Coursera - Gamification by Kevin Werbach

Melissa Gena

A Bachelor's of Business Administration (SCL) graduate from Golden Gate University and an MA from Gonzaga University she is an avid learner, almost always taking one course or another (especially with the advent of Coursera and Udacity) and studying technology, leadership, and innovation through the words of a variety of authors both online and in print. Since 2002, She has co-founded and sold a web hosting company, and has worked primarily for small technology start-ups. She also has a blog on which she writes about a variety of things.

For the past few months, I have been happily experimenting with (and occasionally writing about) Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). I was thrilled to recently receive a message on my blog from Soumabha, inviting me to write a guest post about my experiences!

The first course I signed up for was Gamification, taught by Kevin Werbach, of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. This course was particularly interesting to me because it addresses my loves of both technology and psychology – in particular, motivation. We see examples of gamification popping up all over the Internet these days, but as I learned in Professor Werbach’s course, many of them are ineffective. Before I get into the course details, though, I’ll share my thoughts on some of the other elements that I have found to make my experience with MOOCs better or worse.

Professor Werbach is very comfortable in front of the camera, and having started two courses with instructors who were not comfortable, this is a more important trait than you might think. It can be tough to listen to a boring speaker in person, but, trust me – it’s harder to listen to a boring speaker on your PC because you are only a click away from something more interesting and there’s no one there to stop you from wandering off.

Werbach is also very much at ease with the content and he designed variety into the visual elements of the lectures by moving different objects around on the bookshelves behind him so the backdrop of the video was different for each lecture. In keeping with the concept of fun in gamification, he even encoded a message that students could compete to decipher based on analysing how he changed the contents of his shelves over time.

The working definition of gamification used in the course is “applying game-like techniques to non-game scenarios,” and this is a key point for students to understand early on. Gamification and gaming are not the same thing, and a gamified system is not an actual game. The first week of the course covered these basics and provided many examples of both games and gamification to help students understand the difference. Below is a list of the topics covered in the 6-week course (two main topics were covered each week):
  • What is Gamification?
  • Games
  • Game Thinking
  • Game Elements
  • Psychology and Motivation (I)
  • Psychology and Motivation (II)
  • Gamification Design Framework
  • Design Choices
  • Enterprise Gamification
  • Social Good and Behavior Change
  • Critiques and Risks
  • Beyond the Basics

When I began the course, I was interested in the content of each lecture from the start, but I felt the rigour of the quizzes was lacking. I’m comfortable with self-paced learning and I understand that my ability to absorb information is generally only limited by my own efforts, though, so I continued with the course anyway. The quizzes themselves did get a bit more tricky over time, and I really appreciated that when I got an answer wrong, a succinct explanation was provided that helped me pinpoint where I misunderstood a concept.

The content itself only got better with time, too. Professor Werbach covered a lot of material in six weeks, and drove home the idea that gamification is really all about engagement and motivation. He did this by spending a fair amount of time discussing the psychology of motivation which helped ground the game techniques we were learning about in a meaningful context.

Finally, the real “practice” benefit of the course was in the written assignments, not in the quizzes. Each of the written assignments asked us to apply the gamification concepts we had learned to scenarios that we could encounter in real life. For instance, one problem asked us to design a gamified system that could be used by an employer that wanted to motivate employees to be more healthy in order to reduce overall healthcare costs borne by the employer.

As do many MOOCs, the Gamification course relied on peer-grading for our written assignments. Professor Werbach provided clear grading rubrics, and I found I received more detailed feedback from other students in this course than I have in any other I’ve taken.

In addition to the benefit of designing and analyzing gamified systems throughout the course, Professor Werbach delivers a very usable and practical framework that you will take away and be able to apply methodically to future problems that might benefit from gamification. I would highly recommend this course to anyone that is curious about gamification or is looking for ways to incent and motivate people, particularly users of web or mobile applications. 

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  1. Thanks for sharing such a nice blog post with us...The information is up to the mark..


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