Gamification versus game-based learning

Summit of Education 2019

Gamification versus game-based learning

Ruby Rei Cambridge English game

The 'Gamification' versus 'game-based learning' session at the Summit of Education 2019 discussed the differences between the two terms, along with the advantages of each to support learning.

Here Marianne Pickles, Assessment Development Team Lead, brings us up to date on exploration into games-based learning and assessment at Cambridge Assessment English. Marianne presented the Summit breakout session with Matt Haigh of Cambridge International.

What’s the difference between a game and gamification?

Gamification is when you take something which is not a game, and then you add game-like elements to it. For example, if you take a standard exercise that you might find in an English language course book, or an assessment, and then putting that in a framework of badges, points or levels.

Games based learning and games based assessment, however, is referring to replicating the experience of playing a video game. There is an immersive experience, there is a story or a narrative around the experience.

What are Cambridge Assessment English doing with games?

We have a couple of different projects on the go at the moment. One of these is called Ruby Rei, which is a game that has been designed to encourage engagement and motivation of students learning a language. We are exploring how this can be used by teachers in the classroom, to complement the existing curriculum.

We’re also looking at how to develop an immersive games-based learning experience which focuses on specific learning objectives related to language learning.

Is there any research or evidence on the impact of games-based learning and assessment?

There’s quite a lot of research around games based learning and assessment but it’s predominantly theoretical, and not in the context of language learning. What we’re trying to do at Cambridge Assessment English is to do some research into whether the theory can be applied in practice, within a language learning context.

Some of the things that we know are relevant in the theory include the concepts of meaningful context, having a purpose for carrying out the activities, the cognitive authenticity of what’s happening in your brain while engaged with the game is similar to what’s going on in real life using the language, the emotional side – having a connection with the game is likely to be beneficial to learning, and the motivational aspect – if it’s more enjoyable people are more likely to be motivated to continue.

One of the big pieces of theory is to do with ‘flow’, which was suggested by an American-Hungarian researcher called Csikszentmihalyi.

He spoke about the way that you can lose yourself in an activity – a state of ‘flow’ – and if we can find a way to evoke that in language learners, it’s a really good thing. They’re getting exposure to the language while being fully immersed in what they are doing.

We carried out some preliminary research earlier in the year with a small version of a game we did called ‘The Lighthouse’. Some indications from that were that the game context resulted in lower levels of test anxiety than a paper-based equivalent, and the game provoked more curiosity in the students.

We believe that this is a really important skill in the 21st century in general, and the game-based environment lends itself well to this. Also, the students were much more self-sufficient and the persevered more with the game environment.

Instead of asking the teacher when the students were stuck, they kept on trying to find the answer, because that’s what you do in a game.

In a game setting, you learn a new skill, you practice it over and over until you get really good at it, the game tests you on the skill through different quests and boss battles, and so on. This is exactly the same loop that we are hypothesising is possible to tap into within the language learning setting, we’re just working on figuring out how to do that. There’s some research by James Paul Gee – who has some really interesting videos on YouTube – about that loop.

About the author

Marianne Pickles

Marianne is the Head of Assessment Development at Cambridge Assessment English. Her current focus is on how games-based learning and assessment can help learners, as well as working on projects involving innovations in learning and assessment more broadly.