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Gamification, Game-based Learning, Serious Games: Any Difference?

by Kapil Bhasin

January 27, 2014


by Kapil Bhasin

January 27, 2014

“The success of games in the general marketplace has redefined expectations in the learning sphere, bringing with it a paradigm shift in design. I hope that the best practices that I’ve explored here provide a helpful framework to kick-start your approach to the gamification of organizational learning.”

Given the combination of external market forces and impetus within the instructional design community, sooner or later, every learning-and-development or training department will come to a decision point on gamification. As always with new trends, there are discussions and disagreements regarding the details. So, if you and your colleagues are in the midst of gamifying your approach and methodology, I hope you’ll find value in the best practices that we’ve gathered and synthesized.

Gamification, game-based learning, serious games: is there a difference?

I attribute part of the motivation for the use of games and game-like features in learning to the increasing popularity of sophisticated games via PlayStations and mobile devices.

This has led to a debate over the differences between gamification, game-based learning, and serious games. For the purposes of this discussion in the realm of organizational learning, I propose that gamification, game-based learning, and serious games are effectively the same thing, because, in a corporate environment, all learning relates to strategic objectives and has a serious purpose, regardless of the level of gamification involved. As Karl M. Kapp has pointed out (see References at the end of this article):

  • When you get right down to it, the goals of both are relatively the same. Serious games and gamification are both trying to solve a problem, motivate, and promote learning using game-based thinking and techniques.

It is true, of course, that playing a game for fun, entertainment, or to satisfy competitive instincts is different than having fun, feeling entertained, or satisfying competitive instincts in the context of job-related learning. However, the differences do not significantly alter the benefits of applying game features to (or building games for) learning applications.

Why is gamification gaining traction?

There seems to be three main reasons for the increase in gamification: marketplace forces, the connection between games and learning in children, and rising interest in games among adults. Let’s look at these in a little more detail.

Marketplace forces

Estimates for worldwide spending on games exceed $93 billion in 2013, according to a report from Gartner. That’s up from the $78.9 billion spent in 2012. The report projects that customers will spend $101.6 billion in 2014 and $111 billion by the end of 2015.

The connection between games and learning in children

In addition to marketplace forces, even the most superficial observations of children reveal the obvious connection between games, learning, and retention. Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham tell us:

So, can children learn from games? Absolutely. Research by Dr. Arne May at Germany’s U…

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Games per-se, have been instrumental for learning since the advent of learning itself, but wider access to faster internet coupled with user-friendly web technologies have opened up a completely new dimension to the use of games in learning. As Marc rightly points out, the market forces are indeed very strong, rather so strong that our primary focus has shifted from e-learning to gamification based learning at
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