gamification or game-based Gamification and game-based learning (sometimes abbreviated GBL) are both hot topics and the terms are often used interchangeably. They’re not the same thing, but a lot of the definitions and explanations that are floating around aren’t very clear. Hopefully this will help: gamification is icing and GBL is cake.

Gamification, “Icing”

Gamification is primarily used to motivate learners. It is usually applied to content or training that already exists. Basically, you already have a cake but not very many people seem to be eating it. You add icing to the cake, which takes effort but not too much. The icing attracts people’s interest and motivates them to eat the cake. At its heart, it’s still the same cake though.

In essence, gamification is at work whenever an incentive is offered to encourage someone to do something they are already supposed to be doing. This could be an award or recognition, a special privilege, an increase in ranking, a prize, or a badge among other things. It’s like offering allowance money for the chores that haven’t been getting done. They’re the same old chores, but that added promise of reward makes people more willing to do them. Sales incentive programs, credit card rewards, and the badges used in scouting organizations are also good examples.

Game-Based Learning, “A New Cake”

GBL is motivational too, but it focuses on how the training is organized and delivered. It is usually applied to topics that require problem solving, critical thinking, or lots of practice. In this case, you’re getting a new cake rather than trying to improve an existing one. This takes more work than just adding icing, but the results can be well worth it in the right situation.

The big difference between gamification and GBL is that you could still learn something from the content you gamified before you gamified it. With GBL the learning takes place during play. If you don’t play you won’t learn, and if you don’t learn you can’t advance in the game. The Typing of the Dead is an example of GBL. As the name suggests, it teaches you how to type. You have to type the words and phrases that appear on screen to shoot at the zombies that are coming after you. If you don’t type fast enough it proves that you haven’t learned sufficiently and you get killed by the zombies.

It is also good to know that “games” does not need to mean “video games” or “computer games.” There are many types of games: board games, card games, word games, pencil and paper games, and other games that don’t require any materials at all, like Charades. All it really takes for something to be a game is a goal and a set of rules that need to be followed in order to reach it.

There are two ways to implement game-based eLearning:

Store-Bought Cake

You can use games that already exist to help teach your content. There are plenty of off-the shelf games available, both educational and commercial. For instance, Monopoly or The Sims could be used to help teach financial concepts. If your association decides to go this route, make sure the game(s) fulfills your needs. After all, you wouldn’t want to show up at a birthday party with a cake that says, “Happy Anniversary!”

Made-from-Scratch Cake

There’s also the option of having your content built into a custom game. This is a big undertaking, so your association will want to find a proven vendor that will work with you to make your game-based eLearning a reality. It can take more time, effort, and money to make a cake from scratch. But you can taste the difference and make it just the way you want it.

There you have it. Gamification and GBL are icing and cake. They’re related, but they’re two separate things. One is purely motivational and the other, although also motivational, focuses on changing the way your eLearning is served. Games come in many forms and can either be purchased as-is or baked from scratch. No matter which recipe you choose, gamification and GBL are excellent tools for increasing learner engagement.

If you’d like to learn about game based learning from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.

If you’d like to read more about instructional design best practices, check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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