MOOCs for Organisational Learning – Conversation with Kevin Werbach – Wharton School

Kevin Werbach Learning Cafe MOOCs
MOOCs for Organisational Learning – Conversation with Kevin Werbach – Wharton School

I recently participated in a MOOC (Massively Open Online Course) on Gamification along with 66,000 fellow learners run by Kevin Werbach. Associate Professor, The Wharton School. I thoroughly enjoyed the MOOC and learnt a lot from it. We decided to speak to Kevin about his views about MOOCs.

Kevin is a leading expert on the legal, business, and public policy aspects of the Network Age. Kevin is a leader in the emerging field of gamification, and was named Wharton’s first Iron Prof for his presentation, “All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in World of Warcraft.” The co-organizer of the first-ever business school gamification course, Werbach is also the co-author (with Dan Hunter) of For the Win, a guide to gamification as a business practice. He blogs at and tweets at @kwerb. He was a member of the Obama Administration’s Presidential Transition Team, and served as an expert advisor to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Jeevan:  What was involved in the design of the MOOC on Gamification? How long did it take for you to prepare for it and how much help did you require?

Kevin:  I knew that doing a MOOC would involve a lot of work. It turned out to be more. In my case, I wasn’t taking an established class and converting it to a MOOC.  I had taught experimental material so some of the time involved was learning about how to put together an effective MOOC and some of it was developing a new kind of course from scratch. I estimate it took me 200 – 300 hours.

Jeevan:  Kevin, you have run the Gamification MOOC twice. Do you anticipate a lot changes for the next time you run the Gamification MOOC or is most of your work been completed?

Kevin:  I’m torn! On the one hand, one of the benefits of the MOOC model for the instructor is that there’s a large amount of work upfront before the course launches, but then it is relatively easy to amortize that effort across multiple running of course. There definitely is work required during the course to ensure that learners don’t feel they are listening to recorded resources but are being supported during the MOOC.  Once the basic structure and materials are developed, it is easy to take the course and run it again with much less effort than the previous time.

I ran my MOOC for the first time starting in August 2012, I ran the same course with some minor updates and corrections for the second time starting April 2013, I’ll probably run it again either in early 2013 or January 2014.

The reason that I am torn about it is that this was an initial first effort, experimenting with a new way of teaching on a new platform. I am incredibly gratified by how successful my course was but I am confident that I could be improved. So while I don’t have to rebuild anything from scratch I am thinking about new ways that I could experiment or enhance the course.

Many people fail to appreciate that MOOC are fundamentally about creating room for experimentation and there’s no one way to do MOOC. The end result of MOOC depends on what the instructor is trying to do. For example if I wanted to develop a MOOC whose primarily concern was a higher percentage of people passing the course, I would design a certain way than if I was primarily concerned with the learners applying the knowledge to the real world. This means that I have to make choices in terms of what I want to do and going forward.

Jeevan:  Let us move on to the business model for MOOCs. Has the model worked for you in terms of the rewards you got? What are your views on the long term sustainability of the MOOCs business model?

 Kevin:  The first thing to say about the business model for MOOC is that we have no idea. This is a new phenomenon, the large scale commercial MOOCs is still not much more than a year old and developing extremely fast. Whatever the economic arrangement are today doesn’t tell us very much about what the equilibrium state it’s likely to be.

The second point is that is wrong to think of a business model for MOOCs. There is room for many different business models, just as there is room for many different business models in education and learning. You can in United States go to college and pay $0 dollars or tens of thousands a dollars or you can get access to that content in very different ways. So it’s wrong to think that there is just one business model.

Furthermore, the business model for MOOC needs to be broken down into the question of business model for whom? So there’s one question about the business model for a stand-alone MOOC provider like Coursera or Udacity. And another question about the business model of the MOOCs for the faculty and instructors involved. As a faculty member, I see MOOCs of the tremendous opportunity even if I don’t make any money at all from the MOOC.

The opportunity to reach out and interact with tens or hundreds, a thousand of students all around the world is extraordinarily rewarding and valuable to me in many different ways. It helps me communicate my ideas, a grow my network, it helps establish myself as an expert in the field, and get more consulting work. In my case, I have a book about Gamification which is by no means the reason I taught the course but I’m sure that having all these students take my MOOC helped sell copies of the book.

So again it’s wrong to think of a business model just in terms of the effort in and indirect compensation for it. That being said there are many different arrangements being tried. I am  sure all that is going to evolve but if there is value being produced for the universities then there’ll be need to ensure that the people who define, developed the content get appropriate compensation otherwise there won’t be enough quality content that gets develop by those experts.

Jeevan:  It looks like you are quite sanguine about the future of MOOCs.

Kevin:  The number of major universities and institutions around the world that have made serious commitments is unlike anything we’ve seen before.  As I look at it there is a vast demand for learning, some of that is within the traditional educational institutions, some of that is within the larger Learning and Development world and some of that is in the informal learning sector.

MOOC have the potential to crossover those boundaries. Exactly how it’s going to work, I don’t know. There are down sides to MOOCs and there is no guarantee that the all existing MOOC providers will succeed. But I think of MOOCs as bet on the internet and you really don’t want to bet against the internet.

Jeevan:  Let us talk about MOOCs as a learning resource in organisational or employee learning. MOOCs are designed and targeted for individual learning.  Our thinking at Learning Café is that it seems relevant to use MOOCs as one of the learning options for employee development. What are your views on using MOOCs to bridge employee capability gaps?

Kevin:  Oh! No question. I think that we have an artificial distinction between the learning that goes on in a university context and learning that goes on in a corporate context. MOOC content and structure that worked in one context don’t necessarily work equal on the other but there’s no reason at all why there could not be a crossover.

In the case of my MOOC, more than three quarters of the 145,000 learners who took my MOOC were professionals who were interested in developing this knowledge. So, absolutely, I think that is an important key on what’s going on right now.

Jeevan:  MOOCs have the potential of disrupting corporate training as much as it has done in the academic world. Take the example of a new regulation (like Basel III for financial institutions). Typically what happens that each bank will build or buy their own course for meeting compliance requirements? If someone develops and runs a MOOC on the general principles of Basel III, it can be supplemented by learning that is more tailored for the organization. Would that model work?

Kevin: Absolutely!  I think this is our wonderful opportunity for experimentation. We have all sorts of assumptions about what a course is. MOOCs I think are a way to break out of those assumptions.  I ought the precaution that the fact that there’s that potential and that level of experimentation happening now doesn’t necessarily mean it will be an unqualified success.

Part of work that excites me is the opportunity to develop new kinds of just in time learning. In my case, I taught a course about gamification that’s not a standard course that’s offered in a university and didn’t exist two years ago as a defined field. So, the MOOC was a way to teach about that area more broadly than I could have in any other way.

Jeevan:  Thanks, Kevin for your time. MOOCs for Organisational Learning – Conversation with Kevin Werbach – Wharton School


  1. Hi Jeevan
    This interview with Kevin answers a number of questions I had about MOOCs. First of all, I participated in his first Gamification MOOC last August. From a participant’s point of view it was professionally delivered in terms of the facilitators style, material and technology. The content was engaging, obviously elements of gamification were used, and it also involved some interactivity, with questions and peer assessed assignments across the six weeks. A time commitment I could offer through the flexible access. I got a certificate of participation having successfully achieved a pass grade!
    I agree that achieving a business case on behalf of a university or other educational institute may be more difficult. Absolutely, the facilitator achieves recognition, the institute as the provider gains reputation, the participants access high quality education so the pluses are there in most categories apart from achieving a sustainable model where direct income is achieved.

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