If you’re up to the challenge, Karl Kapp’s latest book offers best practices, design considerations, and pragmatic recommendations that will surely change the way you think about enhancing your learning initiatives through the use of games.  

From the outset, Kapp argues that learning professionals already know gamification. Whether academics, teachers, corporate trainers, or instructional designers, today’s learning experts successfully transform lackluster content into blockbuster learning experiences, and immerse learners in real-world environments with real-time feedback, giving them a sense of success and accomplishment. But we must strike a balance to ensure successful outcomes for our learners. It isn’t about awarding points to learners for logging onto an online course or about creating other artificial rewards and incentives. Rather, we should leverage the unique elements of games – curiosity, permission to fail, engagement with others – and present learning content through stories and contextual challenges, giving learners a sense of control and power to make decisions. The sense of accomplishment and mastery that comes from successful gamification efforts can lead to increased motivation, behavior change, and, ultimately, real learning.  

Kapp’s goal for the book was to bring together all that is known about games, learning, and instruction, and create a sort of one-stop shop. In The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, he achieves this goal and much more.

What’s in the book?

Kapp organizes the plethora of information about gamification and instruction into 14 chapters that expand and explain multiple themes. He begins by building a foundation of definitions, game elements, theories, and related concepts. From this foundation, he moves into a review of research and looks at the effectiveness of games and specific game elements used in learning. Next, and perhaps most helpful to the learning practitioner, Kapp presents a framework for effective game design and discusses the importance of considering learning domains and choosing the best design for given content. Readers will also appreciate the step-by-step design approach and project management tools included in Chapter 9. In the final section of the book, several guest contributors share their perspectives and case studies, and Kapp provides two examples of the gamification of learning in action.

The real value of The Gamification of Learning and Instruction comes from dozens of examples, tips, and descriptions of how to intersect learning and games successfully. Kapp often reinforces the point that careful planning and thoughtful design are critical to successful learning outcomes.

Who should read this book?

Simply put, anyone interested in creating effective learning through gamification or changing how people and organizations think about the concept of gamification should read this book.

Kapp has masterfully provided a foundation of terminology, definitions, and examples that will help those who are new to the concept of gamification and learning better understand the implications of good – and not-so-good – design. For those using the book as a primer, Kapp suggests reading the chapters in chronological order, pausing at the end of each to ensure absorption and understanding of the material. While certainly helpful in demonstrating Kapp’s arguments, the dozens of examples and illustrations should be carefully considered by the novice reader in terms of his/her organizational context and instructional reality.

Another suggestion is to use the book as a field manual of sorts, with teams reading and reviewing chapters as a group in a discussion-based format. This approach makes perfect sense, and will certainly lead to thought-provoking discussions, a deeper synthesis of the material, and, just maybe, an improved approach to using game-based methods for learning in your organization.

The final word

The title of the final chapter in the book says it best – “If you want to learn more, play games.” Games are ubiquitous in the world today. Crossing generations and spanning the globe, games are part of our lives as never before. Take the time to play games – instructional and non-instructional; as a learner and as a designer. Analyze the elements used and think about how you can apply those same elements in your designs. Talk to others about their experiences and reactions to playing games. Most of all, remember that the gamification of learning is not a case of “build it and they will come”; the most impactful learning comes from placing learners in the right environments, and with the proper context, to make decisions that change behavior and meet the desired outcomes.

Bibliographic information

Kapp, Karl. (May 1, 2012) The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-Based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education. San Francisco: Pfeiffer. ISBN: 978-1-118-09634-5. 336 pages.

Publisher’s List Price: $60.00

Amazon: $50.60 (Hardcover only; no Kindle edition)

Barnes and Noble: $52.74 (Hardcover only; no Nook edition)