The difference between Game-based Learning and Gamification

The terms game based learning and gamification are often used interchangeably. Well, both of these eLearning concepts offer eLearning course and training program a number of benefits. In many of training sessions designed and applied by[1], an integrated learning experience has been ensured by taking into an account the differences between the two, so as to achieve synergized learning outcomes, without confusing and mixing both. In my view, being a trainer you must be aware of the difference between game-based learning and gamification, so that you can select the approach that is better able to serve your training goals and objectives and meet the learning needs of your learners. This post, hopefully, will help you determine which methodology is more suitable for your next eLearning training session and course. In addition, you will get an idea for developing an effective training strategy for each.

By formal definition, gamification is the use or application of game-design mechanics and elements in the activities that are not intrinsically game-based. This is applied for engaging and motivating the learners, so that they can be active participants in the learning process. The eLearning experience itself, in essence, is changed into an educational game by using the leaderboards, achievement badges, level progressions, quests and point systems. These game components are all incorporated to help the learners achieve their learning objectives and goals.

On the other hand, while gamification uses game mechanics to change eLearning experience into a game, the game-based learning incorporates online games into the learning process to teach or develop a particular skill or get a learning objective. Games are necessarily utilized as eLearning activities to give the learners an opportunity to get new skills set or knowledge in a fun and engaging manner. Another significant difference between game-based learning and gamification is that in game-based learning strategy, content is developed to be fitted into game confines.

In learning setting, either academia or corporate, gamification has been blended in a more authentic way since some classrooms are a living, breathing game. Gamification systems such as ClassCraft[2] add an adventure game layer on top of current course infrastructure. Students develop a character, play as a team member, and earn rewards and experience points based on class-related behaviors. Learners are rewarded for helping other learners, producing benchmark work etc. Similarly, they can get results for behaviors that are not consistent with the desired learning environment.

Over the last few years, I have gamified my training session experience using 3D GameLab[3]. Some of my sessions now function as a quest-based game, where, in lieu of a conventional grading system, learners work to earn experience point and level up. 3D GameLab is based on the research conducted by Chris Haskell and Lisa Dawley of Boise State University. They have given a good explanation of the way gamification works. Rather than making courses consisting of textbook lectures and learning, classes and sessions built using the game mechanics like experience points, badges, leaderboards and levels, enhance student engagement by enabling learners to choose from quests and move ahead at their own pace via series of educational activities.

Now what I believe is that gamification has become the victim to the fate of numerous buzzwords. Like anything, poor application gets huge critique. A number of educators have integrate a simple gamified component to a class with no truly gamified learning experience. In such cases, gamification is no more than a glorified point system or the integration of awards and badges with no authentic meaning[4]. I would encourage the trainers not to throw away the baby with bath water. If you opt to gamify you session, put suitable thought into it, just as you would with any other session you take into the session.

Now coming to game-based learning; unlike gamification, the game-based learning is related to the use of games mechanics for enhancing the learning experience. Educators and trainers have been using games in the classrooms and sessions for years. It is essential for the learners to be deeply involved in eLearning game for truly getting benefited from it[5]. For instance, if they are deeply engaged in an interactive scenario game, they should feel that they can relate it to the situation and characters, or else they won’t feel motivation they need to move ahead in levels. In short, it can be said that game-based learning must be highly interactive.

Both game based learning and gamification can give your learners the inspiration and motivation they need to obtain real value from your training program or classroom session. The trick is selecting the right approach, based on desired learning outcomes and specific needs of the learners


Copyright 2016 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual.  Learn more about Bryant at LinkedIn:

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.