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Game Based Learning VS Gamification

Updated on February 22, 2018

After wrecking my brain trying to figure out what would engage 4th graders more in the classroom, I settled on games. Afterall, what 9 or 10 year old does not like playing games! I needed to figure out how I could bring games into my classroom, while having them align to the standards. After doing some research I came across two approaches, Game Based Learning (GBL) and Gamification. It took me a while and a lot of research to understand and figure out some of the differences between the two. I will do my best to portray how I understand each one of them and what the difference is.

When I went to the conference I realized the speaker that got my inner fire burning was talking about GBL. I thought it would be inspiring, motivating and engaging for students to use the GBL approach in the classroom. So, what is GBL? As I have to come to understand it, GBL is using gaming elements and strategies of a traditional style video games, with defined learning outcomes usually aligned to standards for a given subject.

When I talk about traditional video games I am talking about something that has already been put together for you. Something already on the shelf, a grab go approach. Growing up, I played Super Mario. I am using this as an example because most people have heard of our little plumber friend Mario. The game has already been put together, with an objective and understanding that Bowser has taken the princess and it is your job as Mario to try to save her. GBL games in the classroom have already been made and put together. Most of them are aligned to given standards and there is a learning objective students are playing for to meet an end goal. One great examples of a GBL game I have students use in my 4th grade math class is Prodigy. All of the math questions are aligned to Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Students choose a character that walks around in a world and they battle other characters. In a battle they get asked math questions that are aligned to their grade level and CCSS. Just like a traditional game if they win the battle they get energy boost, earn points, can level up and can earn special powers. All very motivating things for a 4th grader to learn math. This style of game falls under GBL. It is usually a packaged deal that you just open and it is ready to go. Often times GBL games cost money because they are a packaged game.

Gamification, on the other hand, is taking the game design elements of skill and strategy and layering that on top of what you are already doing in the classroom. I choose the picture on gamification because I think it does a good job summing up what Gamification is in a picture. As a teacher, gamification tends to be more work, but can be applied to any subject and you are the game designer. This means you can make sure it is aligned to the outcomes and standards you want students to meet.

The basic elements of Gamification start with the user (students). They have a focused learning target (outcomes/ standards) they need to work on completing or demonstrating their knowledge, which is their learning. During/ after they demonstrate their learning, there is some type in reward that goes with it. It can be XP (experience points) basically a point system to reward students and help them level up, badges, gold pieces, item cards or whatever else you want to use as a reward for students. After they earn so many XP's or badges they usually level up in the game somehow depending how your game is organized. Leveling up usually comes with some sort of reward which tends to be the motivating aspect students love!

The thing I loved about gamification, is that I didn't have to start from scratch. I could keep using the lessons that I already put together and just put my gaming layer on top of what I was already doing. With this approach I did not need to reinvent the wheel, but add a little flair to what was already there.

In my current classroom I use a little GBL approach, but spent the majority of my time developing a year long gamification math class. The 4th graders love the gaming aspect of it and I have never seen students so engaged and motivated to work in math class before. In my future blogs I will go into more detaisl about how I went about organizing and putting together a year long gamification math class.


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