Keynote Resources from #LUC2017

The Lectora 2017 Users Conference promises to be an exciting and engaging event. Here are the slides from my keynote (but no peaking until it’s over)

As indicated in the keynote, all of the topics were not covered but, they are all covered here. What we missed on the mission is provide in the information below (and in the slides above).

Here is the complete list of the information related to creating learner engagement.


As the game-based learning expert James Paul Gee has said, good games give players a set of challenging problems and let them solve those problems until they can do it automatically. Then those same games throw a new class of problem at the players requiring them to re-think, their now—taken for granted—mastery. They must learn something new and integrate into their old mastery.

Instruction must be the same way. In addition, content or learning tasks that are too easy or too difficult will not pique a learner’s interest because they lead to boredom or frustration. Research has shown that challenge is correlated with both intrinsic motivation and motivation related to the desire to seek competence and self confidence.

Strive for a state of flow. The following techniques can help move a learner toward the state of flow:

  • Achievable Task
  • Clear Goals
  • Control Over Actions (Autonomy)
  • Concentration

Start learning with a challenge: something that is difficult, that requires deep thinking, and that cannot be achieved by guessing. Pose a difficulty scenario. For example, open the e-learning module by telling the learner they are auditing a client and one day during lunch an employee working in the organization enters their office and accuses the vice president of embezzling. The learner is now challenged with figuring out what to do.


Good game designers know that games are engaging because they require action right away. Action draws in the player and encourages further engagement. Instruction needs to be the same. Too often instructional design is about the content and not about the actions that need to occur.

Make the learner do something. Here are a few ideas, make the learner:

  • Identify a procedure.
  • Make a meaningful decision
  • Answer a question.
  • Pick a team.
  • Confront a challenge.
  • Solve a mystery.
  • Do a hands-on activity

When designing learning, strive for action. Don’t start with a list of objectives; start with the learner making a decision, moving from point A to point B or selecting a plan of action. Involve the learner immediately in the learning process, and don’t have them read content for the first 10 screens. Action and interactivity engages learners


It is always a good idea to build curiosity and mystery into instruction. It draws in the learner and provides motivation. When playing a game, you don’t know the outcome in advance. Are you going to make it to the next level? Can you find all the hidden jewels? Can you solve the mystery? Or will you lose everything and have to start the level over?

In a learning module, the outcome is more certain. I’ll tab through these screens, encounter a multiple-choice question, get 85 percent correct on the quiz, and pass the course.

Predictable. Instead, add an element of chance into the learning process. Have the learner “bet” on the confidence of an answer or give him a 50/50 opportunity to get an easy or hard question. Uncertainty adds suspense, intrigue, and focuses the learner’s attention on the task at hand.

Curiosity is evoked by providing an optimal level of informational complexity and a novel and exciting game space. Mystery occurs when there is a gap between the known and unknown. Try to build cognitive curiosity by making learners believe their knowledge structures are inconsistent or incomplete.

The following techniques enhance mystery and curiosity:

  • Novelty
  • Complexity
  • Inconsistency
  • Surprise
  • Incomplete Information
  • Inability to Predict the future

A sense of suspense, mystery and intrigue draws people into games and can draw them into learning as well.


No risk, or danger equal no skin in the game. If possible, engage the learner emotionally. One way to to this is to put him or her at “mock” risk. game, a player could lose a life, be required to start over, or lose all the gold coins collected because of a wrong move. The player has something to risk when taking an action or making a decision. In contrast, most learning environments involve no risk—except dying from boredom. When people feel something is at risk, they pay closer attention, focus their energy, and are engaged with the task at hand.

Learning needs to be the same. Force a “question run” in which the learner must get five questions in a row right. If they miss one, they get five additional questions. If they get them all right, they are done. Can the learner be required to start over if he makes an incorrect decision? Can there be a limit on the number of attempts—the risk being more tasks to accomplish if not done efficiently? Be clever and think of ways that learners can be at risk. Could the learner get “fired” in the learning scenario? This is safe risk like the risk in a video game of losing a chance, missing out on a special trinket, or having to re-cover old ground. These are all ways that put a player at risk and can be incorporated into learning modules.

Here are some “mock” risk elements that can be placed into instruction:

  • Starting over
  • Social credibility
  • Not solving the problem
  • Losing (points, games, lives)
  • Recognition


In games, failing is allowed, it’s acceptable, and it’s part of the process. Games accommodate failure with multiple lives, second chances and alternative methods of success. Research indicates that our brains grow when we make a mistake because it is a time of struggle.

Our brains react with greater electrical activity when we make a mistake than when we are correct. Do you punish failure in your learning design or do you allow and encourage the freedom to fail? The risk of failure without punishment is engaging. Learners will explore and examine causes and effects if they know it’s OK to fail. In many cases, they will learn as much from seeing the consequences of their failure as they will from a correct answer

Create instruction that forces a learner who enters the wrong code in a piece of software to do the actual work to correct the error. Don’t simply provide feedback such as “No, that data doesn’t belong in that field.” Instead, show the consequence and illuminate the cause and effect. Don’t trap the learner into always being correct because that doesn’t happen in real life and it’s not engaging. Take the lesson from games and encourage learning from failure.


Why include a fantasy element in the design of learning games for adults. The use of fantasy can be a purposeful and meaningful design decision which can have a direct positive impact on learning. In fact, research indicates that fantasy provides cognitive emotional and motivational advantages for learning (Malone, 1981).

In terms of the cognitive benefits, the issues confronted and successfully resolved in the fantasy world provide the learners with natural constructive feedback in an uninhibited interaction. The learner is often more open to receiving feedback in a fantasy world because it is unfamiliar and they need feedback to understand the new environment. (Lepper, 1988)

With fantasy, feedback is conveyed in a safe environment with specific, but not catastrophic, consequences for failure. The fantasy of dealing with say a zombie means that failure and experimentation are allowed and encouraged. Humans learn from failure more than instant success. The fantasy environment allows for failure and re-engagement with the content again and again which leads to mastery.

We also know that if a simulation provides the same cognitive activities as the real-life situation, the skills are transferable to the actual in-the-field situation. In a game with Zombies teaching a sales model, the exact sales model that is used in the field can be used in the game. The different environment (zombie infested lab) actually helps with generalizing of the knowledge and creates, in the mind of the learner, a set of heuristics to deal with sales situation rather than creating a rigid set of algorithms that are difficult to generalize.

In terms of emotional impact, fantasy provokes vivid images related to the material being learned, thus improving the learner’s memory of the material. Emotionally, fantasy also helps to break down the defenses of a learner. When confronted with many sales situations, the learner may feel he or she is already well versed in their subject viewing the training process as a waste of time. Fantasy helps to break down that resistance because the environment is new, novel and different. The learner doesn’t know how to deal with zombies or the new environment; it makes them more open to exploring the learning environment and less defensive (Lepper, 1988; Malone, 1981).

For more on Fantasy see Game Element: Fantasy


When given control over their learning, research has shown that learners invested more and attempted more complex strategies than when they had no control. So give learners control.

Let them choose levels, where to enter the content, what questions they would like answered. Learners are motivated when they have autonomy, mastery and relatedness (social relevance). Also see Create Autonomy in Gamification and Other Learning Environments


A particularly powerful way to motivate individuals is to give actions and ideas meaning by framing them within an appropriate context. Explain why the learners are earning points, who they are trying to save, why they are searching for a treasure. Remember, engaging learners works best when it is done within a context—create a reason why learners should interact with the content you have created.

Researchers have found that the human brain has a natural affinity for narrative construction.And that, people tend to remember facts more accurately if they encounter them in a story rather than in a list. Also that people rate legal arguments as more convincing when built into narrative tales rather than on legal precedent.

It has also been found that when a person reads about certain activities in a story, the areas of the brain associated with those activities are activated.The research found that different brain regions track different aspects of a story. If the character moved, the corresponding region of the brain for physical movement became active.


Cramming is actually not a good learning technique. Instead, you want to spread out the learning. There are two powerful mechanisms that are better than cramming for helping facilitate learning : spaced retrieval and retrieval practice. Retrieval practice requires learners to recall information rather than simply re-read or re-listen to it.

A review of scientific literature reveals that the benefits of retrieval practice have been known for at least 100 years, and they have been demonstrated with many diverse groups. Retrieval practice alone can provide improved recall performance by as much as 10-20 percent. So, ask learners to recall content and act on that recall—answering questions about content is a great way to have retrieval practice.

Spaced retrieval involves providing learners with a quiz or course content spaced over time. It too is among the most robust findings in educational psychology research. It turns out that the greater the amount of spacing between retrieval events, the greater the potential benefit to retention (24 hours is optimal).

Spaced retrieval helps learners retain access to memorized information over long periods of time because the spacing promotes deeper processing of the learned material. It also avoids two inherent problems with mass practice (learning all the information at once); the problems of learner fatigue and the likelihood of interference with preceding and succeeding learning.

Learning Objectives:

This video by learning expert Will Thalheimer will answer any questions you have about learning objectives. Video on Learning Objectives

Funkadelic Soundwaves:

This is “not a thing”. But it is purposefully included in the presentation as a “clue” to ensure learners pay more attention to the other clues. By being a false clue, it helps focus learners on other glues and makes them think more about choosing the next clue.

When you are in the classroom or teaching online, you may want to find new and interesting ways to engage students. Here is a course titled How to Increase Learner Engagement which provides ten great ideas for breaking away from the lecture and working toward engaging students on a meaningful level.

If you are thinking about being more adventurous in your teaching, think about gamifying some of your instruction. Start small and then add more and more game elements. It’s effective from a learning perspective and really engages students. If you are not sure where to start, check out “The Gamification of Learning.” It will help you think through the gamification process and to create meaningful gamified instruction. Here is a sneak peak.

I’ve included the slides from the presentation and slide on using PollEverywhere and writing directly in PowerPoint in slideshow mode.


Here is an article on my process. It’s called Gamification via Segmented Polls.


Also, if you want a personal touch on learning about games and gamification, contact me for consulting or workshop needs. I run a couple of different workshops and have consulted with organizations around the world on the convergence of learning, technology games and gamification (although, I have to admit that 2017 is almost full already).


(Challenge) Jones, B., Valdez, G., Norakowski, J., & Rasmussen, C. (1994). Designing learning and technology for educational reform. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. [Online]. Available: and Schlechty, P. C. (1997). Inventing better schools: An action plan for educational reform. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Chapter 2 “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction.”

White, R.W. (1959) Motivation reconsidered: The concept of competence. Psychological Review, 66, 297-333.

(Action) Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics Scott Freemana,1, Sarah L. Eddya, Miles McDonougha, Michelle K. Smithb, Nnadozie Okoroafora, Hannah Jordta, and Mary Pat Wenderotha. PNAS Early Edition (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

(Mystery and Fantasy) Lepper, M. R. (1988). Motivational considerations in the study of instruction. Cognition and Instruction, 5(4), 289-309.

Malone, T.W., & Lepper, M.R. (1988). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. In R.E. Snow & M. J. Farr (Eds.), Aptitude, learning and instruction: Vol III. Cognitive and affective process analyses (pp. 229-253). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

(Failure) Moser, J. Schroder, H.S., Heeter, C., C., Moran, T.P., & Lee, Y.H. (2011) Mind your errors: Evidence for a neural mechanism linking growth mindset to adaptive post error adjustments. Psychological Science, 22, 1284-1489.

(Choices) Cordova, D.I., & Lepper M. R. (1996) Intrinsic motivation and the process of learning: Beneficial effects of contextualization, personalization and choice. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88, 715-730.

(Storytelling) Carey, B. (2007) this is Your Life (and How You Tell it). The New York Times. Melanie Green Chapter 2 “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction” by Karl M. Kapp.

Speer, N. K., Reynolds, J. R., Swallow, K. M., & Zacks, J. M. (2009). Reading Stories Activates Neural Representations of Visual and Motor Experiences.Psychological Science, 20(8), 989–999. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02397.

(Cramming)Larsen DP, Butler AC, Roediger HL. (2009) Repeated testing improves long-term retention relative to repeated study: a randomized controlled trial. Med Educ. 43: 1174–1181.

Dobson, J. L. (2013) Retrieval practice is an efficient method of enhancing the retention of anatomy and physiology information. Advances in Physiology Education. 37: 184–191, 2013; doi:10.1152/advan.00174.2012.

Carpenter SK, DeLosh EL. (2005) Application of the testing and spacing effects to name learning. Applied Cognitive Psychology. 19: 619–636, 2005. And Cull W. Untangling the benefits of multiple study opportunities and repeated testing for cued recall. Applied Cognitive Psychology. 14: 215–235, 2000. And Cull W, Shaughnessy JJ, Zechmeister EB. Expanding understanding of the expanding-pattern-of-retrieval mnemonic: toward confidence in applicability. Journal of Experimental Psychology Applied. 2: 365–378, 1996.

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