Gamification Design: A BitDegree Case Study 

Gamification Design: A BitDegree Case Study 

Have you ever learned something online? If so, you are part of a massive community of people that have done so in the past through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Millions of people have enrolled in these MOOCs. Unfortunately, only 10-15% of all users see their courses through to completion. With these dismal numbers, it’s a wonder how these online education platforms are surviving. But the most intriguing question is, “What’s missing?”. We know the answer: good gamification.

The problem with MOOCs is that much of these self-paced courses are primarily predicated on the instructors’ unique knowledge, research, and experience. But it takes a really smart gamification design to maximize engagement. Such motivational design is particularly important for MOOCs, where most design is linear and feels more like work rather than fun learning. Let’s find out how we did, shall we?


How we improved BitDegree with Octalysis

The Octalysis Group has helped 100+ companies exceed their goals in terms of employee training and consumer engagement. It has done so by capitalizing on the principles of behavioral science and user experience design. BitDegree is one of Octalysis’ recent gamification examples, showcasing how MOOCs can greatly bolster user engagement, and consequently, course completion rates.
With our help, and in a short 3-month design sprint, BitDegree has accomplished more than any MOOC has in years. Using our behavioral science and the Octalysis gamification framework, they saw dramatic ROIs. Most notable of all, course completions increased by a whopping 400%.

And we received this success even though only 20% of our design has been implemented so far. Can you imagine what still lies ahead of us?

Now, BitDegree should now be the world-leading MOOC platform of choice.

What is BitDegree?

BitDegree is the world’s first blockchain-powered MOOC platform. It rewards users with cryptocurrency for successful completion of its courses. Such positive reinforcement very much aligns with basic tenets of gamification design. Moreover, this “learn to earn” business model not only makes skills-based training free and thus accessible to all in need, but it is both inherently and highly incentivizing. Since the rewards earned are a direct reflection of skill, it engenders Octalysis Core Drive 3: Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback, which is responsible for long term motivation in experiences.
For ultimate digital user engagement, BitDegree awards users with access to paid courses on the platform and/or the services of business affiliates. However, while this cryptocurrency inspires intrinsic human motivation, the value of such crypto fully depends on whether the user has clearly defined a future use case for it, such as taking paid courses at an accredited institution.

The “before” picture
In order to provide BitDegree with the answers to the obstacles they faced in creating user engagement, we had to ask a lot of questions. The first thing we did to cut to the core of low course completion was conduct a “training needs assessment” (TNA), of sorts. This enabled us to gauge the gap between BitDegree’s goals, overall mission, the strategic initiatives they were employing to achieve them, and their relative reality.

BitDegree’s goals

The world is moving towards tech, but not everyone can afford to bring themselves up to speed. Because we’re living in a time of information overload due to perpetual and rapid technological innovation, one major pain point BitDegree addresses is the unprecedentedly high demand for tech talent. Courses offered by traditional educational institutions often lack the focus, specificity, and real-world application needed to fill these positions. Meanwhile, there are many capable prospective employees who simply lack access to educational resources.
Such a clear-cut and highly-practical mission would naturally inspire human motivation, but not all by itself. With education being such a saturated industry, BitDegree realized it needed to stand out from the herd with a distinctive vision – leveraging blockchain to “credit” users with cryptocurrency from a fully decentralized, and thus transparent, education system.
This business model acts as a virtuous cycle, wherein everyone wins. So why was such a genius business model suffering?

BitDegree’s strategic initiatives

Before we could effectively give BitDegree’s user experience design a major overhaul, we needed to know what user engagement mechanisms were already in place. In gist, BitDegree’s unique strategy can be divided into three key initiatives:
Create a user-centric platform that capitalizes on Web 2.0 to facilitate a more collaborative and social learning approach.
Harness the power of blockchain to create a two-sided marketplace and fully decentralized online education platform.
Explore how best to incorporate gamification (especially within a 2.0 learning platform) to enhance user engagement.

Diagnosing the problems

In order to diagnose why BitDegree, like other MOOCs, was also afflicted with dreadfully-low course completion rates, we evaluated their strategy and leveraged the Octalysis framework to enhance each of their initiatives, and consequently, the customer journey at large.

Problem #1 – The audience

To address the first two initiatives (listed above), we zoomed into BitDegree’s target audience to develop a clearer picture of their “users”. This enabled us to hone in on a more user-centric strategy, which is absolutely imperative for developing a collaborative, social learning environment.
And because BitDegree already uses Web 2.0 technology – which is characterized by knowledge sharing and dynamic, user-generated content – their platform was already conducive to human-focused design, thereby laying the foundations for a strong gamification approach.
Thus, BitDegree’s problem was that they opted for function-focused versus human-focused design. That’s why, for all its bells and whistles, they couldn’t quite mold the platform to their users. They lacked a clear picture of their audience. Like many MOOCs, BitDegree took a one-size-fits-all approach that presupposes an “overachiever” or “self-starting” mindset. That is, they merely catered to those who naturally excel in traditional education systems.
But while these rare users might require less guidance, the overwhelming majority need to be “handheld” towards a clear objective, which brings up the related issue of why users take these courses in the first place. Especially with BitDegree, the idea is to gain additional versus “essential” skills. Taking these courses merely opens up doors; it doesn’t dictate which door to walk through.
Therefore, BitDegree’s audience appraisal goes against a well-established fact of behavioral science: Human motivation is inspired by a clearly-defined end goal.

Problem #2 – Implementing Gamification

The second problem refers to BitDegree’s third strategic initiative – exploring how best to implement gamification, from the customer journey all the way down to the user experience. Again, they had the right idea – incorporating badges, leaderboards, daily challenges, etc. – but this method of “throwing darts in the dark” was (and will forever be) fruitless.
First, they lacked the know-how to truly appreciate why users would interact with the gamified features, nor how they inspire human motivation. Consequently, there was no rhyme nor reason for how or why they employed certain game elements.
BitDegree needed a framework that demonstrated how each element tied in with user engagement. So we came in and deconstructed the process for them.

Creating a custom gamification solution

In order to enhance each of BitDegree’s strategic initiatives and bring them that much closer to realizing their vision, we married the principles of behavioral science with motivational design.

Solution #1 – The Octalysis Gamification Framework
To mold the platform to the audience, we used the Octalysis Gamification Framework to see how we could elicit all 8 core drives of human motivation, as listed in the octagon pictured below.

Gamification Framework

Our globally-recognized and award-winning framework strictly adheres to the tenets of behavioral science. Each core drive represents the full spectrum of both intrinsic and extrinsic human motivators.

The Octagon is split into top and bottom halves – the top half designating White Hat gamification and the bottom, Black Hat gamification. While White Hat techniques motivate us in an inspiring and empowering way, and make us feel in control. Black Hat techniques can be equally effective, but create more urgency and obsession.

For example, creating Epic Meaning design is a White Hat: learners feel called or “chosen” to achieve something greater than themselves, like slaying a dragon. And we’ve included Black Hat motivators, like Scarcity, in one form or another. This “wanting what you can’t have yet” or “delayed gratification” dynamic often entails interval-based reward schedules.

BitDegree started off on the right foot by creating a cryptocurrency system. With the accumulation of adequate crypto, users can purchase or “unlock” access to paid courses at accredited institutions. Therefore, before they ever discovered our framework, BitDegree was already leveraging one of our White Hat core drives – ownership. They just needed further nudging in the right direction.


Solution #2 – Creating a gamification path
As mentioned, function-focused design has two problems:
It presupposes an audience of motivated self-starters; and It lacks a clear end goal.

On the other hand, a gamified learning path is human-focused, and thus thoroughly addresses both of these issues. First, a pre-defined path virtually “handholds” the user through the customer journey. Users become more motivated when they experience adequate support and guidance. It’s much harder to “self-start” without clear direction.

Second, as with any journey on a pre-defined path, there is a final destination – a clear end goal. And even if you can’t see the end goal, the existence of a path is proof enough. Thusly, the anticipation of what lies also incites human motivation. Recall the Black Hat core drive of unpredictability.

Case study results

To truly appreciate the results of our gamification path, we measured user engagement between two groups.
Group 1 begins their customer journey through our gamified onboarding path. BitDegree assigns new users with characters. This has the brilliant benefit of enabling them to pinpoint who users are and their respective learning motivations.

gamification MOOC

As users progress through our gamified learning path, they are met with different objectives. For example, users start where we want, encounter exercises and assessments when we want, and are credited with cryptocurrency and/or certificates, accordingly.
Group 2 can be seen as the control group. These users enter BitDegree and go directly to the list of courses, without experiencing our full, intended user journey. This more closely resembles BitDegree’s process before TOG’s intervention.


The verdict
As one might’ve guessed, user engagement was significantly higher in Group 1.
Not only did Group 1 successfully complete courses at 2-3x the rate of Group 2, but the number of users who completed courses was 3 to 4 times higher in Group 1.

Final Takeaways

BitDegree is now miles ahead of all MOOC platforms in the industry.
We helped them clearly define the purpose for each gamification element used, by introducing them to the behavioral science of core drives and motivational design. As such, they were able to incorporate gamified elements with much more intention and calculation.
Ultimately, the success of this (and any education) platform is predicated on its adherence to human- versus function-focused design. The more you hone in on your audience, the easier it is to mold the platform and its gamified features to their core drives. That’s why BitDegree is now relishing a 400% return on investment.
Want to achieve a 3-digit boost like BitDegree’s in your industry? Looking to get your gamification design off the ground? Then give us a shout.

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