Gamify the online Lecture

Prof. Werbach’s Gamification course on Coursera launched on Monday, and although it coincidentally was April fool’s day, the course is nowhere near fooling around.

I decided to take the course following the Signature track although learning can be verified in so many other ways!

Kevin Werbach opened the course with a series of short video lectures and while he introduced the structure of the course he also presented us with a challenge:

“…if you’re curious about what the things are on the bookcases behind me. Well, you’ll just have to watch the rest of the videos to find out.”

… and I did… not that I needed the challenge to continue watching the videos, but I like puzzles and so I took up the challenge.

Spot the difference!

Spot the difference!

I found this challenge rather ingenious, and my mind instantly started thinking why the instructor used this element in his teaching and what the purpose of it is.

The course is about Gamification, meaning:

“the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users and solve problems.” (Zichermann G., Cunningham, C. 2011).

So here are some thoughts:

Why this challenge:

Engage the audience: The course is delivered entirely online on the Coursera platform and intended for a massive audience. The instructor sits in front of his bookcase, records a lecture and the audience, us, need to somehow engage with a talking head, some timezones away and ultimately learn. Kevin uses a game element, in this case “spot the difference”, to catch our attention and

Trigger a response: Is he talking alone or to a real audience? Is this audience an active recipient or does it passively sit on the other end of the cybersphere watching, eating and every so often glancing at the screen. This generates an even more important issue widely discussed in the education discourse;

Get to know the learners and their needs: (Ramsden 2003) Are the distant learners observant, do they gather the skill-set involved in gamification? Are they up to the challenge? If not how are they going to appreciate game-mechanics in a non gaming context and therefore how may this presupposition affect the learning process?

From the learner’s point of view…

I understand that the instructor not only loves his subject but also the act of teaching. It is evident that his lessons are “products” of a design and hence become artefacts (Laurillard 2012).

He cares about his audience: Lecturing is boring not to mention listening to a talking head. On the other end of the MOOC model, a great percentage of the participants tend to be highly educated*. So, how do you make the lecture interesting for a highly-competent professional audience?

It’s Just a Game?

Kevin Werbach’s “spot the difference” challenge poses an excellent example of gamification in the e-teaching context. If Kevin wanted to initiate some thinking about gamification in our own context, he definitely succeeded.

So, what’s the prize?

The learning and lateral thinking of course, although I wouldn’t mind a badge 🙂


Laurillard, D. (2012). Teaching as a design science: Building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology. New York, NY: Routledge.

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to teach in higher education. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Zichermann, G., & Cunningham, C. (2011). Gamification by design: Implementing game mechanics in web and mobile apps. Sebastopol, Calif: O’Reilly Media.


Kevin Werbach (@kwerb) is Associate Professor of Legal Studies & Business Ethics at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and our lecturer in the Gamification course.

* See the case of the EDC MOOC at

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