4 key differences between gamification and serious gaming in e-learning

E-learning has evolved to the point where games are being used to engage online learners, as well as motivate them to succeed and, eventually, see their full potential. With that said, there are two types of gaming in e-learning: gamification and serious games.

Gamification is about e-learning activities and modules, which act as a means to encourage online learners to learn and improve in a certain subject area. For example, online learners must complete an e-learning module in order to unlock the next level. This allows friendly competition, along with the expectation to learn from the experience.

Serious games, on the other hand, are more focused on specific learning objectives and goals, which opens the door to more intense competition. While it still has some sort of training value, the in-game obstacles might be more advanced than simple gamification modules. As such, online learners can build more essential skills with serious gaming. Thus, serious games can be seen as independent pieces of e-learning.

So, how do the two entities differ from each other? Well, we’ll have to look at these 4 common differences:

1. Primary purposes

“Both gamification and serious games differ greatly when it comes to their purposes,” says Rachael Torres, a web developer at 1day2write and Writemyx. “Gamification is an application of typically game-like elements to other areas of activity, say, marketing or training that can help increase engagement and effectiveness from participants. Whereas, serious gaming is designed to follow the typical gaming structure, despite having some sort of training value. Having said that, the latter aims to take teaching a skill quote-en-quote ‘seriously,’ while the former seeks to take things to only a basic level.”

2. Gaming mechanics

Game mechanics in e-learning differ in both gamification and serious games. Gamification usually follows the typical structure of a game – the leveling-up part, more specifically – to tap into an e-learner’s natural human drive for competition and achievement. For gamification to work properly, you must know your audience and what drives them, and in turn, pair them with the correct game mechanics needed to activate them. On the other hand, serious games may include gamification or not, since they already follow the typical game structure. However, serious games are also designed to involve some training value in addition to just being a piece of entertainment. So, serious games act as positive reinforcement and just-in-time learning and are more likely to be implemented in e-learning.

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3. Rewards system

With gamification, game mechanics are blended with traditional e-learning activities and modules, meaning that leaderboards, points, and e-learning badges act as incentives for online learners in exchange for their participation.

In contrast, with serious games, while they tend to be fun, entertaining, and interactive, they also align with specific learning objectives and goals. Plus, serious games can operate independently, while gamification often involves the traditional e-learning course structure. Thus, the former may offer more appealing rewards, regardless if you proceed to the next level or not.

Speaking of online learners earning rewards…

4. Competition

…that’s where competition comes into play for both gamification and serious games.

“While friendly competition drives online learners to do their best and outdo their peers, gamification and serious games differ whenever competition is involved,” says Oscar Preston, a business writer at Brit student and Next coursework. “While gamification allows online learners to follow the basic act of competing against one another through friendly competition, with
serious games, certain online learners will find simple leaderboards not engaging enough and will want to compete and prove that they have what it takes to succeed. In hindsight, serious games allow online learners to be more competitive, while gamification offers competitiveness in small doses.”

As you can see, gamification and serious games can offer online learners an assortment of benefits, despite the most notable differences between the two. However, despite their major differences, how online learners should learn with games is up to the educators, along with the motivation levels of the learners themselves. Additional aspects like subject matter, objectives, and learner needs can determine which direction to go to – gamification or serious gaming. No matter which e-learning gaming educators and students turn to, both parties will see innovative results.

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