Defining Game-Based Learning and Gamification

Designing Digitally


Adult Learning and Training

What is game-based learning?

In this technique of teaching, the game is the basic foundation and training content is weaved into the game structure. In a learning game, you let the learners play a segment of the game and then present them with learning material. The game keeps the learners engaged and helps them absorb more content and enhance knowledge retention.

The basic idea behind game-based learning is teaching learners through repetition and failure. Most video games are built with this technique. The player starts slow and steady. Gradually, they must hone their skills to navigate through difficult levels with ease. The challenge is to keep the level of difficulty just right. Make it too difficult and the players lose interest. Make it easy and the players sail through it without any effort.

Game-based learning emulates the same concept. Learners work to achieve a goal. They choose their actions and face its consequences. If they make mistakes, they learn from them. This way of learning is interactive and not passive. Studies show that learners retain more knowledge from game-based learning than with a passive learning mode. Take flight simulators for example. The pilots chase specific goals and practice until they achieve them. The learning is way more productive than attending lectures and reading content.

What is gamification?

Gamification is completely different than game-based learning. It is the process of using game mechanics like badges, levels, points, and leaderboards to non-gaming situations – like learning. The idea is to raise motivation and engagement levels of the learners. Here, you have a traditional learning program where you add certain game mechanics to enhance the engagement quotient.

Gamification thrives on the individual’s need to compete and succeed. The game mechanics keep the learners motivated throughout the training. It encourages the learners to complete more content in order to beat their peer’s score or earn rewards. This technique is best suited for content that can be memorized.

Content Gamification vs Structural Gamification

There are basically two kinds of gamification – content and structural. Let’s explore how they are different.

In content gamification or serious games, you change the learning content to a game. You need to focus on a specific learning goal and develop the serious game based on the relevant content. This kind of gamification takes more time, money, and effort to develop. The game Monopoly is a good example of content gamification. It teaches the learners the basics of real estate – buying properties, building hotels, and so on. Learners are driven by fun and friendly competition as they make decisions and live with those consequences.

In structural gamification, the native content remains as is, but the way you present it makes it a gamified experience. The main aim is to motivate your learner so that they go through the learning content and stay engaged with the course. For example, you can award points to the learner for completing a task or watching a podcast. So, the task or podcast does not have any game elements except for the fact that you get points to do it. Structural gamification is often less costly and time intensive and can be applied to a wide range of topics.

So basically, game-based learning and gamification are the same?

No, they are not. While both share the goal of educating the learner, there are distinct ways in which they differ. Here is a snapshot that shows how they are different from each other.

Game-based learning

  • What is it? The process of learning through a game
  • Main purpose? To keep learners intrigued and bring a change in behavior and knowledge
  • Primary Driver? To enhance learning effectiveness


  • What is it? Using game mechanics in a non-game scenario
  • Main purpose? To drive engagement and motivation
  • Primary Driver? To tap into extrinsic and intrinsic rewards

Which technique should you use for your learners? Well, that depends on the goals and specific needs of your learners and your learning strategy. You need to take these aspects into careful consideration if you want your learning module to bring you a good return-on-investment.


Designing Digitally, specializes in custom learning solutions that incorporate game-based learning and gamification. These approaches lead to an increase in positive behavior changes and successful knowledge retention when compared to traditional training methods.

Contact our team of experts or download our Game-Based Learning is a Game Changer in Corporate Training white paper to learn more about these strategies and how they can improve your organization’s training today!