What are “Gamification” and “Game Based Learning”?
These two terms are often misunderstood and even more often used interchangeably. They are sometimes seen as modern, digital strategies that drive eLearning programs however their roots are much more embedded in everyday Teaching and Learning than you might think.
Gamification is the process of applying the mechanics of gameplay to non-game based situations to encourage a particular behavior or outcome.
Game Based Learning is quite literally learning through games.
If you’ve ever awarded stickers, badges or certificates for learning times tables, for example, you have essentially “gamified” the process of learning. The Pokemon trading card game uses the slogan “Gotta catch em all” and that is the driving force behind your students wanting to earn the whole set of stickers so they can collect the end certificate. The Microsoft Education Community uses the principles of gamification in the awarding of points, badges and certificates for the completion of various courses and development tasks.
Game based learning is probably already embedded in your classroom and even more so than you might think. Dominoes that teach learners about number bonds? Snap cards featuring synonyms? Top Trumps used to explore the characters in a story? These are all examples of games used to teach a concept or idea.
These traditional approaches to both gamification and games based learning are now so ingrained in mainstream education that they are often removed from the discussion of both concepts. In the modern educational world of eLearning and “app smashing” these terms have developed a different manifestation whilst keeping the same principals at their core.
The Modern Era – Gamification vs GBL
In recent years both gamification and games based learning have “gone digital”. From the gamification of rewards and home communication with apps like Class Dojo to the virtual sandbox world of Minecraft: Education Edition to explore just about anything, digital gamification and game based learning are making something of a rejuvenation. It is hard to find a new educational app, program or eLearning course that doesn’t use one or both to some degree.
When I was growing up playing Manic Miner, Mario and Megalomania they maintained my engagement and drove me to succeed in their game based journeys for many reasons but I developed my game play skills due to one inherent aspect of the games: Feedback. If I made a mistake, Mario plunged to his doom or my growing empire crumbled but I knew instantly that A) I had failed and B) what I needed to do to remedy the mistake.
We now live in a world where the most instant feedback a young person receives about something they have written is the number of likes they get on a Facebook status. Post something that gets a larger number of likes than normal and the feedback is that more posts like this are what is needed. The feedback is instant as are the rewards. The real-time collaboration inherent in things like the Office 365 online tools brings our classrooms closer to this kind of instant feedback than ever before.
There is a key balance between games that are educational and games that are fun. The mistake of many “educational” games is that they neglect the fun element in favour of cramming in learning outcomes with the result being that the learner quickly becomes disengaged. The recent craze for Pokemon Go wasn’t brought about because it involved lots of walking and physical exercise, it was fun to walk around places and find hidden creatures then compare them with others via battles. A player who did more walking, discovered higher level Pokemon and were more successful in battles. It was never marketed as a tool to develop physical exercise or to teach people about local landmarks but it did both brilliantly. For those players, the fun factor way overshadowed any negativity toward the act of physical exercise. That, in essence is the key to game based learning being successful.
A Personal Case Study
Minecraft is an open world sandbox environment with no story, no levels and no real ending. Every person using Minecraft uses it for different reasons. For some it is a 3D design tool, for others an artist’s palette and canvas, for some it is a space, safe from the dangers of the real world in which they can play with friends, go exploring or build a giant den.
Personally, I am a bit of a gaming geek (I own about 20 different gaming consoles, 11 different versions of Monopoly, 5 different chess sets and enough Lego sets to stock a small store for months). I also have an odd relationship with technology in the classroom: I love it but I don’t like being told how to use it. When I am being shown a new digital device or piece of software my first reaction isn’t “what does it do?” but “what can I make it do?”. I fixed a downward facing webcam to the end of a metre ruler and taped it to the side of a desk so I could show a student’s work years before I even knew what a visualizer was.
My son introduced me to Minecraft several years ago and we built a house together one Saturday afternoon on our tablets. The game had connected us in a way that only Lego had before. My son is on the Autism Spectrum and struggles with social interactions. His hyper sensitivity makes the process of writing with pen and paper akin to us engraving words on a blackboard using our finger nails.
Several weeks after our epic house building, he was playing the console version of Minecraft with some of his friends one evening. We monitor his gaming carefully to intervene quickly if he is struggling with the social aspect. Things went very quiet, so I poked my head into the room to check on him. He was curled up on the floor with a notepad and pencil furiously scribbling away. Apparently, he’d had so much fun with his friends acting out a story in Minecraft that he wanted to write the story down before he forgot it. As a Secondary English teacher, this was a lightbulb moment. If it worked for him, it simply must work for others.
The power of Minecraft to engage and motivate reluctant learners is something that has been reaffirmed to me many, many times over the years since then. It uses an environment and a language that learners are already familiar with to break down barriers, level playing fields and flip the relationships within classrooms everywhere. I now work with Educators across the globe to help them take, what they perceive to be, their first steps into game based learning with Minecraft. When I point out the elements of learning design that they were already using in the guise of table top games they were comfortable with, a new realisation dawns and their confidence lifts.
The Bottom Line
Gamification and game based learning are not new concepts in education. We use them often and in more ways than we realise. If our learners are growing up in a more connected, instant and gamified world than ever before, maybe we should be looking to embrace the rejuvenation of gamification and game based learning in our own classrooms.