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Using games to facilitate learning is a strategy that’s been around forever. 

And with good reason; games engage our attention, heighten motivation to win (that is, to learn) and satisfy basic human needs such as ego gratification, pride of mastery and the other emotional rewards that make games fun.Using games in a learning context is known as ‘game-based learning’, which is not to be confused with ‘gamification’. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re different concepts.


Gamification is the use of game-like elements in traditionally non-game settings, providing levels, points and badges as the player progresses through a journey of challenges, quests and missions. It’s not a learning tool in and of itself. But applied in a learning context, gamification elements are highly effective aids to learning; especially when learners are required to understand and recall conceptual and procedural knowledge (think compliance training). Gamification basically takes certain game elements and sprinkles them into learning content to make it fun to interact with and easier to retain new information.

Game-based learning

Game-based learning, as a technique, uses games to ultimately achieve a specific instructional goal. Unlike gamification, game-based learning is an actual ‘game’ designed to help people learn. Learners will either gain new knowledge or acquire a new skill by playing the game.

Game-based learning takes instructional content – new software, or new product specifications, for example, and manipulates the information into a stimulating challenge within a game space. It forces learners to stop what they’re doing and willingly engage with the content. And it often contains an element of fantasy. Whether you are surviving a zombie apocalypse or living on a deserted island, the fantasy element brings the story to life and helps reinforce memory and learning. And it’s not just about factual learning. If designed correctly, game-based learning can impart soft skills such as negotiation and problem solving, amongst others, in a thought-provoking manner.

The marriage of gamification and game-based learning

The marriage of gamification and learning is an incredibly clever way to encourage people to learn. It adds a little extra motivation to what we should be doing anyway, and sets up learning as an unfolding flow of quests, missions and challenges leading to ever-higher levels of knowledge and skill.