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

Monday, September 6, 2021

The effectiveness of gamification within learning is no joke, or should we say, “it’s no game”.

The market in itself is forecast to reach over 30 Billion by 2025, according to research reports, meaning its growth isn’t projected to slow down anytime soon. With the effects of the global pandemic across the eLearning market, educators are looking for ways to keep their students engaged. Gamification is one of the most effective strategies to implement.

In fact, a gamified learning environment has produced some incredible results. Studies have shown students scoring up to 14% higher in a gamified learning pathway, such as Archy Learning. This is in comparison to those who studied with the traditional methods of teaching.

There are two main ways to gamify your own learning pathway, one being “gamification”, and the other is “game-based learning”.  Though the two can be easily confused in terms of terminology, they are actually quite different experiences. As an educator, and/or a student, it is important to understand both before adding to your learning pathway.                         

Let’s quickly summarise the two, before going a bit more in-depth and providing examples.

Gamification is the application of “game-elements” to non-game activities. Game-Based Learning (GBL) is the addition of an actual game as part of the learning journey.

From a bird's eye view, you could look at gamification as just creating a game out of an entire process. This is instead of inserting mini educational games into different sections of content. The user is in the mindset of solving a problem and motivated to achieve a goal. They become more engaged when under the influence of gamification and its techniques. 

Let’s go over them both in more detail, as well as some successful examples.


As previously mentioned, gamification involves the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts. It can also be defined as a set of activities and processes to solve problems by using or applying game elements.

The game elements or game mechanics include:

  • Points systems

  • Badges

  • Leaderboards

  • Levels/Quests

  • Progress Bars

Many different activities can be gamified, across different industries and contexts. Gamification has been used in fitness, education, sales, and marketing as a fun way to engage with just about anything really!

In theory, you can gamify any activity, not just activities within learning. Indeed, everything from fitness apps to LinkedIn’s profile pages can and has been gamified to increase user participation and engagement.

There are many different examples of successful gamification, and here are a few:

  • Starbucks: Known for emphasizing customer loyalty and engagement, Starbucks created “My Starbucks Rewards”, a loyalty program that utilizes gamification elements such as badges, and prizes such as free drinks and treats once a certain level is reached. Simple to use, and motivates customers to keep coming back.

  • Nike Running App: Nike has taken advantage of gamification within their training apps and has incentivized millions of users to engage and become more active. They do this by rewarding them with earning points and badges based on their activity levels. Users can compete against each other, and be rewarded accordingly. They can also have their achievements and trophies being posted within the app community.   

Gamification has certainly come a long way in the last 20 years.  It has grown in its popularity and has become implemented across almost every field and across different software. This is from LMS (learning management systems) to CRM’s for sales teams. 

Gamification has matured and become a common feature in many different corporations and businesses, so much so that its familiarity has lead users to be unable to identify that they are in the middle of a gamified strategy. 

Companies and teams can pick and choose which strategies and competitions they would like to implement. They can then monitor the results of their teams accordingly. Gamification is now easier to integrate since it is now so commonly used.

Managers being able to report on their team’s engagement levels and measure effectiveness is one of the most rewarding things for the decision-makers. The data is so important to be able to track the ROI.

In summary, gamification is popular and effective, and should definitely be considered for your business. 

Games-Based Learning

Though the two can easily be confused, game-based learning is quite different from gamification itself. The definition of GBL is taking an actual game and using it within the learning process. It helps teach a specific skill or learning objective, instead of integrating elements within the system or process in itself. You can find more info on the science behind this here.

Many companies and brands have done this extraordinarily well, and have seen some fantastic results. You can find a whole page of case studies on our website here. One of our personal favorites, however, is the U.S. Army.

The main website for the US Army as well as its sister site is covered in gamification elements and techniques. Popular army-based video games such as Call of Duty and Medal of Honour are some of the most popular games worldwide. Knowing this, the US army basing its recruitment strategy on gamification is quite clever on their end.

Their website uses gamification elements such as rewarding players with badges of honor for completing certain training levels. This is similar to how recognition is done in the actual American army.

Game-based learning is one of the most effective ways to teach students and employees, (even yourself) new concepts, strategies, and skillsets. Users playing games become incredibly interactive. That is because games require focus and engagement, and dopamine levels that are released in the process. This allows players to feel a sense of achievement and excitement along the way.


Gamification and Game-Based Learning can sound like similar concepts at first, but they are quite different when you glance under the hood. Adding in gamification strategies such as badges, leaderboards, and progress bars into systems and processes allow for the entire organization to feel like a big game. This makes engagement overall more fun. Game-based learning is the implementation of stand-alone games into a learning outcome or training process.

The goals of both are generally the same. They both try to motivate and promote learning and engagement and retention rates across the board. Having data that shows your student’s and employees’ progress levels will allow you to manage their progress. A teacher can then curate content to whatever works best for your team.

If you have already experimented with either gamification or game-based learning in your organization, be sure to leave your experiences in the comments below! For more content like this, you can read our blogs here.

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