Published On: February 15, 2018By
Podcast - The business benefits of gamification and learning - Listen to the Talented Learning Show with learning tech analyst John Leh and gamification expert Karl Kapp


To learn more about this podcast series or to see the full collection of episodes visit The Talented Learning Show main page.



Today, we’re honored to speak with one of the world’s foremost experts and innovators in the field of gamification and learning design – Dr. Karl Kapp.

Dr. Kapp comes with a long and impressive list of professional credentials, including his role as Professor of Instructional Technology and Director of Interactive Technologies at Bloomsburg University.  He also has authored nine books and developed multiple online courses for LinkedIn Learning.

But hands-down, Dr. Kapp is best known as a tremendously entertaining and thought-provoking speaker at industry conferences, where he helps participants discover how to leverage game-oriented techniques and technologies to develop more effective learning experiences.

In this interview, Dr. Kapp and I discuss how organizations can use gamification techniques and technologies to enhance learning and improve business performance.



Gamification.  Game-Based Learning.  Simulations.  These terms are increasingly popular, but how do they apply to extended enterprise learning scenarios?

There is a huge opportunity to attract external audiences, draw them in and build loyalty by applying these elements:

Game-Based Learning

Think of game-based learning as a self-contained space.  There is a clear beginning-middle-end to the game, and when it is over, you move on.



Here, you use game elements in a non-game environment to extend engagement.  For example, you may have a work-related app that you interact with periodically, and over time you accumulate points for completing specific tasks within your work setting.

This continues outside of a defined game space.  But gamification needs to move beyond just points, badges and leaderboards.  Things like feedback loops, the opportunity to explore, the freedom to fail, a sense of mystery, an open loop.  These things can be highly effective at pulling people into your content.


Although simulations may include game elements, they tend to have a more realistic feel than games or gamification.  Simulations can be very effective in business environments, where organizations can use these techniques to engage people and ALSO help add business value.

What kind of simulations work well in business?

Here are a few examples:

Call Center Skills Development

We developed a really successful simulation that taught people how to handle incoming calls and deal with the demands of a stressful call center environment.  We analyzed common issues, created a “good-better-best” rubric for responses, and then prerecorded effective conversations.  The simulation recorded learner responses to each step in a scenario and awarded points based on how well they responded as they moved through the decision tree.

Because conversations were recorded online, we could review them with learners and provide essential feedback.  What people miss about simulations – and online learning in general – is the level of analytics that you can apply to make it more effective. It’s not just being able to include analytics, but being able to tie the analytics back to remediation.

A key to gamified instruction or simulations is error diagnosis. We should step back and ask, “Why are people making mistakes? Is it an error of commission or omission? Is it a mistake of knowledge? Or something else?”

Physician Training

Simulations create a safe environment that can help people in high-risk, high-powered professions open themselves to learning.  For example, I like to joke that physicians know everything, so how can they learn anything?

But let’s say a medical center wants to improve its accuracy in diagnosing patient illnesses.  They can analyze the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions.  Then they can develop a game or simulation that leads physicians down a path to discover when they don’t know something.  Those “ah ha” moments are teachable moments, because adults learn best when they realize they don’t know something.

Sales Training

Also, we recently completed a fascinating project for a large biotech company, where we created a simulation that increased sales by 12%.  We broke down the sales model into various pieces, and based upon the decisions sales reps make at various points in the game, we can spot specific weaknesses and focus on those areas.

Games and simulations let you create adaptive instruction, so you don’t have to train everyone in the entire sales process if it isn’t necessary.  This approach is much more efficient and effective than trying to teach everyone everything.  You know, one-size-fits-all doesn’t work with hats – or learning, either.

In a sales environment, it’s easy to translate that 12% increase in revenues into a real dollar value and see that it dwarfs the cost of developing the learning content.  What does it actually take to put effective gamification systems in place?

It’s a process:

The Gamification of Learning and Instruction - Book by Dr. Karl Kapp at


  • Identify the specific behaviors you want to drive or change, and investigate what motivates your audience.
  • Analyze other approaches.  Would they be more effective than games or gamification?  Have they been tried?  How well did they work?  Why?
  • Determine the appropriate level, timing and frequency of engagement.  A retail associate may be able to engage while on the sales floor, but a physician’s day is so packed, you’ll need to schedule accordingly.
  • Decide if peers should be involved.  Do you want learners to compare their performance with others, or with their own standards and past performance?
  • Clarify what I call the core dynamic – in other words, how players win the game.
  • Specify metrics that tie to performance.
  • Finally, create a pilot program and test it to be sure the game or simulation actually accomplishes what you intend.
From a tech perspective, is it best to first look at an LMS platform, or authoring tools or some other class of tools?

The kind of tools you choose should depend on your content strategy.  I divide gamification into two types:

  • Structural Gamification – Built around the content, but the content itself doesn’t change.
  • Content Gamification – Where the content changes to be more game-like.

Many LMSs have implemented points, badges and leaderboards in some way.  But often that functionality is bolted on, so it’s very limited and it’s not tied to individual pieces of content.  You pass a course or take a quiz and you get a badge. But that’s not a very robust version of gamification.

Then there are pure gamification platforms that let you add content.  Usually, the approach is based on microlearning, so it’s not a content deep-dive.  But you can add content and information, and the reporting and game elements are more robust.

There are also a few platforms built from the ground up as a gamified LMS.

And then there are tools like Lectora, Captivate, Storyline and iSpring.  They let you add gamification points and those kinds of elements to the content itself.

For anyone just getting started with gamification in learning, what do you recommend they do first?

Start by playing games!  To think effectively about gamification, you need to develop some game literacy.  You may know Monopoly or Stratego, but that’s a very narrow scope.  You want exposure to lots of different game dynamics, mechanics and elements.  For example, try Catan, Pandemic, Forbidden Island

Then look at various gamification platforms.  They all approach it differently.  And they all have freely available demos.  You don’t need to try them all – just pick four or five. Then think about how they might apply to your organization’s needs.  There are also many books, resources, courses and conferences with excellent information to guide your research.




Play to Learn - A Book by Karl Kapp and Sharon Boller available at


Want to learn more about gamification and learning systems? Read our post:  LMS Gamification: Are We Having Fun Yet?


For more gamification advice from Dr. Kapp, visit his website

Or buy his latest book at

Play to Learn: Everything You Need to Know About Designing Effective Learning Games (with Sharon Boller)



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About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is Founder, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.
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