3 min read

Learning Gamification by attending a MOOC

I remember when @Ravi_Mohan kept talking about MOOCs and how excited he is by it, I didn’t pay attention to it at the time. A few weeks ago, I watched Daphne Koller’s TED talk and was blown away. I ended up signing up for one of the courses and have been enjoying the course since a week. 4 more weeks of class to go :)

MOOCs stand for “Massively Open Online Courses”. The idea of online educational videos is not new – Academic Earth, Khan Academy, etc. have been around for some time. What is new is online full-length courses taught by the best professors who teach the same courses at the best institutions + actual course schedule (it has a start date and an end date) + actual grading on quizzes and homeworks. This translates to any university course brought online with many more benefits – the videos can be watched any time anywhere, you can pause, replay and rewind the professor’s talk any number of times (I do that more often than I thought I would!), you can interact with other students all over the world in the forums. Phew!

When I was browsing through the list of courses (Coursera has the most courses), I saw a course on gamification. Since it was a business course, something I was curious about and something non-heavy, I decided to take up that course instead of any heavy technical course – out of fear that I might not enjoy a full-length course after having last studied 7 years ago. Watching an hour-long video is one thing, watching a continuous topic for six weeks is something else!

The course I signed up for is on the topic of gamification. The statistics on the students who have signed up for that one course is astounding : in a survey sent to the students, 71,000 students participated which revealed they’re from 147+ countries. Out of 40% who responded to the survey, 9000+ from USA, 1700+ from Brazil, 1700+ from India, 1000+ from Canada. That’s right, 1700+ from India.

The course is taught by Prof. Kevin Werbach (he has his own Wikipedia page) who teaches at the Wharton school, which is supposed to be one of the the best B-schools anywhere. Another plus.

Gamification is defined as “the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts.” If you’ve ever been encouraged to get more followers on twitter by constantly watching the follower count – then you’ve experienced what gamification can feel like. Similarly, if you’ve participated in Stack Overflow and noticed the badges, the points and the avatars, then you’ve seen gamification at work. Gamification as a concept is new, and only commonly known since 2010.

Gamification, obviously, is inspired from games. The most surprising things I’ve learned in this course is how pervasive games are. I grew up playing Atari and video games such as Mario and I played a little “Quake 2” and “Unreal Tournament” when I was at Yahoo! but have not played games since then. Did you know that “the game industry is $66 billion worldwide (DFC 2011), that’s double the Hollywood box office revenues”? I didn’t know that until I took this course.

On top of that, “online games are expected to surpass retail games (playstation, xbox, nintendo wii, PC) in 2013”. This is astounding considering that  “XBox Live currently has 35,000,000 monthly uniques and 1,20,000,000,000 (120,000 million) minutes time spent per month.”

That’s just online – what about mobile?40% of US/UK adults have played a mobile game in the last month” (PopCap/Information Solutions).

If you consider the ever-increasing use of loyalty programs, social graph connections with businesses, frequent flyer program tiers, gold/platinum credit cards, etc. gamification is all around us and we may not even realize it. Heck, even if you use the Pomodoro technique like I do, you have experienced gamification.

Prof. Werbach does a fantastic job of explaining things and getting the student excited. I already finished the quizzes and written assignment for week 2 ahead of schedule because I finished the videos early because I couldn’t stop listening to him. (I hope I maintain the pace for the rest of the weeks and balance work and this course.)

In contrast, I also had signed up for the Statistics One course on Coursera – the first ten minutes of the first lecture was so undecipherable that I quickly un-enrolled.

In summary, lessons learned: (1) Always listen to Ravi Mohan and (2) MOOCs are a fantastic way forward. Anyone anywhere can learn the best courses. Think about that.

Update on 20 Sep, 2012 : Also see this great short article in Forbes magazine by the founders of Coursera talking about the issue of access to education, not only about better education.