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Get the Lingo Right! Gamification or Game Based Learning?

Gamification is definitely a buzzword in training at the moment, especially as we continue to roll out e-learning across our organisations .  The terms ‘gamification’ and ‘game based learning’ seem to be getting used interchangeably, however there are distinct differences between these two.


Gamification is the idea of adding game elements to a non-game situation. They reward users for certain behaviors to motivate and engage learners so that they can become (and stay) active participants in their learning.

What might this look like?

If your online learning system includes anything like achievement badges, leader boards, point systems for completing tasks, level/access progressions or any types of “quests”, then your organisation has included some elements of gamification in their learning approach.

Games Based Learning

Unlike gamification, game-based learning is about integrating games into the learning tasks to enhance the learning experience – helping to practice specific skills or achieve specific learning objectives while making learning fun and more engaging. Usually elearning games have rules, specific objectives and a risk of losing the game.

This has been a huge growth area in recent years and there are lots of examples currently in use by emergency services as part of training.

What might this look like?

Branching scenarios where learners choose what to do next is a good example that is increasingly included in e-learning. Simulation activities, such as Ambulance Victoria’s Mass Casualty Triage module or NSW RFS firefighting scenarios (both created with XVR) are other examples. Skill and drill games included in modules to learn information and revise content  are also generic examples.

Note: industry further defines some activities as “serious games” – where the learning is closely related to real world tasks and situations, and “entertainment” or “fun” games where the games structure is used to cover content.

This infographic summarises things well:

Image by Steven Isaacs –  ASCD Inservice

Using Gamification and Games Based Learning

Both gamification and game-based learning can offer training a variety of benefits for training and learning, a main benefit being increased motivation.

If you want to give it a try, here are some ideas:

  • Consider what games are “ready made” or easily editable. Building quality game based learning is an undertaking. If it’s bigger than a single scenario, consider available budgets and timelines.
  • Existing e-courses could be gamified by including points for quizzes, incentives for completing a topic in a course, or by scoring highest (such as access to an extra special topic). This requires small modifications in existing content.
  • Look at what your organisation’s Learning Management System has built in – it may be possible that the more learning content the learner accesses, the more points he/she accumulates or is promoted to the higher level of access. It might be built in that top users can be highlighted for everyone (like a leader board). Some Learning Management Systems even allow for personalisation options like avatars.
  • Consider use of existing social media groups within your organisation to create gamification features – like “superuser” badges that can be added to user details, or posting specific challenges/quests that link back to e-learning modules.

Key things to remember if you do use gamification or games based learning (funnily enough, they are just good principles for training in general!):

  • Use gamification/games based learning for the right reasons – remember that the learning outcomes are what really matters.
  • If you choose to develop scenarios, make it realistic.
  • High levels of interactivity are vital! Think point and click actions, branching scenarios, non-linear text presentation.
  • Choose the right balance of support and challenging (Goldilocks Principle – not too hard, not too easy) so that learners are not bored or too frustrated. You can always repeat activities gradually increasing difficulty.


Extra note: If you take the ‘e’ out of e-learning, the above information about gamification and games based learning still applies in the physical world! Teachers and trainers have been applying the principles for years!

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