Are Gamification and Game-Based Learning the Same Thing?

by Jacob Guerra-Martinez

One teacher I remember well is my seventh grade Texas History teacher. One reason he stands out was his unique ranking system, which ranked his top ten students from all his courses based on their grades. The better you did, the higher you ranked. At the end of the year, if you were still in the top ten, you received a Texas-shaped plaque to commemorate your achievement. I recall working really hard that year so that my name would jump higher on the class rankings.

While I did not recognize it at the time, my history teacher actually employed some gamification concepts in his class; concepts that helped keep me and others motivated to work harder and achieve a certain goal/reward. While it was probably not called gamification back then, the concept has recently been built up over the past few years as a new, exciting way to engage learners. However, there are still some misconceptions as to what gamification is and how it should be implemented.

What is Gamification?

Gamification means incorporating elements of video games and gameplay into a non-gaming environment. The goal is to help elicit a certain behavior. This can be done by providing certain rewards that encourage a spirit of competition and help increase engagement. For example, perhaps a student will unlock a badge or trophy each time they solve a particular problem or reach a certain point in the course. The trophies and badges are then collected over time in order to achieve an even bigger goal. In the case of my history class, the points the class received on assignments added to our overall average and allowed students to move up or down the rankings. The goal was, naturally, to be the one student to reach the top of the leaderboard.

What about Game-Based Learning?

While taking the Designing Gamified Learning Environments course provided by the Online Learning Consortium, it dawned on me that my perception of what gamification actually is was a little off. In my mind, I pictured people playing video games that were both entertaining and educational. But I was wrong. Playing games in a course is actually game-based learning. Gamification, as mentioned before, means using game-like elements in a course, and an actual game may not even be involved. However, the idea of setting up “missions” that earn students valuable “experience” (inspired by popular video games) are implemented. Some of these applications might be simple, while others may be more elaborate. TeachThought has a great post on the subject of gamification, especially the differences between gamification and game-based learning.

Final Thoughts

Learning about what gamification really is has opened up my eyes to a world of possibilities, one in which faculty can use ideas and strategies from video games (and games in general) to engage their students. Gamification can even happen without having actual games in the course. In fact, there might be some gamification in your course already, just like there was in my old Texas History class. Oh, and in case you were wondering, I did receive a plaque.

If you would like to know more about gamification or want to brainstorm some ideas, contact Learning Designer Jacob Guerra-Martinez.