Gamification vs Game Based Learning

If you are a regular reader of elearning, HR or L&D websites and blogs, you might see these terms mentioned a lot, but many lack a clear definition of Gamification vs Game Based Learning and use the terms interchangeably.

Gamification vs game based learning

Both concepts have the same goal – to boost learner engagement and achievement with a gaming element. However, the two concepts approach this from opposite angles:


What is Gamification?

In the context of elearning, Gamification takes a set of learning content and activities that do not naturally comprise a gaming element, and adds a layer of game design theory and mechanics in order to boost learner motivation and achievement.


What is Game Based Learning?

Game based learning is education or training content organised into a gaming structure from the outset. This will include an end goal or series of goals, usually with milestones that offer rewards and positive feedback for achievement along the way.


So in summary, Game Based Learning starts with the games in mind, while Gamification starts with the learning content in mind, which you can then ‘gamify’ – this is the process of gamification.



For younger learners, games have been used throughout history to encourage – even mask – learning in fun activities. Older children and adults of course see through veiled attempts at hiding learning within a game, but will still get involved if the process is genuinely fun and / or beneficial to their personal or career development.

Engagement has always been a key issue for L&D professionals in trying to ensure that staff complete training to the best of their abilities, indeed even start it at all. As elearning has grown in influence for business training over the last two decades due to its cost-saving and scalability benefits, L&D has sought to increase its role by making it fun.

Perhaps from seeing this trend pick up pace, Mozilla (developers of the Firefox web browser) launched their Open Badges Project in 2011, seeking to bring structure to this concept through universally-recognised rewards that can be displayed on learners’ web profiles.

In principle, the idea makes sense as a motivator – especially as in-house training can continue to provide visible benefits in terms of the learner’s career profile even after leaving that employer. However, perhaps due to the additional admin required to attach the badge system throughout a company’s elearning, Open Badges do not seem to have taken hold in a big way, as shown by the Google Trends search graph below, suggesting waning demand for them into 2017 from a peak level of interest in 2014:

Open Badges interest over time


Part of the L&D Toolkit

For L&D looking to boost learner engagement, adding a gaming element to the learning process through Gamification of existing materials, with a reward system and positive feedback on completion of modules and / or tasks, can help you to achieve just that.

Fun and feelings of achievement and competition (either with one’s self or others) offer motivation to start and, in particular, stay on a learning pathway.

How you dress this up is important for engaging, as opposed to patronising, your learners though. Make sure that its design is appropriate to their needs, wants, seniority and expectations, and either Gamification or Game Based Learning can be useful additions to the L&D toolkit.