Gaming vs. Gamification

gaming games gamificationWhile it appears as though we have reached a point where “social” technology is no longer looked at as a fad or a waste of time when it comes to learning, gamification has not been so lucky. In most organizations, game is still a four-letter word, and that is too bad. Gamification is really beginning to hit its stride in the learning space and companies could be missing out on opportunities to engage and motivate their learners.

For professionals interested in introducing gamification to their organizations, the first and arguably most important step is to understand (and be able to express) the difference between gaming and gamification. Gaming is using actual games to engage employees in an activity. This is typically a point-and-click style where players guide avatars or characters through a series of questions or challenges. This is where the reservations tend to come from when discussing gaming with business leaders.

Because of this perception, gaming’s cousin – gamification — gets painted with the same brush. However, gamification is different. It is not about playing a game, but rather about taking gaming mechanics (achievements, rewards, leveling) and applying them to learning activities.

A great model to look at, believe it or not, is online, multi-player console games like Call of Duty, Halo or Borderlands. There is the actual game – the shooting, the strategizing, etc. – and there are the motivations inherent in the game (experience points, level unlocking, leaderboards, etc.). Companies may be better served by looking at what is driving players to keep playing rather than the game itself.

Companies are building participation, for instance, by a building a points system into the learning environment. Learners earn these points by completing learning tasks and the points can translate into numerous outcomes. They can earn a spot on a leaderboard, they can be accumulated for rewards, and they can aggregate into levels and unlock new opportunities.

One of the more established gamification practices is the awarding of badges. Again, this closely mirrors the console games, where certain achievements result in virtual trophies. Learners can earn badges that they can display in their profile. Platforms like Mozilla’s Open Badges allow badge-earners to take those badges with them anywhere they go.

This is a great time to start experimenting with gamification because the practice is relatively established, but it’s just starting to make a splash in learning. There are a host of companies out there that can help companies create a gamification strategy including:

I’ll be honest, the corporate naming in this space does not make it any easier to get executive buy-in for gamification, but the underlying principles are what is important. The ability to articulate the engagement possibilities and potential outcomes will go a long way to getting past objections to vendor names and the idea of games as part of the learning program. Gamification is really just an extension of the whole social learning technology movement, and adds a powerful tool for getting learners involved and participating.

David Wentworth, Senior Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

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