#astd2013, Interactivity, Games, and Gamification: A research-based approach to engaging learners through games with @kkapp

On the last day of ASTD 2013 conference, I had an opportunity to meet Karl Kapp, a professor at Bloomsberg University. Kapp not only presented Interactivity, Games, and Gamification, a research interest of mine, he is also the author of a couple of books I own:

Kapp encouraged us to post tweets to #W209. He also pointed out his presentation could be found on the Kappnotes blog and slideshare.

Kapp explained how he got involved with gamification and using games in his classroom. As a result of his journey, he figured out how to merge games and learning. He learned that Interactivity + Immersion = Sustain engagement. This all results in meaningful learning.

Interactivity + Immersion = Sustain engagement

After a quick introduction, Kapp launched us into a game called Fact or Fishy. We would play this game during the entire session using Poll Everywhere. He first split us up into two teams based on where we were sitting using Poll Everywhere. Once that was done, our responses would be additionally sorted by that variable. Poll Everywhere polls can be answered using SMS, Twitter, or a Web browser. The results can be shown through a PowerPoint presentation or on the Web.


Gamification uses game-based mechanics, aesthetics, or thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems. Kapp pointed out that people play games for mastery or challenge, not necessarily the bells and whistles. However, companies have see some progress based on adding game elements to their programs, e.g., Linkedin increased profile completion by adding a progress bar. This was an example of how to use progress bars intelligently. It is important to know what rules to break.

Adobe has a program called Level up for Photoshop. In this game, learners  develop their skills by solving Photoshop problems. Adobe has put learners in the right context. The learners have a mission, and therefore, are more engaged. We are motivated by completing a mission or solving a problem.

Pepboys use a program called Axonify to encourage safety. Employees play the game daily and earn points for answering safety questions.

Malone’s theoretical framework for intrinsic motivation

Kapp briefly discussed the importance of Malone’s theoretical framework for intrinsic motivation. It has three primary elements: fantasy, curiosity, and challenge.


Kapp pointed out that fantasy disengages us from our previous biases. Fantasy also allows to generalize content from situation to situation.


Challenge is a big part of games and learning. In a traditional class, we outline the objectives; objectives give the answer. Instead provide a problem to solve. Humans don’t like unsolved problems, they want closed loops. We cannot be too quick to solve problems for learners, we need to have them do it.


Games allow use to explore, try new things, and retry things where we were not successful. Games challenge and consolidate learning. Games allow use to work through a problem.


Kapp also addressed the importance of stories. Stories are powerful method for learning. If you just rely on gadgets, the learning experience will not work. Kapp then demonstrated two games: Knowledge Guru and Merchants.

Kapp explained that he is an avid runner and first used Nike+ as a game based program to help motivate him; however, it soon lost favor to Zombies Run, a running game with a story. Kapp recommended making your game a serial, so they will want to come back.


Kapp highlighted having characters on the screen are important to learning. He noted a study called, Virtual Superheroes: Using Superpowers in Virtual Reality to Encourage Prosocial Behavior. Basically, every single person who took the role of a superhero picked up pencils in comparison to those who did not. Other studies who that negative stereotyping was reduced by being an avatar. Just having a character increased learning 30%, more right answers were selected.


Feedback is critical to learning. It cannot simply be whether the answer was correct or not. Learners need a reflection piece to support the experience.


Kapp noted that leaderboards are useful tools; however, they must be implemented correctly. Leaderboards work better in smaller groups not entire organization, basically, people want a chance of being on the top of the board. Also, leaderboards are better in homogeneous organizations or units.

Final thoughts

Lectures not good for higher order skills.

Cramming is not good for remembering. Distributed practice does a better job.

On a personal note, I like how Kapp adds references and content to his blog posts.

Finally, I really enjoyed this presentation. Kapp did a great job, and my team won the contest 😉