Kevin Werbach’s Thoughts on Teaching Gamification and it’s Future Role

Kevin Werbach’s Thoughts on Teaching Gamification and it’s Future Role


The Coursera Gamification course has officially ended its first semester with a total of 8,620 people passing the course to receive a certificate of recognition! In an email addressed to all the students in the course, professor Werbach stated: “This is an unusually high number for a course of this type…” Indeed, given that this has been the largest gamification class to have been available to the public. Much of this is due to the hard work and dedication of Kevin Werbach and his faculty staff who created the gamification curriculum and are actually teaching it at official Wharton classes.

I greatly respect Werbach’s approach to teaching gamification and his dedication to actually playing games to see their inherent values for gamification. In an attempt to learn more about his perspective, I got the chance to speak with Professor Werbach during the semester to get his thoughts on gamification’s place in our students’ education:


Q: What is the value of teaching gamification to students and who should be learning it?

In fall of 2011, we taught the very first university level business schoolcourse focused on gamification. This fall we have updated 2012 classes for MBA students and even one for undergrads. Learning gamification is applicable to all different populations and within the business school and is a very valuable subject. Gamification touches on most of the substantive areas we teach our students: management, marketing, strategy, operations, law, and ethics. Gamification is still an emerging business practice and will become a reognized toolkit for business managers just as how social media was initially dismissed. Teaching gamification will prepare our students by giving them the skills they need for the future.


Q:Does gamification mean something differently to the younger generation than to those who are currently designing for them? Either in terms of utility or perception?

I resist the idea of designing for “Generation Y” or younger generations because that would be oversimplified. I’m 42 and didn’t have a PC until high school andI didn’t even have a cellphone until graduate school. In my generation, these things are familiar to us but in different ways. All gamification systems are taken for granted because they nearly exist in everything but there is still a generational difference in terms of exposure. Most of “Generation Y” is very tech savvy but that doesn’t reflect their skill in using or understanding these systems. As a professor, I want to understand what I’m telling the students too. I could only teach if I myself were used to these technologies. Teachers are a part of the learning exploration! I know a great deal but there is much more to learn and what I teach is not effective for everyone, especially with something new and exciting like gamification. We need to restrain ourselves and not oversell it! There is a danger of people saying its the perfect solution when it isn’t.


Q: Other than your materials on coursera, what is the most effective way to teach Gamification to a novice?

First off, what is a novice? One of the things in this area is that people often don’t realize is how much they already know. Some gamers are far less self-aware than others are because they don’t realize playing Angry Birds makes you a gamer. A tip to teach those who feel like they are a novice, is to show them what the roots of this gamification are and that some of them do come from games, economics, psychology, and business strategy. I find that newcomers are actually very comfortable with the concept once you’ve explained it to them. I also always start with the definition, because people often think its about game design or game theory. Giving an example and a definition tends to situate people well.


Q: What have you learned about teaching gamification since your first course in 2011?

I have learned that the gamification world has evolved a lot further since then. There is so much more expertise in gamification this year due to all the new case studies and GSummits! The first class’ main challenge was synthesizing all the material in a way that could actually be taught by altering the course according to reactions from the syllabus and lectures. The basic approach we took with the first class was to teach it as a “design class”, containing materials from traditional business materials, marketing, and economics. I found that providing familiarity around the design practice and engaging student thinking through a structured way was super effective.


Q: Where do you see gamification in the future? Will it eventually become a part of good design as many experts say?

I can’t say with certainty. Some aspects of gamification will find their way into the business toolkit. There are certain unique aspects that just can’t be consumed as existing names. While we’ve only just scratched the surface of the areas of application, and next great hurdle is seeing more case studies and robust research data to empirically understand what the right situations and techniques are for gamification. It will take a few years for gamification to be fully accepted as an business practice but It will grow. The interesting question for me is learning what happens as these mechanisms become increasingly prevalent? Does it cause fatigue over time? It may not be great when that happens. In the future, it will be important to understand how gamification deals with success and how gamification can overcome failure.


Q: And finally, what games do you play?

World of Warcraft (WoW) is the only game I’ve really played at a high level of intensity. I’ve played around with Portal 2 and Diablo 3 and some other mobile/casual games. I find that the more gamification I study, the more games I play, in order to get experience and analyze them. I haven’t encountered anything that compares to WoW. The social interactions and depth of the activity in the Wikis and mods around the game was endlessly fascinating. People loved this game! And in the course, when I introduced Plants vs Zombies as a casual game, students seemed to have gotten hooked to that game and forgot to do the actual assignment.


Got some more questions of your own to ask Kevin? Ask him yourself! Catch Kevin Werbach on Gabe Zichermann’s Gamification Revolution next week on October 29 at 1PM EDT.


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  1. Gabe – txs for sharing and propagating this. As a participant in the course I can confirm that Prof. Werbach is the real deal, and leading the field on the education front. The industry has a long way to go, but it’s all upside as far as the eye can see.