What was the last game you played that you truly enjoyed and got lost in? Think about it for a minute. Now, think about the parts and pieces that made it fun. For example, was it single-player or multi-player? What was the goal of the game? What were the challenges preventing you from reaching that goal? Within any well-developed game, there are mechanics/parts that were designed and play-tested over-and-over to create an entertaining and habit-forming experience. So, how does this translate into the classroom? Why is this relevant to you? Well, recently, there has been a major buzz about using games in education. If you don’t believe me, just look at your recent Twitter feed. I guarantee that you will see at least one mention of games in education as your fingers quickly scroll. I want you to understand . . . I’m not talking about games like Math Blaster. I’m talking about interactive, immersive, and well-balanced games – the kind that can level-up any classroom!
For the sake of clarity, these games typically fall under 2 categories. One category is known as gamification. The other is referred to as game-based learning (GBL). All too often do I see people incorrectly labeling these and getting them mixed up – even companies do it! I get it. It’s hard to grasp and make sense of all the dynamic trends in education. By no means am I trying to go after/troll anyone. The purpose of this post is to help bring clarity and understanding to all the confusion. Hope this helps!
What is gamification? The best definition I have ever heard for this term comes from Michael Matera, author of Explore Like a Pirate. In his book, he states, “[Gamification is] applying the most motivational techniques of games to non-game settings, like classrooms. Gamification includes elements of game theory, design thinking, and informational literacy. It is a framework layered over your curriculum to enhance what you already do.” In short, gamification is taking the structures from traditional games in non-game contexts. For example, a gamified classroom might use a couple of game mechanics (e.g., points, levels, and badges) to engage and motivate students. Moreover, the game mechanics that can be added are infinite. If you can dream it, you can most likely adapt that idea to fit your gamified classroom. The best examples of gamified classrooms come from rock star educators that have built their game and created a narrative layer-by-layer, year-over-year. There are also companies that have done the leg-work already (e.g., Classcraft, Prodigy, etc.).
Now, let’s talk about GBL. In a discussion I had with Dalton Gray, game designer, out of the Institute of Play, he states, “Game-based learning is designing a game or game like activity where by the learning activity is fundamentally different from traditional teaching modalities. Students are using core mechanics that align to learning goals. They are able to try, fail, receive feedback and try again. All the good stuff about games is densely intermingled with the learning activity affording a learning experience that is active, student centered, potentially social, and more complex than rote repetition or regurgitation.” In short, GBL is using actual games to teach concepts. That is, individuals meet learning objectives by playing a game. GBL games are made up of 6 distinct parts (e.g., goal, components, rules, challenges, core mechanics, and space). While taking a course at the Institute of Play, I learned that to be considered true GBL, a game must have a core mechanic (verb) that is aligned to the learning objective/outcome. Without this feature, the game changes from GBL to gamification. Most educational games have trouble with this connection. In addition, there aren’t many teachers that have created true GBL games in their classroom. Although, Teacher Quest has an awesome library of teacher-made GBL examples. Educational companies that are GBL-focused include Schell Games, Filament Games, and Legends of Learning.
One approach is not necessarily better than the other. Since they are fundamentally different, one can’t compare them in the same regard. Most educators that are using games in their classroom are using mechanics of gamification. That isn’t to say that gamification is better than GBL. On the contrary, some would argue that GBL is the route to go since it is more dependent on intrinsic motivation as compared to extrinsic motivation. It’s all about which option you feel the most comfortable trying out in your classroom. If you find that gamification is the best route for you and you would like to give it a shot, my advice is that you do it slowly with micro-goals in mind. The process can be very overwhelming at first, especially when you try to figure out how all the game mechanics work interdependently. If you get stuck, there are communities with members that are always willing to lend a hand (e.g., #XPLAP, #games4ed, etc.). If you decide to go the GBL route, I recommend looking for a game from one of the companies I mentioned above that meets the learning objective you are aiming for. Dabble with that before you try making your own GBL game. I found that option best for myself when I started. It truly helped cement my knowledge and gave me the understanding I needed to make my own GBL game.
With that said, I hope you have a better understanding of gamification and GBL. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them down below. Looking forward to seeing your journey!
Where Do I Begin?
To be continued . . .