Professor of Instructional Technology
Bloomsburg University Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania

Karl Kapp is a professor of instructional technology in Bloomsburg University's Department of Instructional Technology and the assistant director of the university's acclaimed Institute for Interactive Technologies. Kapp consults internationally with learning technology companies, large corporations, and government organizations about learning, games, virtual worlds, and gamification. He also is a frequent keynote speaker, workshop leader, moderator, and panelist at national and international conferences and private corporations.

Kapp has authored or co-authored five books on the convergence of learning and technology, including Integrated Learning for ERP Success; Winning e-Learning Proposals; Gadgets, Games, and Gizmos for Learning; Learning in 3D; and recently The Gamification of Learning and Instruction (co-published by ASTD). Kapp also is the author of the popular blog Kapp Notes. He holds a doctorate in education in instructional technology from the University of Pittsburgh.

How did you get started in the training and development field?

Well, it started with a sixth-grade crush. A girl I liked had volunteered to act in a safety video teaching kids how to cross the street safely. Once I found out what she was doing, I volunteered as well. Many years later, after I graduated from college with an English degree and a minor in psychology, as well as a teaching certification, I got an internship at the same company that made that safety video. I think, in part, because I had "worked" at the company before. Funny coincidence.

This was an instructional technology company that designed, developed, and delivered instruction for government and corporate clients. It was the first time I became aware of the field—a field that used elements from all my academic training.

I was hooked. At that time, I had already entered into graduate school for educational counseling and I had to move heaven and earth to switch to instructional technology. I thought it was the most fascinating thing to systematically design instruction to impact learners and behavior, and to actually help people learn things in a variety of environments. There was a systematic way to do that. That really attracted me to the field.

Once I had my master's, I got a job at a software company as the one-person training department, and I realized, "Oh, I need to know more." Then I went on and got my doctor of education from the University of Pittsburgh. So my short acting stint in sixth grade literally changed my life and led me to this field.

Why do you think gamification has become so popular?

We've put up with really dull, flat e-learning for years. Now, people are saying, "Wait a minute. Everything else in my life—my smartphone, my computer, even kiosks at a gas station—are far more interactive than a lot of the e-learning that I have to go through." We need a way to make the e-learning more interactive.

Gamification is a way that adds elements to e-learning that makes it more engaging. Taking apart the elements of games and adding them to e-learning really strikes a chord with people. Games help to shape behavior. But it turns out we don't need the entire game—we can use elements of the game to shape the behavior.

I think that really attracts learning and development professionals because they don't have to develop a whole, full-fledged World of Warcraft. All they need to do is use elements of story and challenge and character, and they can immerse people in a learning environment that helps them retain knowledge better, helps them apply their knowledge better, and really makes for a better product and a better learning outcome.

Games are also now mainstream. It used to be that games could only be played in an arcade or at home in front of the TV. There was the stereotype of the antisocial teenage boys playing video games all day in their parents' basement. Now games are being played everywhere on mobile devices by almost everyone.—young, old, male, female; everyone.

Late last year, the technology research firm Gartner commented that gamification isn't going to last. What did you think about that?

When I read that, I thought, "They're validating my point," which is if you just slap a badge, points, or leader board on something, it's not going to last and people aren't going to like it. Arbitrary rewards don't work for long.

So, yes, if you don't do it intelligently and you don't apply deeper gaming elements like story, continual feedback, and challenge, then you're not going to do it successfully.

What motivated you to write your recent book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction?

I had been working with clients for a while who tell me, "I don't have time create a big learning game. What can I do?" And when I found the term gamification, which was using elements of games, I thought, "Aha, this is exactly what I've been talking about but I haven't had a really good umbrella term to put it under."

The other thing was people were saying that there wasn't research that shows that games are good for learning or that games are better than other instruction for learning. So part of the impetus was to make recommendations about using games based on research.

I spend several chapters in the book looking at what the research says about games and elements of games for changing learning outcomes. And basically it says games can be very powerful learning tools in certain situations.

Sometimes people mistakenly think we can gamify everything or we can make everything a game. I don't think that's the solution, but neither is the solution not having any games or any gamification at all. No solution in the training field is all or nothing.

So, the impetus to write the book was really to gather the research, to match research elements to game elements, and to provide people who design instruction a way to think about making their instruction more interactive, more engaging, and more motivating so that the outcomes would match what they wanted to achieve.

You work at Bloomsburg University as a professor and the assistant director of the Institute for Interacting Technologies. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Bloomsburg University has an instructional design program that's been around since 1985. A couple of the things about our program that we think is really unique is, one, it's tied directly to the Institute for Interactive Technologies, and we call that our commercial arm. But what it really is is an applied learning environment or a learning laboratory. Our students, through the course of the program, have opportunities to work on real-life projects for actual clients.

We work with companies like Kellogg's, L'Oreal, Toys "R" Us, Black & Decker, and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, and that gives our students an opportunity to apply the knowledge they're learning in our graduate program to real-world experiences. We think that's unique and gives our students great experience.

Another interesting exercise that we do in the program is my class called "Managing Multimedia Projects." In that class, students are formed into teams—actually, "companies"—and I give them a mock request for proposal (RFP).

The students have to come up with 40-page written proposal, a working prototype, and a 20-minute sales presentation presenting their learning solution. Then they have to present it to our corporate advisory council, which is about 25 to 30 professionals in the field who evaluate how well the students write their proposal, how well their prototype works, and how well they present.

That gives them a really great real-world experience in creating an idea to solve a real instructional design problem, then defending that idea and executing that idea through the prototype. It is a really great program for people who want to become high impact practitioners in the field of instructional technology.

What do you see becoming popular in the next couple of years in our field?

Of course, I think there will be more and more games and game elements, not only in instruction but also in interfaces. As people begin to understand the interactive nature of game design and the way in which games help direct behavior and activities, I think that game elements and game-thinking is going to become much more prevalent in our field.

I think the mobile trend is going to continue to explode and move forward. And the mobile trend will become more and more performance support.

Another trend I think is going to be wearable instructions. With the Google Glasses coming out, you'll see overlay of instructions on top of equipment in a Heads Up Display (HUD) enabled through the glasses. The glasses will be hooked to a computer wirelessly, and will be able to walk the person through the procedures they are supposed to perform.

Imagine the implications, especially from a technician's standpoint. When this happens, it will make the design of the content even more critical because a person is actually going to do it as they're being instructed and there will be no mentor standing over the person. So, I think the instructional designs will become more and more critical because the person will be performing the task or job as they are being instructed. It will be real-time instruction.

And if we play our cards right as instructional designers, we can position ourselves as having a much more important role in the design of things that have learning built into them. If you think of a game, it has a level 1 where nobody teaches you how to play level 1; you play level 1 and then you know how to play the game. If we could design software like that, we could design equipment like that. The iPhone's kind of designed like that. You just picked it up and knew what to do in many instances.

What do you do for fun?

This year I completed my first ever Olympic-length triathlon. I do triathlons and similar events such as biking and running in my free time. I'm not fast, but I enjoy the personnel challenge.

I enjoy reading as much as I like writing. I wish I could read more. My favorite time is on an airplane when it's taking off and landing when I'm forced to read a real book with no electronics allowed. It's peaceful.