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Gamification vs. Game-Based Learning

When we talk to people about the work we do, the topic of “gamification” comes up quite a bit. To some folks, it’s synonymous with game-based learning, and to others, it’s presented as the inverse. Brandon and I hashed out a decent working definition on the podcast, but we realized we don’t have a matching article laying out our philosophy.

So here you go, you filthy animals!

From our perspective, gamification as a practice refers to the integration of content-agnostic game-based tools. These include things like points, badges, quests, feedback…basically things that go into games that make them sticky and compelling, but don’t actually tie to the content itself.

This is not a bad thing. It certainly can be done badly, but the practice itself is simply advocating for the use of some of the tools and tricks out of the game designer’s bag, for the purpose of making content or practices more engaging. I’m for that.

Dan Norton gamification quote

Game-based learning however, is the larger toolset. It includes the points, badges, and all that jazz, but it also includes strategies on how to tie the content or practice itself to gameplay. That means we look at the content and figure out if there are ways to embody that content in the act of play itself. That is of course, a design practice and strategy all unto itself, and is the weird, interesting work that Filament specializes in.

Dan Norton game-based learning quote

So for example, let’s say you wanted to make a game about welding. If you wanted to gamify it, you could make an app that let people photograph their welds, rate their peers welding jobs, or even make trackable achievements for different types of welds in different environments, or on different objects. That could be cool!

If you wanted to go beyond gamification, you would ask questions like “what aspects of welding practice could be turned into gameplay”. Maybe welding would go well in a VR environment, with a touch device being used as your torch. Maybe we could provide feedback that helps the learner understand distance and speed of welding in terms of how it impacts the metal. Maybe we could give scores (a gamification tool) based on brittleness of the weld based on their performance (game-based learning metrics).

So as you can see, there’s no need to fuss and fight. Gamification is not the enemy, it is simply just one more tool in the game-designer’s toolbelt. It can stand alone, but in general we recommend you blend those tools into the design strategies that make your learning content vital, practicable, and…fun!


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