Gaming is a fundamental learning method for the youngest generations, so it should play a crucial role in teachers’ programs: in the digital era, teachers and professors have many more possibilities than the past to integrate game-based learning in their lessons, in order to facilitate and enhance the educational experience of their students.
Today gamification and game-based learning are buzzwords in education, but confusion still exists when we try to understand what each is and what each is not.
When we talk about gamification at school, we talk about the idea of applying some game elements to a non-game situation, using a scoring game mechanic to reward users for certain behaviors, for example, if a student helps a classmate, or if he completes an assigned task within a certain time.
Gamification has been integrated into education through systems like ClassCraft, which add adventure game layers on top of the existing course structure. Using these gamification systems, students are allowed to create their own character, play as part of a team, and earn experience points to be transformed into rewards, as an alternative to the traditional grading system.
On the other side, we can talk about game-based learning (or GBL), a practice that relates to the use of games to enhance the learning experience. In this case, the game becomes part of the learning process, and it is aimed at teaching a discrete skill or specific learning outcome while giving learners an engaging experience.
Game-based learning is characterized by fantasy elements and it uses competitive exercises in order to motivate students to learn better. GBL draws them into virtual environments that look and feel familiar and safe, environments where it is possible to choose actions, make mistakes and experience the consequences in a risk-free setting.
GBL is an effective method to make students work toward a goal, allowing them to learn through experimentation, practicing behaviors and thought processes that can be then easily transferred from the simulated environment to real life.
Game-based learning basically has 5 main characteristics that make it suitable to be used in the classroom:
We are not talking about the competition of students against other students or the teacher, but against the game itself, as well as against themselves in order to gain the highest score, which means to learn better. In order to win, games require children to think quickly and use their logic to think three steps, solving the problems and completing the levels. This is great because it boosts students’ ability to think fast outside of the box.
Games often offer fantasy elements that engage students in a learning activity through a storyline. When a child is playing a game, curiosity and imagination are stimulated to the point of doing it without even noticing the learning elements. Furthermore, in order to solve the game, students have to remember particular aspects and memorize critical sequences, or track narrative elements: this improves memorization.
GBL provide immediate rewards to the players, keeping them invested and stimulating them to continue in the learning process because of the prompt results they get. Rewards can be simple, as letting the students know they are correct, or they can be points or descriptive feedback expanding their knowledge.In order to create a truly educational game, the instructor needs to make sure that learning the material is essential to scoring and winning.
GBL requires children and young students to use a gamepad – or a keyboard – and the mouse to operate the game. This can help develop their hand-eye coordination because they have to look at the scene on the screen while using their hands to control the action.
Game-based learning using Minecraft showed us that the only limit to what students are able to create when operating in these systems is their imagination. Students not only experience the gameplay but are also able to contribute to it, designing their own worlds where to experiment and practice.