Game On! Learning About Gamification on a MOOC

Some time ago I attended a Personal Learning Conference in Melbourne that was conducted jointly through Deakin University and the University of Aveiro Portugal.  I was the “odd man out” being the only one from corporate attending a conference in a sea of academics -  but I didn’t mind.  In fact, that conference turned out to be one the most enlightening experiences of my professional and self development in learning.

During the conference, I listened to guest speaker Dr Alec Couros (@courosa) give his headline presentation and it was the first time, I had heard of the term MOOC.  I pulled my laptop close to me, turned it away from my academic neighbours at the table and quietly tapped “MOOC” into Google for fear of being laughed at with my ignorance of the term.  As I read about MOOCs I realised what the fuss was about.  Here was a room full of academics who were anxious about what these meant for them and academic education in the future.

Meanwhile, as I scrolled down the page and read more, I started becoming a bit hot under the collar and beads of sweat formed on my forehead.  If I was in a room of academics worried about opening up education to a global scale and having thousands of learners across all continents providing this education for FREE – then what did this mean for the multitude of e-learning content developers, e-learning vendors, rapid authorware industry and indeed, our own internal learning and development teams?  All of a sudden, the room seemed to close in on me and I remember thinking, “well, if this is happening in academia – it’s only a matter of time when business education is opened up to the whole world – for free!”

Thoughts rushed through my head.  What’s not to stop putting those generic business, leadership, communications, sales courses that companies buy off-the-shelf, or through customised e-Learning solutions developed by external vendors or even their own internal learning and development teams and making it available for free? Then another question followed soon after, “what does this mean for me and my work?”

Think about it.  Currently, in the company I work for, one of the business teams highlighted the need for some customer service training. When I explored the need further, the gap was really  ‘Telephone Techniques” because staff will now be required to speak to customers over the phone when they never used to.  There are hundreds of ‘Telephone Technique’ courses on the internet (and just as many vendors trying to flog you this product). However, I decided to look internally first. There had to be someone in our organisation who had this course content already available.  There sure was.  Within the business that I’m in, no less than 4 different versions of Telephone Techniques workshop content was found – “curated” (slides, participant guides, facilitator guides) and that was within my OWN department.  Let’s not go with how many there would be across the organisation! My mind boggled with the waste, duplication and repetition (not to say that it was clogging my inbox of emails of people finding “stuff” on their hard drives over the years related to the topic that “may be useful”).

Now I got to thinking.  There’s only a certain number of ways to answer a telephone.  If this course was available online and for FREE – what’s not to stop me from creating a program that blends both this online course plus some structured on-the-job training, role plays or checklists that will allow the learner to perform and learn this skill on the job?   What is the sense to pay thousands of dollars to create an online course (off-the-shelf or even customised) for telephone techniques?   Surely the generic training can be learned for free but the application, the customisation to suit business requirements can be learned on the job?  (eLearning vendors are going to hate me).

So then I started to panic slightly as I saw potential career opportunities for the future shut off in front of me.  But I needn’t have worried.  If anything, the PLE Conference made me curious about MOOCs and from then on, I explored and made it a personal goal to register for a course and try a MOOC for myself.

Through Twitter, you may have seen the active promotion of Coursera courses.  In particularly, the Gamification course by Kevin Werbach was getting big attention.  The messages were being promoted on Social Networks through Twitter and Yammer – it was hard to ignore but this was my sign to enrol into the course.

Why Gamification?  Well, in all honesty, it wasn’t the topic per se that got me interested. It was the method of deployment through the MOOC.  It was also the idea that I could complete a course with learners all around the world through the University of Pennsylvania for free.  I posted my intent on Facebook and my friends in my field and also those studying in universities or PhD’s came back with comments such, “why would you want to do a course like this?”  “It takes away from going to an actual university campus – you miss out on this experience” and “it cheapens our academic education.” Interesting comments that only made me more curious (which then started a debate about how education must be free but that’s a topic for another day).

I also didn’t have any illusions that it would require my motivation and dedication to complete the course and that I would be expected to do homework – but I really registered simply to look at how this MOOC operated.

In all honesty, I also thought that gamification was ‘gamifying’ content – creating games to make it all fun.  After I finished watching Kevin’s videos for week one,  I quickly learned that my concept and understanding of gamification was wrong. I was pleasantly surprised that I will actually learn something new, break off some misconceptions I had about the topic and possibly apply the concepts to my work!

The 6 week course is split into 12 units and we receive 2 units per week.  The units are made up of a suite of various videos with Kevin talking and presenting theory of gamification and slides of content.  Sprinkled throughout he provides examples, case studies and links to various references.   What I particularly like is that he keeps us interested by referring to his bookshelf behind him.  I’m not going to let out any secrets about this, but he plays a little game with us to maintain the interest and in turn, it keeps us riveted to the screen.

So what does the syllabus look like?  It’s as follows:

  • What is Gamification
  • Games
  • Game Thinking
  • Game Elements
  • Psychology and Motivation (1)
  • Psychology and Motivation (2)
  • Gamification Design Framework
  • Design Choices
  • Enterprise Gamification
  • Social Good and Behaviour Change
  • Critiques and Risks
  • Beyond the Basics

63000 students signed on to do the course and already the #gamification12 hashtag on twitter started going ballistic with all the students talking about their experiences.  I wonder how many will actually finish? Will the numbers of students finish still be more than students who have attended the course in person, on campus? (I believe so).

As I watched the twitter stream fill my screen, I noticed that the Dutch and Spanish tweets starting to come through and immediately realised the global potential of this new course. This is what the academics at PLE Conference were saying about opening up their education courses to the world!

Sometimes we get too wrapped up in our own language – for me, it’s English (although I also follow the Greek tweets too) but all of a sudden, this course had a life of its own, in other countries and languages and little communities of learners were connecting in their own language.  I found the concept brilliant because it shows to me that regardless of race, colour, creed or language, we all have our interests and we create our communities around these – and it doesn’t matter where we come from.

Initially, I enrolled into the gamification course with trepidation as I thought it would be a coding course; one where I would have to design a full game and frankly, I don’t have these skills. I’m not a coder; a multi media web developer; a technie – although I respect people who have these critical skills.  However, Kevin explained that this course was not about that at all and I breathed a sigh of relief.

The goals of the course is to explain what is gamification, how is it valuable, how to do it effectively and the specific applications.  I particularly liked that reference was made of how it helps with social good as this is another area I’m passionate about.

When the learner enters the site, it’s a “clean looking site” with the menu on the left.  (I would have provided screen captures but I don’t want to impede on any copyright issues if there are any.  But hey, the course is free so what’s stopping you enrolling anyway?) The menu includes the syllabus, the video lectures, homework quizzes, assignments,  discussion forum, course policies and a Meeting Hangout (which I assume is like a Google hangout).  There is also a fantastic Gamification Wiki that has abundant resources.  The only issue I found using the wiki from within the Coursera site is that it takes you out to another site where you have to put in your username and password again, which means you can’t go back to your course.  Of course, I haven’t experimented properly with this function so I could be wrong.  If anything, I’ll just make sure the wiki is open in another window.

Surprisingly, in the first week of the Gamification Course, I did learn something.

I originally had the intention of doing this course purely with my learning and development hat on, to scrutinise how it was going to be presented, to look at how it was structured and to consider how I can apply the same to a corporate sense, I started listening, digesting, reflecting on Kevin’s content about gamification itself and how I can apply these ‘game elements and game design techniques in a non-game contexts’ to inspire a behaviour change.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the course and decided to blog about it as a way of motivating myself to apply the concepts and be held to account to finish it.  I’ll see how I go.

For more information about this course or others, refer to:  https://www.coursera.org/

For the Twitter Stream, use #gamification12

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Activate Learning Solutions is a learning consultancy that works with you to design, develop and implement learning solutions that meet your business needs and objectives. How do we do this? We take your ideas and put them into action – from the concept to reality - we activate learning so that it translates to business performance.
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