At first glance, “serious games” looks like an oxymoron; when managers take a second look, they often think of “gamification.” Serious learning games are neither. A growing presence in corporate eLearning, serious learning games present opportunities to create engaging and interesting content that learners voluntarily spend time with—and learn from.

Serious games and gamification of eLearning differ in significant ways. Gamification applies elements of game mechanics to eLearning content; maybe the ability for players to move up through levels as their skill set grows, the possibility of winning badges, or the appeal of competing with co-workers. But the content is not specifically designed as a game; game mechanics are simply overlaid onto eLearning content, or existing training materials are placed into a game-like framework. Plugging content that learners need to learn and remember into a Jeopardy-like game is one example. Any content could work; the game is not directly related to the learning materials.

Gamification is increasingly claiming a place in corporate and educational eLearning; it can make learning repetitive information engaging and even fun, which gets employees to spend more time with it and therefore perhaps retain more of the content. It exploits the addictive nature of game-playing that appeals to many learners, whatever their age.

Serious games also appeal to learners’ playful or competitive inclinations, but they are on an entirely different plane. A serious learning game is eLearning that is built from the ground up as a game; the objectives address both the content of the training or actual eLearning and the elements of a strategic game. Learners are presented with a challenge, and they must apply knowledge and information learned through the game in responding to the challenge; they receive feedback and interact with other players, who can be co-learners or characters in the game. The game is an immersive and interactive experience.

When analyzing results of a serious learning game, managers can learn whether employees have covered essential content, of course; but perhaps more importantly, they will also gain “a much higher-level understanding of the player, his reasons for success or failure, and how to improve the training or provide further development for that employee, so the outcome produces better results and has a longer-term effect,” according to Sue Bohle, executive director of the Serious Games Association. (Read Learning Solutions Magazine’s interview with Bohle on September 29, 2016.)

The use of serious games in corporate eLearning is taking off; an analysis released by Sam Adkins at the Serious Play Conference in July 2016 forecasts growth of 22.4 percent in game-based learning over the 2016 – 2021 period. Adkins attributes this to both the emergence of empirical evidence that game-based learning is effective and the emergence of “corporate-facing companies” producing game-based eLearning and tools.

Not all serious games require sophisticated graphics and artwork or the complicated bells and whistles that are expensive and time-consuming to create. Companies and educators are increasingly able to take advantage of platforms and resources that are freely available—and often are shared among eLearning developers, particularly among educators—to create serious learning games. Bohle produces the Serious Play Conference, an annual gathering where serious-games experts and developers gather to share information; she encourages eLearning developers to seek out forums where serious-games professionals encourage this kind of sharing and mentoring so they can explore the possibilities serious games could offer learners in their companies.


Adkins, Sam. “The 2016-2021 Global Game-based Learning Market.” 2016 Serious Play Conference. 26 July 2016.