No Learning Professional Ever Got Fired for Bullet Points but…They Should

Whenever I talk about game-thinking or gamification or even interactive learning someone always asks the question: “What if people don’t like games?” or they ask “What do we do when people say ‘I just want the information, just tell me what I need to learn–I’ll get it myself.”

I shake me head and feel sad…and frustrated…and ready to give up…

First of all, what I talk about with game-thinking and gamification is not really the use of games, it is the use of elements from games. Like challenge, action, continual feedback, story. So you could easily wrap all those items into an eLearning or instructor-led course and not call it a game (don’t even mention the word “game”). It’s simply interactive and engaging learning.

But there’s more.

I have bad news for lots of trainers, facilitators and eLearning designers…people don’t like lectures, discussions or role-plays. So we have a dilemma. In fact I’ve heard trainers tell tales of trainees (doctors even) reading newspapers during mandatory training sessions…of course now they can just check their Smartphones for an entire class. Oh, no they are listening…multi-tasking. (yeah, research says “no”)

And what really bothers me is sometimes Learning & Development “professionals” cave.

OK, read your newspaper and I’ll lecture. I don’t want to offend the rude learner. Or when a L&D professional says..oh, right some learners don’t like games or interactivity so…we just won’t do that–it’s easier that way.

But we KNOW from research that engagement leads to learning and lecturing is a huge waste of time in terms of recall, higher level thinking and actual application. Yet we tell, we lecture, we provide bulleted lists.

That’s a problem.

What if a client said to an architect…”I don’t like having load-bearing walls, let’s eliminate them.” Few architects would say..”well OK, I don’t think its the best but since you don’t like them, yeah we won’t have any.” Or a doctor say, “you’re right daily insulin shots are painful, just don’t do them. ” Or a client saying to a lawyer…”you know I don’t like that particular law, can we just ignore it (of course some criminals do that).” And the lawyer saying, “of course, I know you’ll be law abiding otherwise so it’s safe to ignore this one small law.”

Sometimes professionals are hard on us. They require us to do things we really don’t want to do. Because in the end either they know it will save our lives, provide a safer environment for ourselves or others or keep us from harm. In fact, most things worth doing are difficult, hard work and require effort.

So, if you design interactive instruction that is challenging, requires the learner to interact and forces them to think, you are doing a good thing and should NOT back off if you know you’ve developed instruction based on a sound instructional methodology. As a professional you have to require the learner to take the medicine. They might not like it but they won’t learn any other way in spite of what they tell you. Be a professional stand by your instruction and your methodology!!

Yes, learners want shortcuts but shortcuts don’t always exist. Learning is hard work, difficult and TAKES TIME. The research is in your corner, there is no “plugging into the Matrix” to instantly learn behaviors, habits or skills.There really is no app for that.

I know, I know…the alternative is so easy. A bulleted list of what to do and not to do. Easy, simple, safe. “Look I’ve done my job. The learners are not complaining too much and everyone is happy”…until the accident, the lost sale, the non-compliance, the cheating employee or the subpoena of emails and texts or the learner spending his or her free time “refreshing” the knowledge they should have learned in the class.

Oh, those things aren’t training related…it’s all a series of odd coincidences.

The bottom line?

No one every got fired for elearning or classroom instruction that consisted of bullet point slides followed by multiple choice questions…simple, non-confrontational, visible, easy to design…no one has to think, interact or get frustrated. The added bonus…of course they’ll remember and apply the bulleted knowledge–they said so themselves–they even promised.

I shake my head…sad…frustrated…but NO, not ready to give up.

Posted in: Learning at Work

Leave a Comment (6) ↓


  1. CR Geissler August 27, 2014

    Hi Karl,

    The point I take away from your post is that we need to expand the terms of the discussion about what a good learning experience can look like.

    A big part of the problem is that the prototypical ideal that most people have when hearing words like education, training, instruction, classroom … is the ‘lecture/bullet points/passivity, etc.’ paradigm that we all agree needs to change.
    Linguists explain that concepts represented by words often have a protypical meaning which is slow to change. It may be better to use different or more precise words to represent new concepts which our field is doing through terms like “blended learning”, “communities of practice”, “knowledge management”, etc. (with varying success).

    This I why I take issue with your statement “… what I talk about with game-thinking and gamification is not really the use of games …”

    For the average person the word “game” (and its trendy neologism “gamification”) brings to mind the mechanics of gaming — ‘match, competition, winner, contest’ … and not, as you explain “interactive and engaging learning.”

    For me what you are talking about is designing better learning experiences. Adding “game” just confuses the conversation.

    I am not saying that there aren’t ways of adding game mechanics to learning — and those may or may not be effective — which is a different conversation.

    It think your point that ‘no one gets fired for status quo training … but should’ is a great way to frame the issue and start the conversation.

    • Karl Kapp August 28, 2014

      CR Geissler thanks so much for your comment. We do need to expand our terms and think of something different than “training” or “learning” (we can’t learn anyone anything, they have to learn themselves) and while the terms “game” and “gamification” may tend to muddy the waters in terms of talking about engagement and interactivity, they do catch attention. I had been talking about interactive learning for years before gamification and the number one push back I got was “we don’t have time to do that” or “it’s too expensive” and so we just push out “page-turners” with nice bulleted lists. So I always tell my workshops that they should use the term “gamification” as a cover for doing what they already know they should be doing which is adding interactive elements to the instruction and making sure that learners are involved. Sometimes that gives them the cover to create more engaging instruction as does a think like Action Learning.

      Additionally, I think instructional design is too focused on content and not focused enough on action or actually “doing something” while games are more focused on having the person playing actually doing something. So, I completely understand and, in some ways agree, with your idea that we need another word or should not use games or gamification when we are really talking about interactivity, I think that games and gamification catch peoples attention and convey a message of interactivity to the point that it can make a difference. However, instructional designers, elearning developers and others need to be heads-up about not just slapping on points, competition, etc.

      But some of that is on their shoulders, if you are going to be a learning professional, part of your responsiblity is to know the right way to use the tools and not just pick up any old tool for any old job.

      Once again, great thought-provoking comment, I think we probably agree more than we disagree.

  2. Matt Meyer July 25, 2014

    Karl, this is a critical discussion right now. In higher ed, one particular hard truth about teaching and learning is that…faculty require zero professional development in teaching. It’s been this way forever and it’s been allowed to continue because the basic model of teaching in higher ed hasn’t changed in over 1000 years; sage on the stage, write on a page. But the multiple technological disruptions can no longer be ignored by institutions. For instance, MOOCs are basically saying: “how is a MOOC NOT better than a 700 person lecture hall?” Blended learning models are the hot topic but the rub is that some instructors originally see this as making their life easier. But it shouldn’t. They should now apply hard thinking to in-class activities (hello, game thinking) once they’ve developed digital content materials for consumption pre-class.

    The time is dawning on us to enlighten. Now is not the time to give up! It’s time to step it up! 🙂

    • Karl Kapp July 28, 2014


      Agreed, it boggled my mind when I first learned that college/univerisity faculty did not need to have teaching degrees. What? Just because you know something doesn’t mean you can teach!!

      However, the times are changing and faculty need to change as well. Although, most excellent faculty have been using interactive and engaging techniques in the classroom all along. Really good and effective faculty are fine. The mediocre faculty are in trouble. Game-thinking really

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Tana Lyman July 23, 2014

    Well said. Often what learners WANT is not what they NEED. And they may just think they don’t like something … when they experience it they may like it more than they thought they would 😉

    • Karl Kapp July 25, 2014

      @Tana so true. We don’t always know what is good for us or what we should do. That’s were learning professionals can truly be “professional.”

Karl Kapp
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