requires is thinking like a game developer. It requires elements of gamification to take typical training delivery and transform it into an engaging experience for the learners.

13. Learnnovators: What do you think is the future of gamification? Do you think gamification will evolve further by taking more power from games and game-based learning?

Karl: Currently, much of the ideas around gamification are focused on points, badges and leaderboards.While those can be motivational and inspiring, I think the real value from gamification will come when we use the most engaging elements of games. As I have mentioned above, theseare things like challenge, mystery, curiosity, mastery and other core elements that make games engaging. In the future, my hope is that the term "gamification" matures and more people see gamification as a design sensibility, a way of approaching the design of learning events in a way that fosters challenges, provides a context for learning, and provides informative and helpful feedback. I see it evolving away from the layering of points and badges on top of training into a design philosophy that ensures positive learning outcomes. I see it focusing on autonomy, mastery and social connections between learners.

14. Learnnovators: What would be your message to the learning community and the industry in this age of ‘learning’ driven by technologies that are ‘disruptive’ in nature?

Karl: First, let’s not drive learning by technology. In fact, that is completely backward.

We first need to see what type of learning is required; how we can enhance the knowledge of learners and help them learn and perform at a high level. We need to first choose the right instructional strategy. Maybe technology is part of the solution and maybe it’s not. For example, the learning strategies of Spaced Retrieval and Retrieval Practice don’t need technology to be successful but, still, they are strategies that are rarely used but are extremely powerful. I also mention the idea of starting a learning session with a challenge;again, that is not a technological solution. So let’s focus on learning strategies first and technology a distant second. As long as we focus on developing effective learning experiences, the technologies will take care of themselves. The apparently disruptive technologies should just be seen as tools for enacting the right learning strategy. When we think that way, we do ourselves and the field a service by being learning focused and not technology focused.

Learnnovators: Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insights and experiences, Karl. It was wonderful interacting with you. Wish you the very best!

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About the Author

Seo Freelancer, Ppc Freelancer in Chennai and Also I am a Co-founder of SmartLadders Technologies.SmartLadders, an Seo agency and business opportunity, A new digital agency website for businesses in and around the India.

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Author: Kart Son

Kart Son

Member since: Nov 09, 2013
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