Stine Snekkenes is Motimate Creative Studio’s trained pedagogist and resident expert in the method and practice of creating online courses. Her experience working with diverse organizations has proven just how important well-thought-out design and communication is to creating successful online learning. Stine has made it her mission to help learning teams everywhere design and deliver the best learning content that they possibly can.

In this post, I’ll be exploring the difference between game-based learning and gamifying learning content, because there is a difference and it’s a distinction that can deeply impact the way you deliver training. As this is a fast-evolving area, definitions of these concepts are manifold and not always entirely clear. Knowing which approach to take to delivering your training can seem like a bit of a minefield. 

The conscious application of games to the task of learning is sewn into the fabric of human history and development, the first known games having been played as long as 4,000 years ago. Even then, some had distinct educational purposes with games such as Mancala, Kalaha and versions of Chess used to teach strategy, mathematics and logic in Africa and Asia. ­­Ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, believed in games as the first stepping-stone towards attaining knowledge. In the 17th century John Amos Comenisus, of the central European medieval kingdom of Moravia, acknowledged the role of fun in learning, proposing that games be fully integrated with learning processes. His work forms the basis on which 20th century academics Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky established the pedagogy of games at university level, paving the way for games in the world of corporate learning today.

How Games Help Us Learn 

Games are engaging because they present a motivating sense of challenge and competition, placing learning in context and making less engaging topics fun. Structured properly, games help us retain learning because we learn best through repetition and practice. When completed successfully, games offer a sense of achievement, a reaction that triggers the release of the chemical dopamine in our brains, the effect of which makes us want to go back for more. 

In this sense, games could be said to offer both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, but it is primarily the extrinsic motivators that well-designed online learning taps into, because we want learners to complete levels, retain information, and keep on engaging with the learning.

To Game or to Gamify, That is the Question!

If you google the terms gamification or game-based learning, you’ll find a lot of different definitions. There is, however, a significant and important distinction to be made between the two. 

Gamification implies the integration of engagement software and techniques (known as game mechanics) to existing training content – using tools such as quizzes, swipe games and unlockable and timed content together with recognition and reward systems such as badges, points, scores, leader boards, certificates – to create a tangible sense of challenge, competition, progression and achievement. In game-based learning (or gaming), the lesson itself becomes a game. This approach requires that learning content be designed from scratch – identifying its purpose and designing a game aimed specifically at achieving this goal. This is experiential learning and, at its most sophisticated, it might make use of 3D virtual environments, Virtual Reality, personalized learning pathways, and collaborative, team-based online games.

Choosing the Right Approach for Your Learning Strategy

Both gamified and game-based learning have their merits. In any learning context, making the decision to choose one approach over the other will depend on three key elements:

Learning goals

Depending on the content type and purpose of the training, you might favor one approach over the other. Gamification lends itself well to the delivery of more process driven training topics, such as basic onboarding and functional training. In this sense, it’s a great approach for onboarding new employees.

Game-based learning allows you to communicate more complex learning scenarios. You might use it to teach more strategic thought and develop problem-solving skills. It’s also great for engaging learners on less engaging topics – like this life-saving VR based health and safety training game created for Norwegian power grid operator, Statnett. This game enables employees to experience potentially dangerous work situations in a life-like arena.

In 2009, pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme became the first international company to implement a game, Merchants, to teach its employees negotiation, communication and time-management skills. After 5 years of training Merchants yielded a 25% improvement in skills covered and an 8% productivity increase in roles from senior management to executive level at Merck. The company cut training costs by 58% and revealed a 98% course completion ratio, as well as a 99% rate of application of course content. Pretty good results, and we’ve come a long way since then.

Time and cost 

Creating tailored games can be a costly exercise. Redesigning existing training content, or potentially completely scrapping what you have and starting from scratch takes time that you might not have. 

If you’re not a gaming company and you don’t have the skills required to create this content in-house you’ll have to bring in experts like Motimate Creative Studio to help you design and build your games. So, you might want to reserve this approach for special projects and more strategic training. 


Whether you’re gamifying or gaming, you’ll need the infrastructure to support delivery. Some learning management systems are often not game conversant, but there are ways around this. If you’re using Motimate, you’ll know that it is super easy to add gamification to your courses. It’s faster, simpler and the outcomes are very often just as effective. And, if you do have a game you want your users to engage with, you can link through to it directly from Motimate. 

REMA1000, a leading Scandinavian grocery chain and long-time Motimate client, created a custom-built game as part of their on-boarding program. They then linked the game to Motimate, so new recruits can log in to Motimate and simply click a link to play the game. 

Deciding whether to gamify or to game aspects of your corporate training is the first step in creating engaging, effective training, but then you need to do it. 

At Motimate Creative Studio, we are really passionate about game mechanics and game-based learning. If you’d like some advice on the best approach to take or some support delivering your training content, get in touch with me or a member of my expert team.