Lisa Ballam

Head of Marketing

Building and Marketing Online Learning Experiences by Wharton Interactive

3 mins read

Well before the COVID-19 pandemic moved education into online delivery for everyone, Wharton Interactive was pioneering cutting-edge approaches to creating and delivering hyper-immersive learning experiences - such as simulations, games, and collaborative challenges - to yield better learning outcomes.

We were excited to be joined by Sarah Toms, who founded Wharton Interactive with her partner Professor Ethan Mollick, to hear the fascinating story of how and why they founded this incredible initiative at The University of Pennsylvania, advice for launching online learning experiences, how to pick the best technology partners and more!

Here is a short write up of the highlights or you can dive right into the full recording below. Over to Sarah...


Game-based learning has the potential to change education for students of all ages.

Wharton Interactive

Get both hands on the wheel

We wanted to build a new form of interactive pedagogy, where every learning experience is hyper-engaging and places the learner in the driver's seat of their education.

Learning by doing really is the best way to learn. What’s the best way to learn to drive a car? The answer is obvious - sit in the driver's seat with the steering wheel in your hands and the pedals under your feet. That's what we're doing at Wharton Interactive, we're building the vehicle where learners and educators get to sit in the driver's seat and to experience their education in action.

Be clear on a product vision

Set out your goals from the start, have clear objectives and goals but don’t be afraid to change as you go. Not everything will work the way you think, so be ready to adapt and learn through experimentation.

Put your culture at the center of your project

Cultivating a high-performing team requires prioritizing psychological safety, authenticity, and transparency in how you communicate and ensuring all voices are heard throughout the product development lifecycle. For Wharton Interactive, placing our team’s culture at the heart of how we work has a catalyzing effect on all other aspects of what we’re trying to do, project or innovation-wise. This strategy was so critical because it gave our project focus and kept our goals aligned across team members and vendor partners.

Pick excellent partners

Wharton Interactive recognized the strengths of Wagtail and Python and started exploring what we would need from a web presence and chose partners accordingly. We knew we needed a team of experts who would bring their A-game every single day. It’s vital to work together as a partnership and important to remember your vendors are only as good as you allow them to be, so make sure to give them not just a seat at the table, but a way for their voices to be heard.

We successfully built the first marketplace of its kind in education on Wagtail and Salesforce Commerce Cloud. One where entire courses are delivered in a highly interactive game. Wharton Interactive chose Torchbox as one of our key partners to help build our website and marketplace integrations, requiring business workflows that are quite complicated under the hood, and yet for our customers are incredibly simple. Torchbox has also managed our digital marketing strategy including the global launch of Wharton Interactive’s brand, as well as our first alternate reality courses.

Choose the best technology

Traditional business simulations are very expensive to produce, requiring specialized expertise to code and develop on commercial simulation platforms. Open-source technologies have come into their own, offering countless opportunities for organizations to develop their own technological innovations on these stacks, while also contributing to the open-source community that they are benefiting from. It’s a virtuous cycle that has paid dividends for Wharton Interactive when they pivoted to open source.

Launch and learn (it doesn’t need to be perfect!)

  • Don’t wait for absolute perfection
  • Make sure your launch strategy includes experimentation
  • Gauge early customer reactions to a minimally viable product as a starting point

Wharton Interactive is a lean team, and we move rapidly. Fine-tuning the development of features and improvements should not be done in a vacuum, so we’ve adopted the mantra of “launch and learn”. Prioritization is always your best friend.

Final Word

How we educate and how we learn has shifted over the past decade. Access to options that teach valuable skills is widely available. But options that let you learn through practicing these skills are still few and far between. This is why Wharton Interactive’s approach is so different, and why their initiative is so critical. There is so much demand for modernizing online learning by offering interactive options. By choosing the right technologies, picking a solid team, and prioritizing your team’s culture at the core, like Wharton Interactive, you will set yourself up for success.

Watch the full interview with Sarah here...

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