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Implementing gamification and game-based learning to facilitate the learning process is a strategy that’s been around since time immemorial, and with good reason too!

Playing games engages our attention, stimulates our senses, and heightens our motivation to win (or learn). Gamification in e-learning satisfies many basic human needs such as ego gratification, pride of mastery and the many other emotional rewards that make games fun.


E is for electronic, therefore any tech-based electronic learning platform satisfies the conditions for e-learning. E-learning is the substrate to which we apply gamification.

“Simply stated, e-learning is ‘learning conducted via electronic media, typically on the internet’. A MOOC – Massive Open Online Course – would be a good example of e-learning. Participants register with the academic institution offering the course and then complete a series of online lecture videos, questions and surveys. More often than not, a certificate of accomplishment is awarded at the end of the course if all the goals (metrics) have been met.”
From: How gamification improves effectiveness of the e-learning experience

E-learning is the chassis onto which we can bolt all the additional engagement and retention-boosting layers. Many of these mechanics and layers should already be familiar. Consider for a moment traditional grading mechanisms, like assigning an ‘A’ for outstanding work and an ‘F’ for failure. Are these not just like the Points, Badges and Leaderboard model? Awarding points, e.g. 87% earns a badge, an ‘A’, which signifies and communicates achievement – ‘top of the class’? There’s your leaderboard!
But there’s far more to it than that. A gamified learning solution may also feature game-based learning; that is, where specific content is presented in the form of an actual game (like a board game or video game).

Before we delve deeper, let’s be very clear about the difference between gamification and game-based learning. Both are additives that can be used to enhance the e-learning experience. Using an actual educational game in a learning context is known as game-based learning; and this is not to be confused with gamification.


Gamification is the use of game-like elements in traditionally non-game settings to drive engagement, motivate employees, or achieve another specific objective. Gamification involves substantially more than merely providing levels, experience points and badges, however. A user should progress through a journey of challenges and learning experiences, all the while getting swept up in an engaging storyline that immerses them in the content. Check out why narrative is gamification’s secret learning weapon.

Gamification is not a learning tool in its own right, however. Applied in a training context, gamification elements are highly effective at promoting learning; especially when learners are required to understand and recall concepts or procedures. If you captivate your players or learners by using a scenario based approach, they feel they are part of a grand story in which they play a pivotal role. Consequently they will be far more engaged, leading to a greater retention of training knowledge.

“Very often, gamification is confused by some as being a form of e-learning. This is not true. Gamification must always be considered as a layer on any system driven by the performance of its participants. E-learning systems are designed to facilitate lesson completion through methods that involve constant feedback, personalisation and content simplification. All of these methods connect well into a layer of gamification. … Using this type of design principle, a carefully crafted layer of gamification may produce the correct outcome from an e-learning system by modifying the specific behaviour of involved participants.”
From: Make your e-learning tool more effective through intelligent gamification

Game-based learning

Game-based learning uses actual games (ones that we can call by name, like Hang Man) to achieve specific instructional goals and predetermined learning outcomes. Unlike gamification, game-based learning is an actual stand-alone game that is designed to help people learn. By choosing actions and solving problems that the game presents, learners gain new knowledge or acquire new skills when playing. We usually call this an educational game.

Hang Man is a classic example: the object of the game is to guess the word before you run out of letters. The fact that you learn how to spell is completely incidental. If designed correctly, game-based learning can also impart soft skills such as negotiation and problem solving in a similarly incidental way, simply through human interaction.

Just as the alphabet was the ‘raw material’ for the Hang Man game, game-based learning takes the instructional content and learning activities – new software, or new product specifications, for example – and manipulates the information into a stimulating challenge within a game-like experience. It requires learners to focus and willingly engage with the content.

For example, if your objective is to teach employees all about company lore, you might design a game like Trivial Pursuit, but instead of having general trivia questions, all the questions relate to the company (let’s call it Office Pursuit). This is not gamification. Although we are presenting the content material in a game format, the correct description of this application is game-based learning. We have literally created a game and if you’ve been following, you’ll know upfront that gamification is NOT the business of making games.

To sum up:

  • E-learning is the chassis onto which we bolt our gamification elements and layers
  • Making a game to teach specific content is game-based learning, not gamification
  • Using game-elements and game mechanics in traditionally non-game environments to drive engagement or change behaviour is gamification

To reap the full benefits of gamification in e-learning, try to include game elements and game-based learning in the e-learning environment. It is an incredibly clever way to encourage people to learn. Aside from the instant feedback from the electronic environment that lets you stay on top of things, it adds a little extra motivation to what they, as life-long learners, should be doing anyway.

It injects some much needed fun and sets up learning as an ever-unfolding flow of quests, missions and challenges that lead to ever-higher levels of knowledge, skill and accomplishment. Great gamification can change a chore into a challenge, and learning into a lifestyle!