April 19, 2016

Gamification vs. Game-Based Learning

Lindsey Tropf

With the growth in popularity of video games among K-12 students over the last few years, many teachers have worked to incorporate gaming into their classroom. By adding something fun and relatable to the learning process, students can become more engaged and retain more knowledge. However, there has been some confusion, with people often mixing up gamification and game-based learning.

Simply put, gamification is making a game out of the classroom setting, whereas game-based learning is using games to teach. It is important to know the difference between the two because every classroom has its own needs which might be better met with one method over the other, or a mixture of the two.


Gamification is the process of making a game out of a non-game setting. In everyday life, this can be seen when using a rewards card to gain points towards a discount. By creating a goal, the rewards card motivates the buyer into purchasing a product.

In the classroom, this would involve using game design techniques to make the learning process more enjoyable and motivating. These techniques might include a grade scale based around gaining experience points or taking part in quests. Below is a list of methods often used in classroom gamification:

  • Creating a leveling system for students using experience points.
  • Awarding achievements to students for completing various tasks.
  • Making different skill sets for each subject that the student must “master”.
  • Completing “quests” to earn points.
  • Keeping track of a leaderboard to see what points each student has.

This is by no means a complete list, but, in general, the most common way of gamifying a classroom is by incorporating a point system in the classroom. This motivates and demonstrates their learning without fear of failing a test that will ruin their grade.

Gamification Examples

  • Class Dojo – The gamification of the classroom using this platform promotes a positive learning environment by teaching students valuable skills, such as determination and working together.
  • ClassCraft – This program turns the classroom into a role-playing game, where each student becomes a character and interacts with one another, gaining levels and powering up while learning.
  • Grade Craft – By having students set their own goals, they can earn badges and stay informed about their learning analytics throughout the class. They level up and are able to unlock the next set of material for them to reach their goal.
  • Rezzly – Educators can customize and personalize their own quests and achievements to motivate their students to learn. Through completion of these quests, students are able to master different skills and subjects.

Game-Based Learning

Game-based learning is the actual inclusion of video games in a classroom. These games are usually educational in subject matter, engaging and motivating the students to learn. Rather than  adding a layer of badges and rewards, game-based learning uses the advantages of video games to teach a subject or skill itself. By using games as an educational approach, students are more encouraged to think critically and solve problems for themselves.

Game-Based Learning Examples

  • Tyto Ecology: Build and Create Your Own Ecosystem – In Tyto Ecology by Immersed Games, players are tasked with maintaining of his/her own ecosystem by placing down plants and animals and making sure that the balance of life does not go out of hand.
  • Scribblenauts UnlimitedWith 5th Cell’s Scribblenauts, the player uses his/her imagination and critical thinking skills to solve problems in the world. He/She can add anything they can think of (and can spell) in order to figure out problems.
  • DragonBoxWeWantToKnow’s series of math apps, DragonBox, aims to teach children of all ages how to have fun while learning about numbers. They have apps that teach everything from addition and subtraction to algebra.

It is important to note that gamification is always a part of game-based learning. Since gamification is an attempt to turn the learning process into a video game, it inherently has the same motivational principles as game-based learning. On the other hand, game-based learning is not gamification in and of itself. It’s like squares and rectangles: all gamified classrooms take part in learning through games, but not all game-based learning in the classroom uses gamification. We hope this article helps clear up any confusion!

Infographic assets: Ribbon Badge by Nikita Kozin from the Noun Project; Video Game Controller by Y E J I N from the Noun Project; logos from ClassDojoRezzlyTyto Ecology, and DragonBox

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