Is It Gamification, Or Game Based Learning?

29 November 2013 6,539 views No Comment

These two terms get thrown around a lot, often interchangeably, but they’re not really the same. They’re both important concepts, and they’re both useful. However, they are useful in different contexts and that’s why I think it’s important to define each one.

Game Based Learning, often shortened as GBL, is about using games to teach – facts, concepts, attitudes, whatever. It can use digital games, which is becoming increasingly popular, but has also been used for decades in the classroom with board games, team games, Jeopardy-like quizzes, etc. Anything that uses any form of a game, rather than direct instruction, to teach. I won’t go into the definition of a game in this post, let’s say that if it looks like a game and quacks like a game, for the purpose of this discussion it’s a game.

Some of the hallmarks of using games to teach include placing a student into some context where they have apply relevant information (whether this is inside a digital game, or live acion role playing or simulation), and having the student locate and identify the information they’ll need to win the game. So it’s much more student centered than traditional instruction (of course other teaching methods fall into this category of being student centered, such as problem based learning; GBL is just one example).

Gamification, on the other hand, has more to do with motivation than teaching. While using games in class can often be motivating for students who might otherwise not want to learn, GBL can work even when motivation is not affected. The initial excitement over using games in class can die down quickly once students realize they still have to work hard to learn, but the benefits of game based learning remain. Gamification has certain elements in common with GBL, such as rewards for accomplishements, leaderboards, and level based learning. However, it does not necessarily change the way information is being taught – it is a technique that is even being used in situations that have nothing to do with instruction, such as motivating workers in a corporate environment.

These two techniques can also be combined in the same classroom and used together – but it is important to realize they aren’t the same. This is not to say that Gamification is not as good as GBL – simply that it is best used for a different purpose. Why is this an important distinction? Because when you come right down to it, these are just tools – and when you know what a tool does best, you can use it in a more efficient way. In the end, it depends on a teacher’s comfort level with either of these tools, and what they really want to accomplish in their classroom.


Elisa teaches online professional development courses for teachers at teachertechtraining.com.
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