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Welcome Back!

I know you definitely won’t want to be reminded of this, but we have now entered the 2023/24 academic year. Well, here in Northern Ireland, we certainly have. And so it is also back to my activities as the EdTechist!  Researching, writing and putting out material I hope is helpful to you in the classroom. This year I want to (finally) start publishing a podcast series, video how to guides and if I happen to find time for it, get writing some of those book ideas I have floating around in my head!  All of that, while teaching, leading a department and coaching hockey!

So to the task at hand! Today we are looking at two topics and exploring how they can be used in the classroom: gamification and game-based learning. Gamification, you will probably be aware of – but maybe not using that terminology. Game-based learning may be easier to figure out – learning that occurs through a digital game – more than likely it will be in a digital format, but can occur in an analogue format.

What is Gamification?


Gamification is a process were we apply game-like elements, such as competition, rewards, and interactive features, to non-game contexts, typically for the purpose of enhancing engagement, motivation, and learning. It involves using principles and techniques from game design to make activities more enjoyable and engaging.

Here are some key components and principles of gamification:

  1. Game Elements: Gamification often incorporates elements commonly found in games, such as points, levels, badges, challenges, and leaderboards. These elements provide clear goals and feedback to the participants.
  2. Rewards: Reward systems are used to motivate participants. These rewards can be both intrinsic (a sense of achievement) and extrinsic (tangible rewards like prizes or recognition).
  3. Competition: Friendly competition can be introduced through leaderboards or by challenging participants to outperform others. Competition can boost engagement and drive individuals to succeed.
  4. Progression: Participants are encouraged to progress through various levels or stages, each offering new challenges or rewards. This creates a sense of achievement and maintains interest over time.
  5. Narrative or Storytelling: Incorporating a compelling narrative or story can make the experience more immersive and emotionally engaging.
  6. Feedback: Timely and constructive feedback is crucial in gamification. It helps participants understand their performance and how they can improve.

Gamification is used in various fields and contexts, including education, marketing, employee training, and health and fitness apps, among others. Here are some examples:

  • Education: Gamification is used in educational settings to make learning more engaging. It might involve earning points or badges for completing assignments, participating in quizzes, or progressing through course materials.
  • Marketing: Loyalty programs and customer engagement strategies often incorporate gamification elements. This can include earning rewards or discounts for making purchases or engaging with a brand’s content.
  • Health and Fitness: Apps and wearables often use gamification to motivate users to exercise and lead healthier lifestyles. Users might earn points for hitting fitness goals or compete with friends on leaderboards.
  • Employee Training: In corporate settings, gamification can be used to train employees. Training modules may be designed as interactive games or simulations, making learning more enjoyable and effective.

Overall, gamification leverages the psychological aspects of motivation, achievement, and competition found in games to enhance engagement and achieve specific objectives in non-game contexts. From here on out, we will be focusing on the application of gamification in education, the other examples serve to show how well these principles can be applied in other areas of life.

And What is Game-Based Learning?

game based learning

Game-based learning (GBL) is an educational approach that uses games as a primary tool for teaching and learning. It involves the integration of game elements, mechanics, and principles into the learning process to make it more engaging, interactive, and effective. GBL is designed to harness the motivational and immersive qualities of games to help learners acquire knowledge, develop skills, and solve problems.

Here are some key characteristics and benefits of game-based learning:

  1. Engagement: Games are inherently engaging and fun, which can motivate learners to actively participate and invest time in the learning process. This heightened engagement often leads to better retention of information.
  2. Active Learning: GBL promotes active learning, where learners are actively involved in problem-solving, decision-making, and critical thinking within the context of the game. This hands-on approach can lead to deeper understanding and improved skill development.
  3. Feedback: Games provide immediate and continuous feedback, allowing learners to understand the consequences of their actions and make adjustments accordingly. This feedback loop supports the learning process and encourages experimentation.
  4. Challenge: Games often incorporate a level of challenge that is tailored to the learner’s abilities. As learners progress, the difficulty can increase, providing an appropriate level of challenge to keep them engaged and motivated.
  5. Interactivity: GBL encourages interaction with content and other learners. This can foster collaboration and social learning when multiplayer or cooperative elements are included.
  6. Contextual Learning: Games can simulate real-world situations and contexts, allowing learners to apply knowledge and skills in a practical and meaningful way.
  7. Motivation: Games often include intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, such as achievements, rewards, and competition, which can inspire learners to strive for excellence.
  8. Adaptability: GBL can be adapted to various subjects, age groups, and learning objectives. It’s versatile and can be used in both formal educational settings and informal learning environments.

Examples of game-based learning can range from educational video games for children that teach math or science concepts to immersive simulations used in professional training programs. Here are a few scenarios where GBL is commonly used:

  • Language Learning: Language learning apps and games use interactive exercises, quizzes, and language immersion to teach vocabulary and grammar.
  • STEM Education: Educational games and simulations are used to teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics concepts, making complex subjects more accessible and engaging.
  • Corporate Training: Organisations use serious games and simulations to train employees on various skills, from leadership and conflict resolution to technical skills.
  • History and Social Studies: Historical simulations and strategy games can help students understand historical events and social dynamics.

Overall, game-based learning leverages the strengths of gaming, such as motivation, interactivity, and immediate feedback, to enhance the learning experience and achieve specific educational goals.

How are They Different?

gamification confused?

Gamification and game-based learning are both strategies used to enhance education and engagement, but they differ in their approaches and implementations:

  1. Gamification:
    • Definition: Gamification involves incorporating game elements and mechanics into non-game contexts to motivate and engage users in various activities or processes.
    • Examples: In a non-educational context, this might include earning badges and rewards for completing tasks or achieving certain goals in a mobile app or on a website. In education, gamification can involve using points, leaderboards, or badges to encourage students to participate in classroom activities or complete assignments.
    • Integration: Gamification typically adds game-like elements to an existing system or process. It doesn’t necessarily transform the core activity into a full-fledged game but uses game elements to make it more engaging.
    • Purpose: The primary goal of gamification is to improve engagement, motivation, and participation in a specific activity or process, which can include learning.
  2. Game-Based Learning:
    • Definition: Game-based learning (GBL) involves using actual games as a central component of the learning experience. These games are designed explicitly for educational purposes and are meant to teach specific content or skills.
    • Examples: Educational video games, simulations, or serious games designed to teach math, science, history, or other subjects are examples of game-based learning. These games are created with the primary intention of facilitating learning, not just enhancing engagement.
    • Integration: Game-based learning is the use of games as the primary vehicle for delivering educational content. The game itself serves as the educational tool and is designed to align with specific learning objectives.
    • Purpose: The primary goal of game-based learning is to educate and teach specific skills or knowledge while also engaging learners. Engagement is a natural byproduct of the game’s design, but the primary focus is on learning.

In summary, the key distinction between gamification and game-based learning lies in the depth of integration and the role of games. Gamification adds game elements to an existing process to improve engagement, while game-based learning uses games as the core educational tool to teach specific content or skills. Both approaches have their merits and can be effective in different contexts, depending on the learning goals and the desired level of immersion and interactivity.

In a classroom setting, following the principles of gamification may be much easier, given a potential lack of access to computers, or the need for the concepts being taught to be developed within a game environment. If we take a cyber security example, Cyber Games demonstrates how to learn the skills of cyber security through games-based learning. This requires the game to be developed in order to teach the appropriate skills.

Example of Gamification: Kahoot!


As an online quiz maker and game based learning platform, Kahoot! uses visually appealing gamification elements to maximize engagement and ensure higher completion rates among learners. Your learners can access these interactive games and quizzes, called “Kahoots”, via a web browser or a mobile app. In my experience, pupils up to the age of 18 get extremely motivated and competitive once the Kahoot! game code is shared.

Example of Game-Based Learning: Duolingo


One of the best and most popular gamification app examples is Duolingo — a language learning tool that uses gamification.

Users build streaks and earn various achievement badges and crowns as they progress through the levels and reach higher leagues on the scoreboard. Competition and maintaining an impressive streak are two key motivators in the learning process.

Final Thoughts

It was not an accident that I chose the examples above that I did. There is so much that can be learned about how these two apps work to enhance the learning process. You could very easily create a strong argument here, that the best learning takes place when the pupil is not aware of it. This idea of ‘tricking’ the learner into learning is one that needs to be ethically approached, to ensure if it is being used, that it is done so in a way for the benefit of the pupil and not to their detriment.

There are many ways that gamification can be used (and probably has been used in ways that existed before it was called gamification) in ways that do not involve technology. Scored competitions, rewards, progression, storytelling and feedback all existed in the analogue, before they were digitised and so these can/will obviously continue, but they can be utilised by any teacher to great effect, if understood fully, well, at the very least you need to understand how they work in order to enhance the learning experience for the pupil.

My final, final thought today is one that I use quite often – experiment. Research in your own subject area how these can be used for the benefit of the learner. I know many of my students love a game of Kahoot!, the competitive aspects to their personalities gets some exercise and it also allows me to check their learning and recall in a way that is fun and that they don’t fully notice. But you have to take that first step – play with it, see how it works, reflect on how it can work with your classes and how effective it will be, then try it! Your classes will love it and if that helps build their competence, confidence and knowledge in your subject area, then what are you waiting for?


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