Gamification or Game-Based Learning?

Reading time: 3

Gerard Greally

Gerard is an Irish primary school & technology teacher based in Madrid, Spain. After training in London, he sought brighter skies and moved to an International school where he is ICT teacher to year 4, 5 and 6 students in an iPad one-to-one environment. Gerard...
Read more about Gerard Greally

Education isn’t a game but should it be?

You may have heard of the terms ‘gamification’ and ‘game-based learning’ (GBL), and you could be forgiven for mixing them up! They are actually two very different strategies, both using games (in very different ways), and both yearning to increase student engagement and attainment.

When is the last time you played a PS4 or an XBox One? Have you experienced the attention they demand? We can’t and shouldn’t try to compete with technology. However, we can use the theory behind the games to enrich our students learning experiences.

What is Gamification?

Gamification uses, but is not limited to: points, badges, leaderboards, competition and achievements.

Have you ever awarded ‘House Points’? Well done! You’ve already gamified your classroom. Gamification has taken the world by storm, it’s marketing genius!

It’s not just education either, my local car wash has even gamified (9 car washes, the tenth is free). Coffee shops and many retail brands are now using gamification in one form or another to encourage patrons to return through increased engagement!

Gamification has the ability to increase student engagement for a prolonged period of time and this for me is it’s biggest advantage. To connect lessons and projects across curriculum areas to a single motivation focus can greatly improve students engagement and it can be implemented on a school-wide level.

I can’t help but feel that education shouldn’t have losers therefore you need to control how points and leaderboards are designed and communicated. As recently discussed in  The Shame Game this could even give you an opportunity to teach children how to deal with criticism, and learn how to face challenges and prepare better in future.

Game-Based Learning

The basis of GBL is to use games to enhance the learning experience. Again, student engagement is a big winner but GBL also has many other advantages.

Students can use Minecraft for example to create a Motte and Bailey castle or a Gothic Cathedral, engaging students in an unforeseen manner. Imagine students discussing the difficulty of creating the flying buttresses! This engagement and enjoyment of learning is hard to beat. Technology comes hand in hand with GBL, but is not always necessary. Imagine students using Snakes and Ladders to explore positive and negative values in a maths lesson about integers.

Minecraft Education Edition

Usually when I start talking about my experiences using Minecraft in my class to colleagues, I lose all credibility, but hear me out! Minecraft is an incredible tool where students are given a blank canvas to create whatever they want, alone or in teams.

All across the curriculum, from maths (area and perimeter), to developing explanation skills, students can can create ‘anything’ they want. It can even also be used to teach coding, which was demonstrated perfectly in their Hour of Code, which also works as a fantastic ‘golden-time’ (KS2).

Breakout Edu

Breakout Edu is in my opinion, a fantastic mix between project based learning and game based learning. They describe their own product as “an immersive games platform for learners of all ages,” and it does exactly what it says on the tin.

Students must work collaboratively and creatively to solve the challenge, whose objective can be changed and redesigned countless times using their ‘game template sheet’. Theses breakout boxes were previously available open source, but have unfortunately since been removed. You can follow Breakout EDU’s founder James Sanders and there’s a fantastic blog detailing more information about Breakout EDU here.


New research from Vanderbilt University has even indicated that “students who played edgames outperformed their peers on standardised tests”. There are many ways to increase student participation, to suit subject content, time available and age… but the solution usually isn’t found in a textbook.


With innovations in education a now daily occurrence, it’s easy to dismiss these new ‘fads’ until they gain momentum and traction. Strategies need to be developed and honed before teachers can fully utilise their potential. The game may have changed, but there’s no better time to level-up your classroom and go for a new high score to reap the benefits.

One thought on “Gamification or Game-Based Learning?

  1. One of my hobby horses (based on secondary school work) is that subject teachers are so busy ploughing through the exam syllabi, they concentrate on implanting not learning. Granted that is slightly over simplified, but teachers have to react to pressure.
    Time is rarely dedicated to thinking skills. I firmly believe that taking time out to develop thinking skills with pupils can lead to dramatic results. I have found this in my own teaching and there is evidence out there to suggest this (Brain Gym). I can remember doing some meta cognitive work with A level students who were amazed when they actually started thinking about how they thought.
    As an example a starter should not be based on recollection from a previous lesson – but something that actually demands fresh thinking -I usually use a problem. A useful example is to ask pupils to look at the materials they have. This sounds simple but it takes coaching for the pupils to be aware.
    Eg something like:
    T “What have you got in front of you?”
    P ” A sheet of paper”
    T “Describe what is on it?”
    P ” A Map with lines to boxes”
    T “What do you think you have to do?”
    P “Find out what the places are and write the name in the boxes”
    Sorry that is simplified, when you start this strategy it takes them longer to get to that point – but this style makes them think about what they are going to undertake in the lesson. It also stops the question “What do we have to do?” because they have just told you!
    As I believe thinking is a crucial skill we tend to skate over, I wish is that I had been brought up with the technology available (my main teaching days relied on Gestetner and Banda!) so that I could programme games that harnessed fun, thinking skills and education together. That is the real challenge- virtual reality games/lessons.
    BTW have a look at Skoolbo for basics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.