With both games and gamification becoming more popular in the educational space, it is more important than ever to understand the differences between them. While they may seem very similar, they have different costs, implementations and, most importantly, different results.
This is because educational games do something that gamification systems do not: they immerse the player in a new world. Whether that world is a carefully crafted, fantastical universe or simply a black room populated by colorful blocks, it is a space outside of real life. This space is what gamification systems lack, and, unfortunately, it is also what engages students and connects them to the material. A student earning points for reading study material will still be simply reading facts, but a student who is immersed in a game world based on the material will be able to see it come to life.
Besides this major difference between education games and gamified education, there are several smaller differences:
- Many games have a narrative and/or scripted characters, which can help create an emotional connection between the student and the material. This could be the difference between reading about Benjamin Franklin and meeting him;
- Games can simulate and simplify complex systems, allowing students to learn the basics before moving on to more advanced material. Students can also learn the relationships between parts of the system by manipulating these parts;
- Game developers excel at matching the challenge level of the game to the player’s skill level. These challenge curves keep students engaged and motivated to continue playing;
- Games can change how students approach learning by encouraging certain types of behavior over others. This can help students learn how to learn, better equipping them for the future.
Although gamified education can help enhance learning, you cannot create interest by simply rewarding it. A student may do the work faster for more points, but such motivation does not extend beyond the assignments given. Educational games, on the other hand, can interest students in a subject and motivate them to research the material themselves.