Game-Based Learning, Gamification, and Serious Games

Honestly, before writing this blog, I only used the words “educational games,” not knowing that games used in learning can be categorized. The categories named in the title are fuzzy  when defined because there is some overlapping. From my readings, this is my understanding of these buzzwords!

Game-Based Learning involves learning through games to promote a thinking strategy, to practice academic skills, and to support and engage students (Teachthought, 2014). Game-based learning could involve simulations, could have rules, could involve role-playing and could have losers. Donald Brickman from Microsoft Research can provide more insight about game-based learning in the video below.

Hot Topic – Game Based Learning by msftineducation MIE @

Gamification is the application of game-like thinking to non-game content to encourage a specific behavior. Gamification should be engaging to students, allowing them to track their progress. The role of this type of learning is to find intrinsic rewards in an activity and offer extrinsic rewards for doing them (Educational Technology and Mobile Learning). The goal is to get the user motivated to complete a task. The game is secondary to the performance of the tasks to be completed, yet it facilitates the tasks. Below are two examples of gamification.

         Duolingo is for anyone who would want to learn a new language. I believe second graders and up could learn a new language using Duolingo.  After choosing a language, one can choose a path by starting at Basic or taking a Placement Test. The Basic level introduces approximately 6 – 8 words in phrases and sentences per session. Many repetitions are given in which the user translates or writes what is said. There are even tips! The words can be read at turtle or normal speed. A quiz is then given. If it is not passed, try again. A bar tracks progress. Share the progress with your friends or invite them to join. Duolingo is pleasant to view, user friendly, untimed and has incentives to continue. There are hearts that appear for “well done.” Lingots earned can be used to purchase…well, I’m not sure, but try Duolingo and find out how easy it is to become bi-lingual. And, it’s free!

          Raz-Kids provides an e-reading library at 27 different levels for kids PreK – grade 6, who can read the books anywhere because of mobile technology. As a teacher, Raz-Kids provides ways to assess reading levels, record students’ reading, acquire fluency rates, and track progress. For younger students, alphabet and high frequency words can be assessed. The e-books could be projected for class lessons. A whole classroom could receive differentiated reading assignments using Raz-Kids. Students receive incentives such as points/stars for listening to a book, reading and recording it and passing a comprehension quiz about it. As students read more and more books, they move up in rank. Eventually, their avatars can board a rocket to go to a planet for a new experience.  Stars earned can be used to buy items from the Raz Rocket Catalog, personalize a rocket, or design their avatars with parts that they can buy. This sounds like fun! Oh, and parents have access to their child’s progress.

Serious Games are used to train or teach people something. They can be simulations of real world events or used to solve real world problems. Serious games could persuade the user about serious issues. They could be purposeful games. All serious games require concentrated attention for lengths of time. For a list of some Serious games, go to Brooke Petrucelli’s List: Serious Games – Links and Resources on diigo.

By now you probably realize the overlaps of these buzzwords. I’m sure that there will be another type of game to add to this list within a year. When you find any other types of games to add to this list, let me know!

 P.S.: If you find out what can be bought with lingots, please share!

The Difference Between Games, Gamification, and Serious Games. (2011-2014). Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. Retrieved from

The Difference Between Gamification and Game-Based Learning. (2014, April 4). TeachThought. Retrieved from


6 thoughts on “Game-Based Learning, Gamification, and Serious Games

  1. I liked how Donald Brickman’s video explaining game-based learning linked video-game-based learning to the educational games we have always played in education. He said the purpose of using games is to motivate and engage students—something all teachers want to do. I really liked his comment about “graceful failure” rather than the finality of the “F.” This approach to the importance of educational games in the classroom is not only valid but also powerful. Thanks for sharing the video.
    Kelly P.

  2. Deb, thank you for the thorough explanation of the different categories of using games in the classroom. I too was struck by how many buzzwords are associated with “gaming” education and needed to pay close attention to clarify my own understanding of gamification versus game-based learning and now serious games (something that I had not originally considered). I am always amazed by the influx of educational jargon around different movements. I remember when 21st Century skills and learning were the new terms that everyone was in a rush to infuse into their curriculum. Similar to gamification, it seemed that everyone was touting abstract ideas and applications versus concrete implementation. Personally, I wonder why this occurs. But that is for another discussion all together!

    I really like how you stated, “The game is secondary to the performance of the tasks to be completed, yet it facilitates the tasks.” This seems to confront my original skepticism with gamification and games in education as a whole. I wonder if students themselves would be able to understand this, as I think many of my students would tend to get caught up in the reward aspect of the game and focus less on the task or skill that they are mastering. Shouldn’t we be teaching students to motivate themselves? Isn’t the goal of education to strive for independence and autonomy? I understand that some educators have had tremendous success with this approach; I guess I am still on the fence about how this would help students, especially at the high school setting, transfer skills necessary to college. Any thoughts on this?

    • I have the same thoughts. I keep reading about the power of gaming in the classroom. Yet intrinsic motivation is what we desire for students. There is no doubt that it makes learning fun, but not all lessons we learn come from fun activities. Differentiation might be the solution. Some kids don’t like games. Some learn more with them. I guess personalization of learning experiences, which is hard work for teacher planning, may allow for success for all students.

  3. Debra,

    You did a nice job of highlighting some of the differences in terminology that apply to educational gaming. Both games that you shared should be fun for students. Personally, I have the Duolingo app on my smart phone and I love it! Lingots can be used to purchase different outfits for your Duo or for different power-ups that you can use if you get too many words incorrect. You can also learn idioms that are used within your chosen language! I like the idea of Razkids and will be sure to look into it and share it with some colleagues — thanks!

    With all of this gaming information available, how do you think you can utilize it in your classroom without taking away from the intrinsic motivation of being a life-long learner?

    • Kevin,
      Fortunately, most decisions for what I teach are scripted programs since I usually teach intervention groups and the program used is typically an administrative decision with teacher input. However, putting this aside, I like the combination of using games, gamification, PBL, and traditional teaching. Discussions and the learning of goal setting should be part of teaching for all students. In this way hopefully the connections of working towards goals becomes a lifelong skill. I know that when I reach a goal that I have set, not only the joy and pride of reaching it makes me happy, but going out for a decadent chocolate dessert is a nice treat, too!

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