Karl Kapp is a leading authority in the convergence of learning and technology. The professor, author, and consultant will explore exciting strategies for learner engagement in his keynote address at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Distance Teaching & Learning Conference on August 9-11, 2016.

Kapp is an instructional technology professor at Bloomsburg University, as well as the assistant director at Institute for Interactive Technologies. The institute is at the forefront of e-learning, focusing on the use of technology for workplace educational needs.

As an author, Kapp explores the potential of game-based approaches to instruction. His books include The Gamification of Learning and Instruction and Gadgets, Games, and Gizmos for Learning.

The Distance Teaching & Learning Conference has helped educators stay on top of emerging technologies for more than 30 years. It attracts college faculty, instructional designers, K-12 teachers, corporate and military trainers, and vendors of new technologies and services, who network with colleagues and learn evidence-based strategies from experts in the field. The 2016 conference will be held at Monona Terrace, the architectural gem designed by Frank Lloyd Wright on a picturesque lake.

Kapp says the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference 'attracts bright, energetic, and forward-thinking leaders in the field of distance learning.'

Kapp says the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference ‘attracts bright, energetic, and forward-thinking leaders in the field of distance learning.’

“The conference attracts bright, energetic, and forward-thinking leaders in the field of distance learning,” Kapp says. “The chance to interact with that group of people is extremely exciting: to hear ideas, share ideas, and converse about making a better future for our students.”

Kapp will address instructional methods and technologies that promote interactivity, providing what he calls “ah-hah!” moments for participants. In the following interview he touches on provocative themes from his keynote speech, “The Quest for Learner Engagement.”

Kapp: 'Through careful and clever application of evidence-based design techniques, you can create engaging instruction.'

Kapp: ‘Through careful and clever application of evidence-based design techniques, you can create engaging instruction.’

What impact would you like your speech to have on the distance education community?

My primary emphasis is that through careful and clever application of evidence-based design techniques (based on game design concepts), you can create engaging instruction. Professors, instructors, and others who design and deliver online instruction are in a unique position to facilitate learning by encouraging interactivity, reflection, and social participation in the learning process, even across geographic boundaries. This means more people can be engaged in the educational process and reach their potential because of the work we do. I want to emphasize the importance of engaging learners using elements of story, character, and feedback. And I hope the attendees have some “ah-hah!” moments as well as some fun.

I’d like the ideas and techniques to resonate so much that the attendees use them to create distance educational experiences for their own students. There are a number of messages in my keynote that are immediately actionable in the design and delivery of distance education. The talk provides very concrete design ideas that can be incorporated into learning in almost any discipline, such as beginning lessons with a challenge rather than predictable and boring learning objectives or creating a “curve of interest” for a virtual classroom session.

Ultimately my goal is to raise the level of interactivity across the entire educational spectrum. We need to do better for our students by thinking like game designers and molding our online learning environments so they are fun and instructive.

How effectively is higher education engaging students via online instruction?

Mixed results. In some areas we have online interactive business simulations where students are actively allocating resources, making purchase vs. build decisions, and learning about the rule of supply and demand at a visceral level. The students are engaging and learning at a deep level. In other areas, we are condemning students to “Death by PowerPoint” and asking them to regurgitate knowledge at the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

The Distance Teaching & Learning Conference has helped educators stay on top of emerging technologies for more than 30 years.

The Distance Teaching & Learning Conference has helped educators stay on top of emerging technologies for more than 30 years.

The sky is the limit in terms of the potential for delivering highly engaging, personalized instruction at a distance. However, the reality hasn’t caught up to the potential. The good news is, as cyberpunk novelist William Gibson once said, “The future is already here, it’s just not very evenly distributed.” So we have tremendous opportunities to leverage the best practices and to transform boring, PowerPoint-focused, lecture-centric online instruction into engaging, dynamic learning experiences.

 What are the big changes higher education will need to make in order to best serve today’s students?

The increased emphasis on innovation will help our universities. The conversation about change and new ideas is refreshing. We need to keep in mind that through failure and experimentation, great ideas are launched.

We also need to stop running away from liberal arts toward career training. Steve Jobs and plenty of other folks who have “dented the universe” are products of a liberal arts education: the idea that we learn from and build upon the past; that we are open to hearing other ideas and combining disciplines to create new ideas. The melding of art and technology is a natural byproduct of a liberal arts education. We need to stick to the liberal arts to broaden the minds of our students and ultimately our citizenry.

Attendees will have 'ah-hah!' moments as Kapp explores instructional methods and technologies that promote interactivity.

Attendees will have ‘ah-hah!’ moments as Kapp explores instructional methods and technologies that promote interactivity.

Institutions need to think about what makes them unique. When a student can take a course from MIT or the greatest professor in a specific subject area, why do we need traditional universities? We need those universities to provide the context, the social structure, and the mentorship that don’t come from a self-paced course or a series of courses cobbled together. Universities can play an important role in forging learning communities and mentorship opportunities when they view the changing landscape as an opportunity for restructuring and change rather than a threat.

From your vantage point at the Institute for Interactive Technologies, what have been some of the most valuable innovations in educational technology and online learning?

While we’ve had great technological innovations in learning over the past few decades, like 3D virtual worlds, holograms, and virtual reality, the newest technologies highlight the never-ending need for excellent instructional design. We must educate as many professors, administrators, and staff members as possible about the need for good design. Without it, any learning that occurs is purely accidental.

A relatively new educational innovation I’m excited about is adaptive learning: the ability of a system to adapt to learner needs, to anticipate learner questions, and to link content and place it into the right context for the learner. It will be decades before it’s finally here, but the advances in this area are exciting to see.

Not quite as new is the focus on videogames for learning. With new technology and trusted old design techniques, we can start to create truly engaging and instructional videogames that personalize learning in ways that were hard to do only a few years ago. I think advances in that area will be valuable for years to come.