Harnessing the Power of Games for Change

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screenshot of coursera homepage for gamification course

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been studying a free online course in Gamification, delivered by Associate Professor Kevin Werbach of the University of Pennsylvania.

Do not let the word ‘gamification’ bamboozle you! It’s just a word with lots of syllables to describe the use of game elements and design techniques in non-game contexts. ‘Game’ does not mean just video or electronic games, it is inclusive of any type of activity with a constraint, a set of rules and an objective.

Gamification can be used in a variety of ways (eg. in a company context, it has application for sales and marketing), but for change agents, understanding what makes games appealing and compelling, and how these same principles can be applied to motivate, encourage participation, and drive learning and behaviour change, is a potentially powerful tool.

How could you get people to return to your site again and again? Could they be rewarded for contributions they make to your initiative? How could they encourage others to become involved?

If these questions interest you with respect to your work, then learning more about gamification via this course is a worthwhile investment of your time.

This opportunity to study one of the first university-level courses on gamification is made possible by Coursera, a company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free, so that professors can potentially teach millions of people worldwide.

The course syllabus – which looks at the definition, design and psychological aspects, and application of games, and identifies the potential pitfalls and limitations of gamification – covers the following topics:

1.     What is Gamification?
2.     Games
3.     Game Thinking
4.     Game Elements
5.     Psychology and Motivation (I)
6.     Psychology and Motivation (II)
7.     Gamification Design Framework
8.     Design Choices
9.     Enterprise Gamification
10.   Social Good and Behavior Change
11.    Critiques and Risks
12.    Beyond the Basics


screenshot of Prof Werbach and slide on badges from video lecture

I recommend this course for both people who are completely new to the ideas of applying game design to social change, and for those who already have a bit of background – there is still a lot to learn here eg. just from the first four units:

  • how gamification is much more than PBL (points, badges and leaderboards)
  • the difference between game dynamics, mechanics and elements
  • the role of emotions in game design
  • striking the balance between skill and challenge in game design
  • the difference between games and play
  • that fun can be designed, and that there are different kinds of fun, including ‘hard’ fun – accomplishment, overcoming something vs ‘soft’ fun – blowing off steam; people fun – interacting with others, socialising, working as a team; serious fun – simulators, games with a purpose

The course runs over six weeks, with two units each week. Each unit consists of a series of video lectures (45-60 minutes divided into several videos, most under 10 minutes each).

Participants can opt to complete quizzes and short assignments in order to receive a certificate of completion, or they can just watch the videos to learn.

The first participants are already part-way through the course (27 August – 8 October), but you can enrol for the next round here.

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAPthe job’s a game!

Mary Poppins

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