MEANINGFUL GAMIFICATION IN MOOCS. DESIGNING AND EXAMINING LEARNER ENGAGEMENT IN THE OPEN VIRTUAL MOBILITY LEARNING HUB
Learner engagement and sustained motivation belong to some central challenges in designing and facilitating Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). One approach to face this challenge has been the use of gamification as an attempt to enhance learner engagement and motivation through the use of game-related elements such as levels, leaderboards, points and badges. While gamification has been successfully implemented in small-scale learning designs, research on gamification in MOOCs is still in its early stages.
Given some of the limitations of traditional gamification approaches, e. g. scoring‑based gamification or BLAP gamification (Badges, Leaderboards, Achievements, Points), new approaches focusing on meaningful engagement (meaningful gamification) and/or blending game-based and play-based elements (deep gamification) have emerged and started being applied in MOOC designs. Meaningful gamification has addressed the problem of limited possibilities in traditional gamification for an individual to make choices without external control, which may have negative effects on self‑regulation. Meaningful gamification proposes to enhance learner engagement and motivation without emphasising external rewards as expressed by points. However, until now there is little research about the applications and effects of meaningful gamification in MOOC designs.
This paper addresses this research gap and presents a meaningful gamification approach applied to the design and facilitation of a series of eight mini-MOOCs in a learning environment called Open Virtual Mobility Learning Hub (OpenVM Hub). OpenVM Learning Hub is an outcome of a European project dedicated to enhancing virtual mobility in higher education. The meaningful gamification approach to designing OpenVM MOOCs focuses on non‑reward methods by providing learners with meaningful choice, information, rewards and opportunities for engagement and reflection. The aim is to create engaging and effective learner experiences and enhance self‑regulated learning and learner control. The key strategies include facilitating understanding the value of learning activities, helping learners find meaning and relevance in learning activities, promoting learner choice and decision-making in relation to learning goals and learning pathways and providing rewards whose value is placed outside of the learning experience. This is achieved by issuing awards in an open standard (Open Badges) on an external platform (Bestr) about intercultural and transversal skills having high value for the job market.
The paper examines learner experience in meaningfully gamified MOOCs in the OpenVM Learning Hub by analysing combined data from the evaluation survey answered by over 200 learners and web analytics data from the hub. The results of the data analysis indicate that meaningful gamification can be considered a valuable method for designing engaging MOOCs, especially if it is combined with a modular and flexible design approach of mini-MOOCs, which focuses on short learning events, light bits of learning content and a diversity of media formats used to support learning.
The paper ends with recommendations for future research emphasising the need for new designs and empirical studies related to fostering learner control by granting MOOC learners more responsibility and choices related to goals, process and outcomes of own learning, as well as in building social relationships as part of learning processes in MOOCs.