Game-based learning and gamification both rely on the same thing. Both - either wholly or partially - rely on games to convey knowledge to learners. It focuses on the idea of learner engagement as an important tool to discreetly push knowledge, or test newly acquired knowledge.
Having games in a learning module is a noble thought, indeed; however, the mechanics of learning games is still an evolving field of study, and most people jump on to the gamification platform due to the novelty of the approach and not out of conviction for the learning outcome.
Games in learning are much-hyped. It's like throwing the old adage - "never mix business with pleasure" - out of the window. I'm not a big fan of games, and I don't want to be the biggest critic of games in learning either. But, here are some thoughts that make me wonder where it's headed...
Engagement vs. Distraction
True, games can engage even the dullest of Jacks. So, they'll play. And keep playing till they win. And they'll show off their achievements (read: badges) on social networks. And revel in the feeling of one-upmanship among their peers.
So, they were engaged. But, were they engaged in the learning process, or in the game? Did the game serve only to distract them from the primary learning experience? Go, figure that one out!
Learn vs. Enjoy
Give me a choice, and I would select merriment over learning. I’m not alone – that’s how we are wired. People, naturally, gravitate towards fun when it is pitted against learning, or anything serious. Give me a game, and I shall enjoy it for what it is – a game. The learning becomes inconsequential. Game over.
Recall Information vs. Remember the Game
Finally, let’s talk of recall value. If your game is remembered by the learners as a “wonderful game that I once played”, would you pat yourself on the back? Or, would you rather they said “I learned a lot from that course, and there was a nice game too that reinforced my learning”?
Should we shun games in learning?
Not really. The point I’m trying to drive home is that game-based learning and gamification are still in their infancy. My advice to all learning designers out there would be to apply discretion while selecting a game-based approach – not just convert any content into a game only to cater to a client’s whims or to keep up with the Joneses and stay in the ‘game’.
Don’t lose focus of what you set out to do when you design a learning game – make no compromises in the ‘learning’ just because it is probably making your game a tad bit boring.
I’ve put forth my case. Tell me your thoughts.