Gamification vs Game-Based Learning: The Difference

In the 21st century, there has been a drive to make learning less monotonous and more enjoyable while improving the retention factor. Experts studied and found out that adding an element of gaming can improve retention to a great extent, and that is how two of today’s buzzwords came into light- gamification vs game-based learning.


While both terms look similar at first glance, there are some vital differences that pop-up when you dive deeper. As per a Statista report, gamification is all set to touch $ 11.94 billion by the year 2021. On the other hand, Research and Market suggest that we may see the market value of game-based learning exceed US$ 4.3 billion by the year 2024.

In this article, we will try to clarify your muddled thoughts about these two concepts.

What is game-based learning theory?

Game-based learning (GBL) is the idea of starting with a game and then molding your curriculum to fit into it. It is a concoction of games and education where the two elements are easily visible on their own.

Via GBL, some features, or the entire game teaches useful skills to the users.

GBL revolves around three main ideas – failure, repetition, and accomplishment of goals.


When the users start their journey, they have zero knowledge, and they gain the necessary skills as they advance. A well-planned game is challenging to excel while being easy to win at the same time.

With the help of it, organizations often throw their workers in challenging situations where there is no penalty for mistakes and allow them to develop new tricks and skills without the burden of failures.

Types of game-based learning

Even though they are all games, after studying a series of them, we have found out that they can be bifurcated into the following three types:

1. Simulation Games

Games that emulate real-life situations or resemble real-life scenarios as closely as possible fall under this category. They help the users to understand and deal with issues that they are likely to face in real life.


There are several driving apps, the most famous of which is “Dr. Driving”, where you are the driver operating a virtual car with a setup which is close to the actual one. Pilots often have to train using games that use simulation techniques to acquaint them with several important aspects of their job.

2. Interval-based games

We all know how essential intervals are in our day-to-day lives. Several games intersect with the learning content i.e. you get content after every specific range for which the game runs. It can be in the form of an image or, more popularly, a video that contains the lesson.

3. Gates games

These are games that have their gameplay divided into several sections. You need to complete the required task to clear the level. You also receive rewards after clearing every level or after every set of levels.

How do we apply game-based learning?

In a game-based learning experience, there is a tutor who starts with an actual game. He then fits the study course to suit the game environment.

In a corporate environment, employers often use virtual-reality games to take the employees into a world that looks and feels as good as the real world.

The progress in the game matches the understanding that the users attain from the game. Several aspects can be taught, such as company training, sales, team building, staff awareness, and service training. It is also a proven performer when it comes to improving employee retention and recall rates.

Challenges in game-based learning

If you want to accomplish anything useful, you will have to overcome several obstacles in the way. GBL too falls in the same corridor and there a few challenges in applying it –

  • Creating an effective game design to accumulate all the vital learning elements.
  • Catering to several strata of users in the same manner.
  • Expertise in the requisite fields is necessary to create a solid game.
  • Overcoming cultural barriers.
  • Managing the cost aspect involved.

Game-based learning examples

We all have played games like Chess and Monopoly, which explicitly drive improvement in specific skills of the participants without actively informing them about it. If we look into virtual games, several games have found a place in the school curriculum such as World of Warcraft, Minecraft, SimCity, Assassin’s Creed, and many others.

What is gamification theory?

Gamification is the application of game mechanics in a learning environment to acquire better output and achieve the desired behavior. In a gamified environment, employers utilize leaderboards, incentives, badges, and other activities to motivate the employee to perform better.


Types of gamification

Gamification finds its use in several areas like education, business, sales, corporate training, eLearning, and many more. It is useful in fostering product innovation, on-boarding, elimination of errors, and much more. For detailed insights, you can click on the link here.

Applying Gamification

In a gamification environment, engagement software integrates with existing software to build some hype. It can be as easy as adding a progress bar or points system and as complex as creating an employee leaderboard.

Read our article on gamification examples and gamification examples in Malaysia to understand the real-world applications of gamification.

Challenges in gamification

Even though gamification is a revolutionary idea which checks all the right boxes, it also faces some stiff issues that can be difficult to overcome. Here are some of them –

  • It can be very complex, and you need to keep all the elements in check to achieve the goal.
  • Some of the elements may not be suitable for everyone in the mix. To ensure it is not the issue with you, study and know your audience thoroughly.
  • For some people, it can be more of a distraction rather than a learning source. Make sure that you tie ample learning objectives along.
  • You are in a world full of choices. Know what would be best suited to achieve your goals and utilize that instead of trying them all.
  • At times you may sway away from the main objective while creating the right mix. Keep yourself in check.

What is the difference between gamification and game-based learning?

Often, you will come across people using these two terms interchangeably and that too, without any fuss. For those who care to dive into it, they can see some apparent differences.

Gamification is all about adding gaming elements to your everyday activities, whereas game-based learning refers to the art of learning while playing games. The former carries a broader meaning than the latter one.

In the battle of gamification vs game-based learning, there is another stark difference lurking in between these two. The former is a game and its residue (with means the lessons it is trying to teach), whereas the latter one is entirely about the fostering mechanics and the idea behind it.

The last difference between these two hugely popular terms is that these concepts have different leaders.

Let us clarify.

In a game-based learning environment, it is the creator of the game who can finalize the ideas that you can impart via the game. Whereas in the gamification environment, it is the educator choosing the mechanics.  

In the end, what you will implement depends on your objectives and how you aspire to achieve them. Be careful not to take the cavalier approach and add the elements after precisely churning out a plan.

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