Another dot in the blogosphere?

Gamification is not game-based learning

Posted on: February 21, 2014

I was prompted to write this as I was part of two recent Twitter conversations that revealed how some teachers still confuse game-based learning (GBL) with gamification.

There are several differences and I will just mention two fundamental ones. I am also going to mean video game-based learning when I make reference to GBL.

First, gamification relies on game mechanics. This could mean using the element of competition with leaderboards, collecting points or badges, levelling up, and so on. Learners are not actually playing a game; the teacher has not actually designed a game. They are all using elements or strategies that are game-like.

As its name implies, GBL requires the integration of at least one game for learning. It might be a mobile game, console game, desktop game, online game, serious game, off-the-shelf game, etc. Learners must play an actual game.

Second, I think that gamification is largely extrinsic. A teacher wants his/her students to do something and there is a reward system to get them to complete tasks. A student may not want to do those things, but the incentives are tempting or motivating.

GBL is both extrinsically and intrinsically motivating. But I would argue that if the games are carefully chosen and the activities are managed well, the motivation for playing and learning becomes intrinsic. The students play and learn not because they have to but because they want to.

I should also point out a potential pitfall of poorly designed gamification and GBL. Students may not actually learn what you want them to learn (typically content). With gamification, students might value the incentives over the content; with GBL the immersive play might be the be-all and end-all.

One way to deal with this issue is to recognize that gamification and GBL do not guarantee the learning. The teacher will still need to facilitate activities that consolidate learning and get learners to reflect on their learning. To quote Dewey:

We do not learn from experiences; we learn from reflecting on experiences.

To do this in my teacher education classes, I rely on small group and whole class discussion, one-minute paper reflections, individual and collaborative writing in wikis, thought-capture with online stickies, just-in-time instruction, etc.

For further reading on gamification and GBL, I recommend this article at MindShift.

18 Responses to "Gamification is not game-based learning"

Gamification is not extrinsic. A professional community like the SAP Community Network uses extrinsic rewards, but in the end it caters towards intrinsic motivators such as learning, socializing etc.
Gamification can include serious games etc. but the smartest one is something that is built into the very system that people work on a daily base.


As you pointed out, gamification relies on extrinsic motivators. That is what I focused on when used in schooling contexts. The teacher has to first think of extrinsic motivators. Better ones might think of reaching the intrinsic.

Assuming the extrinsic can lead to the extrinsic, your comment has made me wonder if gamification is actually necessary once the motivation has been internalized. This might work for exercise programmes, but I wonder if this applies in the continuum of self-directed learning.

I can see what you are saying about how games that reward with levels, leaderboard, badges, stars, etc. come across as gamification. This seems particularly true with systems where the game is so transparent that the participant does not really know that they are playing. But I would say that is still a game. Strategies from the game have not been extracted and applied to some other context (gamification).

I try to avoid false dichotomies of thinking because they are of no pragmatic value. But I think there should be a clear distinction between GBL and gamification because they require different pedagogical orientations and may work well in different educational contexts.


[…] Gamification is not game-based learning | Another dot in the blogosphere? […]


[…] is not the same as game-based learning. Dr Ashley Tan makes a clear distinction on his blog post, Gamification is not Game based learning. In a nutshell, gamification borrows elements from games like experience points and levelling up […]


Reblogged this on DigitalClassroom Blog and commented:
It still all comes down to teacher input and planning! Thanks for this.


Thanks for reblogging.

GBL is certainly a teacher-managed strategy. It is not a fire-and-forget method. It is not easy, but when you have got it down to an art, it is a very powerful experience for all learners. 🙂


Agree! Thanks for replying!


(note – I am a game designer who is now in GBL)
I consider GBL to be a subset of the much larger Gamification movement. The word itself means adding game elements to activities that are traditionally not games, which is a pretty broad swath. The most visible version of Gamification is the external elements such as leaderboards and points, but GBL certainly falls under that bigger umbrella.
I think that the easy metrics based displays such as leaderboards and points are fine for advertising or shopping. But school curriculum is better served by the additional engagement provided by the interaction and fun learning of a good classroom game, one that is designed to be an activity portion of the whole curriculum.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Chris.

I tend to try to figure which came first. While the jury seems out on the chicken vs egg, I think games preceded gamification. So where is the umbrella in that sense?


[…] […]


[…] is not the same as game-based learning. Dr Ashley Tan makes a clear distinction on his blog post, Gamification is not Game based learning. In a nutshell, gamification borrows elements from games like experience points and levelling up […]


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