Gamification and game-based learning are both buzzwords in the education and training industry. Although both are innovative ways to train your learners, they aren’t actually interchangeable. While both may relate to education and training, how they relate varies greatly.


So, what is gamification? Gamification is adding game-like mechanics to non-game experiences to encourage a specific behavior and motivate learners. This does not mean you are having your learners play games. What it does mean is that you are taking motivational elements from games, such as badges or achievements, and incorporating them into the learning experience to encourage your learners to perform a specific behavior.

An example of this in a web-based training application would be awarding learners badges for completing sections of training, and posting their scores to a leaderboard. These actions encourage learners and keep them engaged. A more “real life” example would be the badges that members of scouting organizations receive upon completion of a specific task. The game-like mechanic (the badge), encourages and rewards the scout to perform a specific behavior (say, the ability to tie a certain knot).

Gamification is a great way to do the following:

  • Encourage existing behaviors
  • Change behaviors
  • Provide immediate feedback and gratification
  • Track progress and effort

Game-based learning

On the other hand, we have game-based learning (GBL). Game-based learning is using games to teach specific content. This can be through a game created for education (serious games), or a non-educational game for educational purposes. For example, using the game Angry Birds to reinforce X and Y intercepts or Cooking Dash to introduce what it is like working in a restaurant.

Immersing your learners in a simulated experience using game mechanics is a great way to reinforce learning. Take the game Civilization, for example. The player is immersed in the simulation and must understand ideas like politics, tactics, and democracy to succeed. Game-based learning gives students the freedom to fail and focuses on using the game to reinforce the learning material and provide context. In essence, any variety of game encourages the player to practice, learn from their mistakes, and gain many important skills.

Using games to teach can do the following:

  • Provide context
  • Engage and encourage students
  • Provide instruction in a new, more interesting way

To recap…

While gamification and game-based learning are buzzwords in the training realm, and are sometimes used interchangeably, they are different. Gamification is using game-like mechanics, such as badges and leaderboards, in your training. It is not playing games or using games to teach. Whereas, game-based learning is using games to teach and reinforce educational objectives. Incorporating either one of these elements into your training is a sure way to catch your audience’s interest and teach them your material.