Gamification vs. Game-Based Learning: What’s the Difference?


Every year, the NCAA invites people from all over the world to participate in one of college sports greatest spectacles: March Madness. If you are reading this from the United States, chances are high that you have filled out a NCAA men’s basketball bracket before.

You know how it works: participants are given an online tool that lets them create bracket groups so they can compete with friends, family and colleagues. You choose which college basketball teams you think will win each round of play. For each team you get right, you earn points and for each team you get wrong, you lose the potential to earn points in the future. The goal is to earn the most points and pick the correct tournament champion.

In 2015, the American Gaming Association and GfK Custom Research of North America estimated that almost 40 million Americans filled out more than 70 million March Madness brackets. The average bet per bracket was $29, totaling over $2 billion.

So what keeps people playing year after year? The answer is simple: it’s fun! The NCAA takes the essence of what makes games so appealing (challenge, risk and reward), uncovers the mechanics that make them work (personalization, rankings and leaderboards) and applies these mechanics to the tournament.

NCAA tournament pools are a form of gamification. The game of basketball is, obviously, a game. And games that also have a learning goal are called learning games. Using games for learning is called game-based learning. If you’re a bit confused, there’s no need to worry! You can easily spot the differences between gamification and game-based learning with a little practice.

Want to design your own learning game? Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp share helpful game design tips in this recorded webinar.


The application of these game-like elements to the NCAA tournament is known as gamification. Simply put, gamification is the application of game mechanics to a non-game activity. Filling out a bracket is not a game in of itself. But when you assign points based on correct picks and add an element of competition, it becomes gamified.

Karl Kapp describes gamification as “an emergent approach to instruction which facilitates learning and encourages motivation through the use of game elements, mechanics and game-based thinking.” The purpose is to engage and motivate learners to become active participants in their own learning process.

In order to gamify something, you must first understand the various elements that make up a game. For example, a game’s mechanics are the rules and procedures that guide the player and the game response to the player’s moves or actions. Through the mechanics you create, you define how the game is going to work for the people who play it. There are also many game elements you can include to help keep people engaged. The choice of what to include should be deliberate. With learning games, you should consider how each element supports the learning process. Here are 12 elements often used to gamify content:

game elements chart

Gamification Examples

You can apply both game mechanics and game elements to a variety of contexts when you create learning solutions. Take a look at a few of these samples:

  • This curriculum included an illustrated map of the business process that was used to gamify the course. Learners journey through the business making stops along the way to identify the hazards and learn how to stay safe on their sites.
  • In this curriculum, we designed a gamified blended learning curriculum for a new product launch. The curriculum is both gamified as a whole and contains numerous competitive and collaborative games.

Game-Based Learning (also known as Learning Games and Serious Games)

Game-based learning uses learning games to achieve an instructional goal. If you hear someone discussing game-based learning, learning games or serious games, you can assume they generally mean the same thing.

What makes the game of basketball different from a pure learning game? The answer is a learning goal. Learning games have both a game goal (what players must do to win) and a learning goal (what players are to learn through playing the game). The term game-based learning describes the use of games for learning.

Oftentimes, people use gamification and game-based learning interchangeably. But when you take a closer look, the two have certain characteristics that make them unique. Unlike gamification, game-based learning involves an actual game that helps people learn. Players will either know something or be able to do something as a result of playing the game.

Game-Based Learning Examples

Below, you can see a few examples of games we’ve created.

  • We partnered with TE Connectivity to create a mobile learning game for smartphones. The app helps distributors learn about their customers, and the applicable products for each customer so they can position the right products with the right customers.
  • This organization is tasked with creating Information Asset Protection (IAP) policies and procedures to protect sensitive information, and to educate employees on how to follow them. As part of the curriculum, learners played an arcade-style game where they score points by identifying strong and weak passwords.
  • Our Knowledge Guru platform is a great example of game-based learning and why it works. Each Knowledge Guru game has its own unique combination of points, badges, leaderboards, mini-games, story, aesthetics, power-ups and more.

Access the “Play to Learn” Webinar

Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp introduced nine steps to effective learning game design in a live webinar on March 28th. Attendees heard their perspective on the three most critical and overlooked learning game design steps and had the opportunity to participate in Q&A.

How Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp’s Learning Game Design Process Works


Earlier this year, we announced Sharon Boller and Dr. Karl Kapp’s new book on learning game design on the BLP blog. It’s called Play to Learn: Everything You Need to Know About Designing Effective Learning Games. We also kicked off the Play to Learn Book Tour, which blends conference workshops, webinars and guest bloggers to expand the learning game design conversation.

Naturally, the Knowledge Guru blog had to be the first stop on our tour! After all, the learning game design principles outlined in “Play to Learn” have been critical to the creation of Knowledge Guru games over the years. I thought it would be fun to show how the nine steps to learning game design Sharon and Karl outline in their book have guided our team’s efforts.

Here’s the abridged version of how each of the nine steps has shaped Knowledge Guru.

1. Play entertainment games and evaluate what you play

Our product team plays a new board game together at least 1x a week. Our iPads and phones have folders full of interesting games that we use for, um, research.

In all seriousness, playing lots of games and doing that analysis is critical. You wouldn’t write a novel without reading a whole lot on the subject first. So why would you try to design a game without playing them first?

2. Explore learning games

Building on the first, more fun step of simply playing and evaluating lots of purely fun games, we also spend time focusing specifically on educational games. These could be either educational games geared towards an academic setting or brain training games designed as casual play experiences for adults.

3. Set the learning foundation

While Knowledge Guru games can incorporate many different types of content, we spend time up front planning out what types of instructional goals a game is well suited for. For example, one mini-game in Knowledge Guru’s Drive app is specifically designed for learning objectives that use verbs like “compare” or “distinguish.”

We also spend a lot of time analyzing our target learners. We survey customers and create personas that give us a fictitious yet accurate depiction of who the end user is.

4. Link learning design and game design

Some of the most ‘fun’ mini-game ideas don’t make it off the shop floor. Why? Because every game mechanic must support the learning objectives! Our team comes up with lots of fun game ideas, then must slim them down so that only essential game mechanics that help accomplish the desired learning objective make it into the final game.

5. Determine scoring and rewards

Testing, testing, testing. There’s no shortcut to getting a game’s scoring and rewards right. The scoring in Knowledge Guru games goes through many iterations before each release.

6. Build the initial prototype

I’ve participated in paper prototyping sessions as our team has designed new games and user interfaces. Many instructional designers are surprised when they learn the degree to which software and game developers rely on paper to sketch their designs. It’s certainly much easier to draw and scribble than it is to write lines of code.

7. Playtest and iterate on design

Like I said before, testing. It’s a way of life for game designers. Paper prototypes become digital prototypes which become… you get the idea.

8. Develop and iterate

As the development process continues, we often ask for feedback from our account managers to make sure the game designs are matching the needs they have heard communicated from clients. We also rely on user testing to catch UX issues the team might have missed.

9. Deploy

Voila! Knowledge Guru customers get a fun, spunky email telling them a new release is live and ready. Easy, right?

How Will You Use Sharon and Karl’s Game Design Process?

“Play to Learn” explains how to follow this learning game design process in much greater detail. And as this book tour gets going, many great learning thought leaders will share their perspectives, too. Follow along with the tour here, and learn more about the book here.

Access the Webinar

On March 28th, Sharon and Karl shared tips and best practices from “Play to Learn” in a live webinar. Attendees heard their perspective on the three most critical learning game design steps and had the opportunity to participate in Q&A.

Why Adults Should Love Game-Based Learning


I’m publishing this blog on Valentine’s Day, a day that is supposed to be all about love. This blog is about love, but not the romantic type. Instead, think about a hobby or activity that you love. Kids, for example, might love to play soccer or love to play video games like Minecraft. These types of games and activities keep children engaged, often for hours at a time.

LearningWorks for Kids even created a new term for the combination of engagement and games: engamement.

Engamement refers to the amplification of a child’s focus, interest, and learning. It implies a cognitive and affective absorption that goes beyond mere attention and focus and encapsulates a love of what one is doing.

The bottom-line: kids love to play games. But did you know that most adults actually don’t like to play games? You might even be nodding your head because you don’t typically enjoy playing games yourself.

This is especially true in the workplace. According to Dr. David Chandross in an article from Game and Train, when people are faced with the choice to learn via a game or no game, they tend to choose no game because think games are a less efficient way to learn. They erroneously believe they will save time if they just listen to the lecture or watch a video. As Dr. Chandross points out, the evidence suggests that this is not true… but most adults don’t know the research.

This isn’t to say that all adults don’t like games. In fact, BLP President Sharon Boller absolutely loves to play games! She even channeled her love for games into a new book called Play to Learn, which comes out March 3rd.

You can order Sharon’s new book, “Play to Learn,” from the ATD store.

Here’s what Sharon has to say about games:

“Using games in learning takes a strategy. You cannot assume that everyone is going to embrace game play even though games are proven to be more effective than non-interactive methods of learning.”

She goes on to say, “In addition to people perceiving that a game could be a huge time-waster, there are two other barriers you have to consider and plan for: 1) People being afraid of looking stupid in front of their colleagues and 2) People not wanting to be “losers” in a game play situation. Games cause some people great anxiety.”

But we know adults should love game-based learning because…

We know learning games are a powerful learning tool. Sharon offers four great reasons why adult learners should love game-based learning (and why you should incorporate it into your next training curriculum):

1. There’s more fun to be had.

We don’t mean “ha-ha” funny kind of fun. We mean “fun” as in highly engaging. Well-designed game-based learning is immersive learning, and immersive learning results in better outcomes.

In this blog post, Sharon lists different game activities people find fun and what makes them engaging.

2. Games can be either competitive OR cooperative.

Some people do love competition, but in learning situations people tend to do better when the game play is cooperative. Competition can mean one person or team wins and all other teams lose. Cooperation tends to get all players involved and immersed and avoids the one winner/many losers approach that so many people fear in games. Cooperation also mirrors what most organizations hope their employees do within an organization.

3. Games are social – and most adults enjoy social interactions when they feel safe.


We’ve seen it hundreds of times in Sharon’s workshops. People literally light up and lean in as soon as the shift goes from a presentation to a game play situation. Most of us love to interact with others; it stimulates the emotional part of our brain. That, in turn, triggers memory. Learning games give people a safe way to interact. When playing a digital game, the interaction might come in the form of discussions with coworkers about the game. In tabletop games that are part of a live workshop, the interaction comes from cooperating together to overcome a challenge. Either way, the social element is one most adults like when the interaction is structured to make it easy and comfortable to interact.

4. Games give you continuous feedback – and most of us love feedback about ourselves.

With game-based learning, there is always feedback about how you are doing – and opportunities to adjust strategy or decisions based on the feedback you get. Most people love getting info about themselves and games give people a lot of it.

But if they don’t want to play games, what do you do?

While these are all great reasons why adults should enjoy games and want to play them, we know you’ll encounter resisters. Here are four strategies Sharon recommends you try:

1. Make it mandatory.

Yep. Sometimes the easiest route to overcome resistance is to simply make something nonnegotiable. Your employees’ time is limited, and most of them only have the energy to focus on the activities that are truly essential to their jobs. Our experience shows us that the organizations that are most successful require that their employees play the game and integrate game play into a larger learning initiative that is critical to job success. In studies we’ve done, we’ve seen mandatory work out very well with employees reporting afterward that the game was the most effective and enjoyable part of the learning initiative.

2. Appeal to the goal orientation within most of your learners.

Most of us are intrigued by a challenge and motivated to accomplish goals. So, if you want to appeal to learners, give them a meaningful challenge to overcome. Challenges stimulate the inner competition we have with ourselves (can I do this?) and help us focus. A challenge tends to motivate and engage learners much more than a lecture or “page-turning” eLearning course does. It converts resistance into intrigue if the challenge seems meaningful to them and isn’t too hard or too easy.

3. Keep the rules simple and easy to understand.

Fear of looking stupid is compounded when rules are complex. Make the game easy to learn and people’s anxiety goes down quickly. Provide tutorials for online games and provide clear directions and a guided start to games done in a live environment. You should also incorporate levels into game play so players can master an easier level before the game grows more complex.

4. Focus more on cooperation than competition.

When people don’t have to fear being labeled a “loser,” they are more eager to play. People also naturally tend to want to cooperate with teammates or others, which increases the likelihood of engagement. If you do opt for competition instead, avoid emphasizing winning over learning. Don’t make a huge deal about the winner (which makes the losers feel badly). Make a huge deal about how much people will learn.

If competition is truly what makes sense, try to have people compete as teams rather than as one individual against another. Make it possible for people to “catch up” to a leader so as to avoid people checking out early if one person gets too far ahead.

5. Don’t call it a game!

Yes, you can do that. You can call your learning initiative whatever you want. If the word “game” scares people or makes them cringe, figure out another way to frame the experience. You can avoid negativity entirely if you phrase something as a “challenge” instead of a “game.”

What’s the Benefit of “Fun” in Games?


Yes, I know. You’ve heard that games are very useful for learning. However, it’s less about creating a game than actually understanding what it is that people find “fun” about playing games. There is power in understanding what makes games engaging to us. Armed with that knowledge, you can use it to inform your learning designs.

This table offers a quick summary. Use it to inform your decisions when designing learning games or learning activities that you want to actually keep people engaged.

What’s fun, why it’s fun, and how it can affect learning game design.
Game Activities People Find Fun What Makes Them Engaging Implications for Learning Games
  • Grapple with challenges.
  • Triumph over a challenge after working at it.
  • Achieve something (a win state, a trophy, a new level).
  • Figure out solutions to problems.
  • Create strategies that lead to a win or resolution of a challenge.
  • Mental satisfaction of overcoming adversity or some difficulty.
  • Sensation of mastery and accomplishment.
  • Mental stimulation; using their brains and savvy to find a solution.
  • Compatibility with many people’s natural tendency to be goal oriented.
  • Thoughtful incorporation of goals, challenges, and adversity can be linked to real-world job situations.
  • Goals are everywhere in the work world: sales goals, productivity goals, safety goals, retention goals.
  • Challenges abound in the workplace: time, money, and resource management; economic challenges; adverse event challenges; innovation challenges.
  • Problem solving and strategizing are higher-order skills that many workers and companies need more of. Games become a useful way of encouraging this type of thinking, if it’s required for the job.
  • Earn the title of “winner.”
  • Feeling of well-being and pride that comes from the admiration and recognition that winners and achievers often get.
  • Having employees that feel valued and recognized is critical to sustaining engagement. You can leverage this need in your game’s design.
  • Collect, explore, or escape.
  • Being active mentally stimulates us and keeps us from feeling bored or distracted.
  • Feeling of accomplishment; this is closely linked to goal achievement.
  • Action often generates an emotional response. Emotion interests us.
  • Engagement in a learning activity is typically measured by how involved a learner gets; activity-based elements tend to generate more involvement than passive ones, such as reading or watching. If mental activity and physical actions are required of us, it’s harder to disengage than if we remain passive.
  • Collaborate with others to work through a challenge or get something done.
  • Desire to feel valued by teammates.
  • Desire not to let someone down (if playing on a team).
  • Desire for interaction with others.
  • As with action, interaction often generates an emotional response. Emotion interests us.
  • To accomplish goals, people usually have to collaborate with others. Learning games lend themselves well to cooperative play, which helps build collaborative behaviors.
  • Role-play or imagine themselves in a different context.
  • Desire to feel creative.
  • Ability to safely explore something we’d normally consider too “out there” to be a part of.
  • Enjoyment of pretending or imagining; it can be very freeing.
  • In the workplace, mistakes can be costly. Allowing people to role play or imagine in a game is a safe practice area that causes no harm.
  • Fantasy can also be a useful way of helping workplace learners accept a situation they would otherwise object to as not being realistic enough to fit their specific work world. The fantasy elements make it clear it is not supposed to be an exact representation of their world.
  • Imagination in game play can also cultivate creativity and innovation – two desirable things in a workplace.



How to Create a Game-Based Learning Strategy


I was speaking with a client the other day. She said only 10% of her workforce completes the training they are supposed to take. In her mind, training completion is low because the content isn’t engaging, and she wanted to know if a learning game could fix it. I told her that there is no “easy button,” and games are not a cure-all for for boring content or bad learning design.

Game-based learning can improve learner engagement, but only if you start with a strategy. Years of research shows that game-based learning can increase not only learner engagement, but drive both higher retention and completion rates. Industry professionals are now spending less time debating what the research says about games, but many organizations still struggle to correctly implement games that drive meaningful results. Adding a learning game to the mix just to ‘jazz things up’ could be like putting a Band-Aid on the problem when surgery is really needed.

How do you implement a true game-based learning strategy that will actually work? A strategy where learners actually learn and retain at higher levels? A strategy that drives measurable results?

Here are some key points to keep in mind when creating your strategy:

1. Know your audience

Key stakeholders often get this wrong. I had a seasoned training director tell me that since his audience was mostly women, games just wouldn’t work. Really? According to the Entertainment Software Association, of the 155 million gamers out there, 44% are women. There are marketing games that tout a player demographic of 52% women.

2. Make it relevant

This is where many game-based learning strategies fail. First, learners want activities that are relevant to the learning material and their job. If the game is relevant to helping them retain material or gives them time to practice with material they will use often, then it’s worthwhile. But if it’s not, learners will reject it. If you’ve tried a game before and it wasn’t adopted well by your learners, this might be the culprit. Avoid drawing the conclusion that games won’t work with your learners if this is the case.

3. Make learning the focus

Many folks want serious games to be, well, less “serious.” They want more action, more sound, more addictive qualities to the game. The problem is that the more complex the game design or game-play is, the less cognitive space is left to learn the knowledge and skills you designed the game to teach in the first place.

4. Timing is everything

Learning games work best when implemented as part of a blended learning approach. At Bottom-Line Performance, we’ve implemented games as pre-work to a larger training event or instructor-led training as well as post-work for multi-module eLearning curriculums to help learners reinforce what they learned—particularly material they really need to know from memory.

5. Measure the outcomes

To drive measurable results, you have to know what you want the desired learning outcomes to be and have a way to access the data you need to measure those outcomes. If your LMS reports only completion, choose a platform that can deliver reports detailing how players performed.

Of course, implementing a strategy at your company will involve many more steps than what I have shared here.  It will also include testing to gauge the response a game-based learning approach has with your learners. Whatever your desired business outcomes are, make sure your game-based approach is based on sound instructional design.

How to Connect Games to a Corporate Learning Curriculum


Thinking about using games for learning? You might want to question your motivations, first.

Using a serious game or gamification platform in corporate learning can be a great option, but it’s not the the right solution for every situation. We often ask our customers and clients some simple questions to determine if a game fits their needs:

  • Are your current learning solutions presenting challenges to people?
  • Do your solutions provide strong feedback?
  • Do your solutions motivate people to engage?

Challenges, motivation, and feedback are all characteristics of games that make them ideal in a corporate learning curriculum. And while other types of learning solutions can also provide challenge, motivation and feedback… games often do them best.

Behavior Change… or Check the Box?

So much “training” organizations create is really just a “check the box” exercise in company communication. In these situations, are games and gamification really needed? If we really are just complying with a procedure and are not attached to the outcome, it might actually make better business sense to not use an innovative learning solution.

On the other hand, if routine communication is important, we might seek a way to gamify the process and make people more engaged in the communication we are sending out.

Bottom line: if you don’t really care what people learn or remember, games are not the right choice. When job performance and retention do matter, you should consider game-based solutions. Let’s look at some scenarios:

When to Use Games in Corporate Learning

Here are four situations that take advantages of the innate strengths games have as engagement tools. They represent either use of a game or a gamification of the learning experience:

  • People need to know something “cold” (e.g. from memory, sort of like multiplication tables) and it’s not information that is enjoyable or easy – on its own – to learn.
  • People’s hearts and emotions need to be affected in order to open them up to new ways of viewing something or understanding something.
  • People need a safe way to evaluate their skills and behaviors – and to improve them. People who think they are stellar at project management can play a project management game and get an entirely new insight into how they ACTUALLY behave when faced with constraints or pressures.
  • People need ongoing motivation in order to stay engaged in a long-term endeavor (a certification process, a long-term company initiative).

Example: We worked with a global company this year to prepare sales reps for the launch of a new product AND their first-ever Android Smartphones. We created a mobile game that helped them build their product knowledge as well as build skills in navigating the phone and accessing information. They loved competing, achieving new levels, and seeing their scores go up. The game’s challenges and feedback kept them highly engaged, and by the end of the game, they were adept at linking product features and benefits to specific customer questions and objections AND in using their phones.


Business Cases for Serious Games

5 Business Cases that Call for Serious Games

No matter what learning solution you think you want to produce, it’s important to identify the learning need (and business need) before starting a project. Do you really need a new gamification platform, or are you trying to follow the latest trends? Is mobile learning a must-have in your organization, is it just another upper management whim?

Serious games are worth a look when you want to improve performance in an organization, but one size does not fit all. In a recent blog post on GamaSutra, Andrzej Marcewski points out that “serious games” is too broad of a term to actually be useful. Saying you need a “serious game” can mean so many things, from a simulator to a teaching game to a “meaningful game” as Marcewski puts it.

Our definition of serious games is the same as what you’ll find on Wikipedia: “games with a purpose beyond pure entertainment.” This definition is indeed broad, and means a wide variety of games, with various levels of immersion, can all share the name serious game.

It’s easy to imagine how simulating an operating room or a cockpit can be used to help people practice, but what about situations where games and simulations don’t seem as obvious? We find that many organizations are faced with a problem more fundamental than helping people practice complex skills: helping employees acquire basic knowledge. For employees, it’s usually not fun to do this.

Business Cases for Serious Games

Here are five common business situations where a serious game can help:

  1. Your product launch cycles are too fast, with little time to train sales and support teams: A well-designed serious game that helps people learn product facts and features can save significant time and money over traditional training methods. Instead of emailing a series of PDFs and Powerpoints, or making people sit through a boring webinar, design a fun game that allows players to learn and memorize the material as they play.
  2. Your new hire training is boring and ineffective: Most people dread the obligatory courses and presentations they must endure when starting a new job. Other companies don’t have much of a system for training new people at all. If the onboarding process is not standardized, employees will end up with major knowledge gaps later in their jobs. Consider incorporating a serious game into new hire training to make learning company facts, policies and procedures more palatable.
  3. Customer-facing roles in your organization must know (and easily recite) large amounts of complex information: It’s important to help people acquire an in-depth knowledge base in a field, but it is also extremely helpful to show people any go-to “talking points” they need to help them perform better right away. Once again, a serious game focused on the memorization of facts can help ease this challenge.
  4. You are switching over to a new IT system that no one knows how to use: IT rollouts are a huge headache for basically everyone. Most of the time, we learn the ropes of a new system by muddling through lots of trial and error. A serious game can make the experience of learning a new system much more efficient.
  5. You must comply with a new safety certification that no one knows anything about: Once again, a serious game designed to help people memorize and retain information can help you here. Even when employees understand the importance of regulatory compliance, they rarely want to take the time to learn the ins and outs of a set of procedures. A serious game makes a ton of sense when dealing with OSHA, HIPAA and other compliance situations.

Simulations and complex games are often top of mind when people talk about serious games. There are plenty of places on the web to learn more about these types of games, while the more painstaking task of helping people acquire basic information often gets overlooked. Use the five business cases described above to inspire you as you look to find ways to apply serious games in your organization.

Our own Knowledge Guru game engine is designed to help people acquire knowledge. You can learn exactly how it works by scheduling a demo.

Using Game Elements to Improve Learning Outcomes

Sharon Boller, Knowledge Guru® creator and BLP prez, has written a new white paper on Game Mechanics and Game Elements. I gave some of my own general ideas on game mechanics in a previous post, and this one’s all about game elements. Sharon identifies 12 common ones in the white paper:

  • Conflict
  • Cooperation
  • Competition
  • Strategy
  • Chance
  • Aesthetics (ooo, pretty!)
  • Theme
  • Story
  • Resources
  • Time
  • Rewards
  • Levels
  • Scoring

Are these the only game elements? Of course not. They ARE the most common ones, and chances are you could analyze any game you’ve played and find at least a few of these. The white paper goes into detail for each one of these elements, covering a few key points:

  • What type of learners/players will respond well to each element.
  • What learning objectives work best with each element.
  • What questions you should ask as a learning designer when attempting to use each element.
  • Specific examples of game elements found in commercial games, as well as learning games we have created.

No matter what game elements you use, always think about how they will work together with your game mechanics to maximize the learning experience for your players. You’ll need to play test a few times to get everything just right, but that is just a part of game design.

Learn More in Our White Paper

Learning Game Design White Paper - free downloadUsing Game Mechanics and Game Elements in Learning Games is 25 pages of specific advice and examples for creating learning games. It’s designed as a practical guide rather than a collection of theories. You can use it to make your learning game design efforts better right away. Download it now.



Games and Gamification: Research from the eLearning Guild

Recently, the elearning Guild published a report by Brenda Enders discussing games and gamification for learning. It includes numerous case studies and examples of games being used in the workplace today, and summarizes recent research on games for learning.

eLearning Guild Gamification Report

I’ll attempt the summarize my key takeaways from the report, but I encourage you to download the full report and read it yourself. My takeaways are intentionally broad and high-level, so as not to ruin the “punch” of the report itself.

Research Support Games and Gamification for Learning

The report heavily cites Dr. Karl Kapp’s book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction. Most of us at BLP have this book on our desks, so the content was not unfamiliar to us. Karl’s book includes an entire chapter reviewing meta-analysis studies on games. The research indicates an advantage for game-based learning over traditional forms of instruction.

Four more research studies are cited in the report, featuring researchers like Traci Sitzmann, Robert Hays, James Paul Gee, and Jane McGonigal. These studies support the use of game-based learning in a variety of disciplines. Out of respect for the Guild and the work they have done compiling their report, I encourage you to read the full report if you would like to see the specific studies.

My takeaway? Game-based learning is proven to be effective for learning. There are many case studies of gamification working well, too… but less specific research has been done on gamification at this point.

A reminder: Game-based learning and gamification are different

This is a common misconception we encounter in our work with clients, so it is worth mentioning here. Many a blog post and article have been written about the difference between games and gamification. Here’s the definition for games Sharon Boller includes in her presentations:

A game is an activity with a defined goal or challenge, rules that guide achievement of the goal, interactivity with either other players or the game environment (or both), and feedback mechanisms that give clear cues as to how well or poorly you are performing. Playing results in a quantifiable outcome (you win/you lose, you hit the target, etc). Usually generates an emotional reaction in players.

Gamification, on the other hand, is the inclusion of various game mechanics and game elements in a non-game context. A simplistic example of gamification for learning would be adding points, badges, and a leaderboard to your eLearning course. Not the best example, mind you, but simple.

I was pleased that Enders made this distinction quite clear in the eLearning Guild report.

Organizations are starting to invest major $$ into games

The most powerful case study found in the report tells the story of McDonalds Japan, which invested $2.2 million USD to develop a Nintendo DS game for front-line staff. McDonalds gave two devices to each store and had new hires train on basic food prep and service tasks as part of their orientation training.

The result? Training time was cut in half, and that adds up to major savings for a company with high employee turnover.

And while it is exciting to read real case studies of games being used for learning with real success, stories like this worry me, too. Most organizations do NOT have $2.2 million to invest in a learning game… and they also do not have game designers on staff with the skills to design an effective game. A well-designed game will deliver the type of results mentioned in this report, but a poorly-designed game will just waste time and money.

Many examples of gamification are available

The eLearning Guild report has several pages of real-world gamification platforms… and explains how organizations are using these platforms. This type of information is highly useful to organizations trying to evaluate the best place to start with games and gamification.

Some case studies of game-based learning are included, too, but there are fewer of these in the report. Gamification has been the initial focus for most organizations, simply because they can “gamify” existing non-game elements and platforms they may already have. Creating an all-new, self-contained learning game is more challenging.


While I’ve tried to avoid spoiling all of the “punch” of the actual report itself, I hope my takeaways convey the general themes found in Brenda Enders’ report. The eLearning Guild does an excellent job of gathering research for the community to put to practical use, and I highly recommend reading the report itself for a more detailed analysis.

It’s exciting to see such an extensive report on games and gamification available to the broader eLearning community… and even more exciting to see so much research supporting the use of games for learning.

GBL Picks: Curated Game Based Learning Resources


The Knowledge Guru team is obviously very interested in the future of game based learning, and right now that future is bright. But not everyone is as informed about the industry. We are setting out to change that. We’re on a mission to educate the Instructional Design community and the decision makers in Training and Development about game based learning and its true potential.

As part of that mission we’re bringing you GBL picks, a series of curated resources on game based learning and gamification. We’ll explain why each resource is important and how the information in them can be used to shape opinions on game based learning. So now, without further ado, here are this week’s GBL picks:

Pick #1

Gaming in the Classroom

Corporate and government environments are obviously very different from K-12 schooling, but for our first pick we think we should take a trip to the classroom. This article highlights that games are becoming more and more popular with teachers—in fact, they’re starting to become the norm. That’s a really significant change for overall learning culture. It’s validating to see teachers embracing game based learning; as people in corporate and government sectors look for more effective ways to train, suddenly games become a serious option.

Pick #2

Gamification Market to be Worth $5.5 Billion by 2018

We always love good market research. The financial sector is always worth paying attention to, because let’s face it, money talks. That’s what makes this particular article so important. It highlights a very important report conducted by global research company Markets and Markets. The report predicts that the gamification will grow from it’s current $421 million market to a $5.5 billion (with a B) market by 2018. This research is so important because it shows that gamification is more than just a buzzword—it’s here to stay. In fact, a separate market research company called M2Research came up with a similar report predicting the gamification market will be worth 2.8 billion by 2016. More great research to substantiate the business of gamification.

Pick #3

Blitz Brainstorming Gamification Tool Fosters Organizational Creativity and Innovation

In this article, Gamification Corp. (one of the thought leaders in the gamification industry) shows off a new gamified solution to the demand for organization creativity. The tool is called Blitz, and it was created by Dr. Ken Hudson, former marketing director of American Express, as a fast, easy way to bring people out of a production rut. The opening line of this article really says it all: “If creativity is a muscle, then gamification is the bench press.” This is a great resource for showing that games can tackle qualitative skills, not just quantitative ones. “The gamification principles strengthening Blitz stem from the basis that time-constrained thinking sessions provide a game with minimal rule-based stipulations but plenty of play.” The article is definitely worth a read, and you may even decide to go check out Blitz yourself.