Game Based Learning V Gamification

Posted in
November 24, 2022

In the great debate on game based learning v gamification, people often ask me what is the best approach, when you’re trying to create true student engagement, and motivate kids to drive their own learning?

Battleships game image to illustrate an example of why game based learning is better than gamification for engaging students
Pic: A fun game of Battleships, or a lesson in coordinate geometry?

Game-based learning v gamification, the facts

How is it that my kids know all 150 types of blocks in Minecraft, but can’t remember a simple list given for homework?

Let’s imagine a teacher was trying to teach these Minecraft blocks to a class.

In a traditional method, the teacher gives the list, gets students to write it out, revise and take a test. The result, some remember some of the knowledge for the test, but it’s completely gone within a month.

What is gamification?

A gamified approach might mean the teacher applies a heap of extrinsic motivators to a similar activity. This might be a points system, coins, levels or badges. These points might help them progress through a map or open up some separate reward. You can think of it as traditional activities with a game layer over the top. The result, kids are more engaged and retain the information more effectively than a traditional method… but it can be done much more effectively.

So what about game-based learning then? 

Well, this is where the desired content or concept is within the strategy of the game itself. The learning experience is interweaved seamlessly within the games framework. Kids don’t even know they’re learning. The result, kids are more engaged, they drive their own learning, and retention far exceeds that of the traditional and gamified alternatives. My kids learning Minecraft blocks would be an example of this.

Why exactly does game based learning beat simple gamification for students

The answer lies in the science of teaching and learning. And here’s why Game-based learning is next level.

  • It gets kids thinking deeply about a strategy. This encourages productive struggle!
  • It gets kids solving problems; there is a purpose and a context! This means it is intrinsically motivating.
  • It’s learning by ‘doing’! And it gives immediate feedback on how they’re doing.
  • It uses tasks that are low floor, high ceiling. So it’s an easy entry and it’s safe to take risks. In fact, failure actually motivates kids to play on whereas failure is usually a negative experience in the classroom.
  • It measures success by progress, not where they ought to be. Thus, it fosters a growth mindset.
  • It gets kids to repeat and consolidate neuron pathways. It also leverages the motivator chemicals in our brains like endorphins, dopamine, serotonin.

As you look at the list, you’ll notice that these are actually all great teaching practices. Teachers strive for these in their classrooms each and every day.

There are any number of cool math games available on the app store, but true game based learning uses all of the principles above. These are the exact principles we built Number Hive around. Students need to reason with multiplication facts as part of the strategy of the game. They learn key foundational skills without knowing it, they think they’re just having fun! (You can find our more about Number Hive’s unique approach by clicking here)

3 other classroom games you can use this week that use game based learning

  • Battleships! Students can learn all about coordinate geometry through playing the game we all know.
  • Angry birds. The game that teaches us the basics of projectile motion.
  • ‘How close to 100’. A great game from the team at youcubed helping kids understand multiplication and spatial reasoning.

How do I implement game based learning in my classroom or home?

The good news is, many teachers across the world have mastered game-based learning. And in our collaborative world, many are willing to share these games. Social media is a great place to start. In the comments, jot down any channels you have found helpful.

You can also create your own games, or tweak games you already know. Start with the concept you need to teach, and then think how you might build that into a game scenario or tweak other games to fit.

Take a risk, have some fun as you learn. Game on!

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Number Hive Game Play on Mobile Device - Multiplication Strategy game available online or in your app store

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