MOOC Professor Kevin Werbach Says, “The hype misses the point.”


mooc professor kevin werbachThe conversation about the effectiveness of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and their long-term viability rages on in higher education circles. As with any new tool that disrupts the status quo, these free online courses have received a lot of excitement and a lot of criticism. Amid this sea of opinion, Kevin Werbach, one of Coursera’s original MOOC developers, focuses on what’s at the heart of higher education: the students and the learning.

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Professor Kevin Werbach of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of two popular movements: MOOCs and gamification techniques. He launched his Gamification MOOC with Coursera’s initial course offering in April of 2012 and is preparing to teach his third session beginning on January 27, 2014. The course has become one of the top-rated MOOCs on LearningAdvisor. In our Thought Leader Interview, Professor Werbach discusses how his Gamification MOOC developed, how to look past the hype of MOOCs, and how MOOCs may impact the higher education learning model.

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As a lawyer and Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at Wharton, Werbach has tracked the intersection of technological advancements and the business world throughout his career. His Gamification MOOC naturally grew out his fascination with gaming techniques and his expertise on how “major trends in the connected world affect daily life and work.” Werbach has become a leader in defining what gamification really means and uses his MOOC as part of that process.

Werbach has received a lot of acclaim and attention through his engaging and cutting-edge MOOC, but for him, the hype misses the point. The real story is in the teaching and learning that can be accomplished via the MOOC format. “My great challenge is to be engaging,” he says, in every segment he produces. While production quality is important, he maintains that “it’s a mistake to think that the best looking course is the best course.” He strives to use the best teaching techniques and his enthusiasm to create an experience that goes beyond just watching a video tape. This focus on engagement encourages student participation, which is the heart of learning both in and out of the classroom.

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Looking ahead at the destiny of MOOCs, Werbach acknowledges “we are still learning.” Every day is an experiment as we attempt to decipher the possibilities free online courses may have in the architecture of higher education. But as a part of that discourse, Werbach cautions that the teaching and learning aspect of MOOCs should not be “short-circuited” by the video format and hype. “In terms of the conversation about education,” he says, “I think it’s important to keep the focus on the students and the learning.”

With that in mind, the trend seems to be pointing toward a blended learning model in higher education. Every course will have an online component and a classroom component, but perhaps the definition of classroom will broaden to mean anything that achieves the student-to-student interaction that happens in a physical classroom. There are multiple pathways to the future of higher education and multiple players defining it. We are all living the change, and as Werbach says, “This is an exciting time.”

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