Dr. Alessandra Antonaci


Alessandra Antonaci


Alessandra Antonaci


+31 45 576 2545






The Gamification Design Process Applied to (Massive) Open Online Courses

Since its origins (2011) `Gamfication' has gained popularity as a very engaging, motivating technique, in both academic and corporate fields. Despite this believe, there is a general need of understanding when and under which conditions gamification works as an engaging and motivational boost for users. More specifically, there are still some confusions in relation to the empirical effects of gamification on short and long term. As a consequence, in both academic and corporate fields, there is a need for more rigorous studies focusing, from one hand, on the impact of gamification, from the other hand, on its design and implementation. As far as the gamification design is concerned, it relies on several disciplines such as psychology, learning science and design, game design, user experience (UX) design, human-computer-interaction (HCI) and technology-enhanced learning (TEL) (when the intervention implies the use of technology). Furthermore, its design and therefore implementation are strictly related to the context of application and its target audience. This dependency from the context makes generalisations dificult.

This thesis contributes to the field of gamification, providing the gamification design process (GaDeP) which is context independent and consists of six consecutive phases: analysis of the application scenario; problem definition; theoretical framework; game elements selection; game elements design and implementation; evaluation. In addition, this thesis addresses, through GaDeP, the current lack of designing and evaluating gamification by offering a methodology that can be applied in the specific case of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), like in this thesis, as well as in a broader range of fields. The main objectives addressed and presented in this thesis are validate the applicability of GaDeP to MOOCs; implement a new way of designing game elements, without relying only on external rewards; and bring a more objective way of testing the effects of a gamification design to the field.

The thesis approaches these objectives in five distinctive but interrelated parts. Part I introduces the gamification design process in general, and the conceptual design on how to apply it to MOOCs, in particular. Furthermore, Part I specifically addresses the first objective, validate the applicability of GaDeP to MOOCs, which is however to be considered the fil rouge of the whole thesis, as all GaDeP parts outline the thesis itself. Part II and part III address the second objective, i.e. implementing a new way of designing game elements. Based on the results of the systematic literature study and the need to move towards a more meaningful gamification (Part II), Part III presents the game elements suitable for the gamification design, the methodologies applied to find them, and connects the target problems with the theoretical framework and the game elements identified. As a consequence, the theories underpinning the gamification design are at the same time the key to better interpret the problems of the application scenario and the logic structure behind the game elements design. Lastly, Part IV represents a methodical, empirical way of testing the effects of gamification, instead of relying solely on users' self assessment, representing then a response to the third objective of the thesis. This part presents a usability study and two experimental studies conducted to evaluate respectively the game elements aimed at enhancing MOOC users' goal achievement, and generating a sense of community among MOOC users to impact on their levels of engagement. Finally, Part IV does not only conclude this thesis but it also represents the last phase of GaDeP, thus showing the applicability of the gamification design process to MOOCs.

To disclose more in detail how GaDeP is applied to MOOCs, there is the need to proceed in accordance to its phases. This thesis describes the first one: analysis of the scenario of application, presenting a very complex environment, that has been outlined in accordance to five dimensions, where the individual and social aspects of MOOCs can be seen as two sides of the same coin that have been considered and enhanced in the gamification design of MOOCs, implemented in this thesis. Passing to the second phase, problem definition, two problems are identified and addressed: lack of goal achievement, which is more related to the individual sphere, and lack of MOOC users' engagement, which refers more to the social one. These two aspects are reected in the theories contained in our theoretical framework, GaDeP's third phase. On the one hand, our gamification design aims at enabling individuals to achieve their own goals by fostering the action of detailing their `if{then plan' (implementation intention theory). On the other hand, by enhancing the social awareness with our design, we aim at creating a sense of community among MOOC users that will increase their engagement (social presence and sense of community theories). These theories have been important to better explain the problems identified within the MOOC scenario, and a guidance for the finalisation of the fourth phase, game elements selection.

The game elements selected and implemented (fifth phase) in this thesis are: stimulated planning for facing the lack of goal achievements; avatar; clans/guilds; challenges; competition; cooperation; online status; and communication channels for addressing the lack of MOOC users' engagement by stimulating a sense of community and interdependence among them. Lastly the evaluation phase, that consists of two separate experiments carried out. The findings of the first experiment support the notion that MOOC users that foresee their intention with implementation intention are more likely to achieve their goals compared to their fellow students who solely declare their intention. While for the second experiment our data show that the game elements designed to produce social presence and sense of community among MOOC users were proven to successfully fulfil their purpose and impacted on users' learning performance.

Gamification is a suitable strategy for face-to-face, blended and online learning scenarios, however the development of modern and more affordable technologies opens the door to new development and application perspectives. Furthermore, the way in which we interact with technology is changing and will change with its development. Devices are more and more connected and enable us to connect to each other. As a consequence, the amount of data produced is also an important factor for gamification. Data can be used to create feedback loops directed to both the users and the designers as well. The connectivity however is not only related to the Internet: we are connected via technology and this generates interaction with others, e.g. social phenomena as Facebook. Thanks to online social connectors such as Facebook, gamification can augment its effects and potentials. In the research presented in this thesis, the importance of the `social' factor for gamification was highlighted and it will most likely continue to play a role in its future.

GaDeP highlights the importance of the analysis of the `application scenario' and the understanding of its peculiarities, and also stresses the need of `theories', a theoretical framework of reference, that can together enable a better understanding of the `problems' to be targeted, and can inspire design choices propose and respond to the urge of a more meaningful gamification. Furthermore, by introducing the GDP (game design patterns) approach to gamification and in particular to the `game elements design and selection', GaDeP and this thesis launch a new strategy to make informed design choices. The simplicity of GaDeP is its strength, it can be applied in several fields and by people with very different backgrounds. To design gamification there is no need to be a programmer or a game designer. Gamification, as remarked in this research, is multidisciplinary and can be approached from different angles, such as education. In this thesis it has been approached by an educational scientist to solve issues related to the educational context of MOOCs.

As a conclusion, the gamification of MOOCs demands meaningful and thoughtful gamification. This research has shown that too little has been done in this sense, but that it is possible to apply thoughtful and meaningful gamification in this scenario. Gamification has passed through the `peak of inated expectations' because too many gamification designs were actually badly done. Pulling out something game-like, or simply transferring game elements is not what guarantees success. GaDeP enables the connection between the problem and the design ideas through the use of the theoretical framework. At the same time, via the GDP approach, it empowers gamification designers with knowledge useful for aware design choices.

In the future, GaDeP needs to be tested in different contexts and fields of application, and the gamified solutions developed in this research need to be proven with a bigger audience as well, by conducting both formative and summative studies. As easy as GaDeP could be, there is not an easy way of designing meaningful gamification. It requires time, resources, a deep understanding, and the ability to look at the world in a different way, as a child will do. It is not coincidental that by reading retrospectively (from right to the left) the word GaDeP, the word PeDaG can be found, which reminds to the Greek term pedagos that means child.