Gamification and Games-Based Learning

Michael Ziarno

Ontario Tech University


This paper explores the integration of games and game-like elements in the classroom to enhance collaborative learning, problem-solving skills, and student engagement. Three distinct educational approaches are discussed: Gamification, Game-Based Learning (GBL), and Games Design. While often used interchangeably, these approaches differ significantly in their methodologies and objectives. Gamification involves incorporating game-like elements into traditionally non-gaming contexts to increase enjoyment and engagement. Strategies for gamification include introducing game elements to grading systems, offering rewards as incentives, and incorporating competitive elements such as leaderboards. On the other hand, Game-Based Learning (GBL) utilizes games to achieve specific learning objectives, with different types of games catering to various educational purposes. The paper provides a historical overview of gamification’s development, from its early informal use to its widespread integration in multiple industries. It also highlights significant developments contributing to its recognition and adoption in formal education. However, gamification’s practical implementation in educational settings is still an emerging trend. The potential of gamification and GBL in education lies in their ability to teach and reinforce knowledge and essential skills like problem-solving, collaboration, and communication. Despite their promise, the paper emphasizes the need for further empirical research to examine the effectiveness of specific game elements in diverse educational contexts and for different types of learners. The paper presents gamification applications in education, including a case study on using Minecraft (2023) to empower students to demonstrate their understanding and foster collaboration and creativity. Additionally, Bloxels (Pixel Press Technology, 2023), an online learning tool, is introduced, allowing students to design their video games and develop essential 21st-century competencies. In conclusion, leveraging games and game-like elements in education offers significant potential for creating immersive and captivating learning environments that enhance student engagement and foster essential skills for the 21st century. The paper recommends conducting substantial empirical research to understand the impact of gamification and GBL better, assisting instructors in effectively incorporating these strategies into their courses. Overall, this paper sheds light on games’ valuable role in education, motivating educators to explore these approaches to enhance teaching and learning experiences.


Collaboration, Creativity, Gamification, Game-Based-Learning (GBL), Games Design, 21st Century Skills,


Using games in a classroom setting has been extensively documented for their ability to enhance collaborative learning, foster problem-solving skills, and create an immersive and captivating learning environment. Three educational approaches incorporating games or game-like elements to support teaching and learning are Gamification, Game-Based Learning (GBL), and Games Design. While these methods are often mistakenly used interchangeably, they differ significantly in their approaches. (Gamification vs. Game Based Learning vs. Game Design, n.d.)

Gamification involves incorporating game-like elements into traditionally non-gaming contexts to enhance enjoyment and engagement. Strategies for gamification include introducing game elements to grading systems, offering rewards as incentives to students, and incorporating competitive elements like leaderboards. (Gamification vs. Game Based Learning vs. Game Design, n.d.)

Conversely, game-Based Learning (GBL) entails using games to achieve specific learning objectives. Different types of games serve different purposes: math and statistics can be effectively taught using games that generate data, while story-driven games can enhance creative writing skills. Puzzle games encourage problem-solving abilities, and physics-based games can be utilized to explain concepts like velocity and momentum. (Gamification vs. Game Based Learning vs. Game Design, n.d.)

These approaches share similarities but adopt distinct methodologies, making them valuable tools for educators seeking to leverage the benefits of gaming in the classroom.

Background Information

Gamification Summary

Gamification has a rich history and has become a standard feature in software design due to its ability to engage users. The term “gamification” was coined in 2002, but the roots of using games and game mechanics for engagement can be traced back to earlier times (Growth Engineering, 2019). In the 1900s, the Boy Scouts implemented badges for achievements, and in 1973, Charles A Coonradt proposed using fun and games to address employee engagement (Growth Engineering, 2019). The development of social video games, the introduction of frequent flyer programs, and academic recognition of gaming’s potential followed in subsequent years. In the 2000s, gamification gained momentum with the release of educational games, the founding of gamification platforms, and the adoption of the term itself (Growth Engineering, 2019). The 2010s marked a significant rise in gamification’s popularity, with events, research, and the integration of game mechanics into various industries. Gamification became widely incorporated in apps and diverse areas of life, although different names often referred to it (Growth Engineering, 2019).

Significant Developments in Gamification

As mentioned above, though the concept of gamification was used frequently throughout history in an informal context, it only became accepted into formal education with some significant developments. One of the first significant developments was using computer games demonstrating inherent abilities to engage users; articles started exploring possible uses. In 1981, Thomas W. Malone released Toward a Theory of Intrinsically Motivating Instruction (Malone, 1981). This article outlined what could be learned from computer games and applied to other areas (Malone, 1981). During the latter part of the 20th Century, people were beginning to consider games as a way to increase productivity in the workplace. Along with the conception of Frequent Flier rewards, the power of game mechanics to engage customers was also realized (Growth Engineering, 2019).

While designing a game-like user interface for commercial electronic devices (ATMs, vending machines, mobile phones), Nick Pelling coins the ‘deliberately ugly’ word, gamification (Growth Engineering, 2019). Throughout the 2000s, gamification is increasingly used in commercial applications.

By 2010, gamification was getting the recognition it deserved. Jane McGonigal delivers her groundbreaking TED Talk, Gaming Can Make a Better World, in which she prophesies a game-based paradise: “When I look forward to the next decade, I know two things for sure: that we can make any future we can imagine, and we can play any games we want, so I say: Let the world-changing games begin”(McGonial 2010). Throughout the 2010s, gamification became increasingly successful as social media platforms and apps utilizing gamification became widespread as the most successful and highest-grossing such as Pokemon Go (Nintendo, 2023), and SnapChat (2023) (Growth Engineering, 2019).

By 2018, nearly all apps include gamification in some way. Gamification is no longer just found in language learning and exercise apps but also in meditation, to-do lists, job applications, litter picking, wildlife spotting, and tea collecting are just some of the examples of how gamification has been used (Growth Engineering, 2019). It has become increasingly challenging to identify gamification in today’s world. Not because its use has decreased but because it has been so widespread, it is now difficult to identify apps that do not use gamification.

Gamification In Education

While gamification has gained traction in business, marketing, corporate management, and wellness initiatives, its implementation in education is still an emerging trend. Many students perceive traditional schooling as ineffective and uninteresting. Although teachers constantly seek new instructional methods, it is widely acknowledged that today’s schools face significant challenges regarding student motivation and engagement (Lee and Hammer, 2011). Utilizing educational games as learning tools holds promise due to their ability to teach and reinforce knowledge and vital skills like problem-solving, collaboration, and communication. Games can motivate individuals, employing various mechanisms to encourage engagement purely for the joy of playing and the potential for success, often without tangible rewards. However, creating a highly engaging and comprehensive instructional game is challenging, time-consuming, and expensive, typically focusing on a single set of learning objectives determined by the game designer (Kapp, 2012). Furthermore, effectively integrating these games into the classroom requires specific technical infrastructure and appropriate pedagogical integration. In contrast, the “gamification” approach suggests utilizing game thinking and game design elements to enhance learners’ engagement and motivation rather than relying on complex games that demand extensive design and development efforts.

A study by Dicheva et al. (2015), used a mapping study to look at the effects of using game elements in specific educational contexts. The study findings indicate that while numerous publications discuss the use of gamification in education, most of them only describe specific game mechanisms and dynamics and emphasize their potential application in educational settings (Dicheva et al., 2015). However, there is a need for true empirical research that examines the effectiveness of incorporating game elements in learning environments (Dicheva et al., 2015). Although the mapping study identifies emerging trends in utilizing specific configurations of game mechanics and gamification design principles, their actual impact on learning is yet to be demonstrated through practical implementation (Dicheva et al., 2015).

Although comprehensive evaluation is largely lacking, most authors of the reviewed papers agree that gamification can enhance learning when well-designed and appropriately utilized (Dicheva et. al, 2015). Consequently, further substantial empirical research is necessary to explore the motivating effects of employing individual game elements within specific educational contexts and for distinct types of learners(Dicheva et al., 2015) . Such research would provide valuable insights to instructors interested in gamifying their courses, assisting them in determining the suitable game elements to employ in their particular context (Dicheva et al., 2015).


The case study on Differentiation with Minecraft in the Classroom online learning tool demonstrates how game-based learning and a gamification approach using Bloxels empower students to showcase their comprehension, foster creativity, and develop essential 21st-century competencies in an engaging and immersive educational environment.

Differentiation With Minecraft in The Classroom – Case Study

The case study by Buffington and Rosengrant (2020) provides valuable insights into implementing game-based learning using Minecraft (2023) to address the learning challenges faced by a secondary science student named “John.” John’s struggles with ADHD and undiagnosed dysgraphia have impacted his ability to produce written responses in science assessments, resulting in poor academic performance. Recognizing the need for differentiated assessment to accommodate John’s learning needs, the teacher introduces Minecraft as an alternative platform for him to demonstrate his comprehension. By utilizing Minecraft, John engages in a collaborative project with a partner to design a desalination plant powered by solar and wind energy to provide clean drinking water along the coastline of any island. Through this creative endeavor, John can showcase his understanding of scientific concepts and demonstrate how game-based learning can effectively unlock his imagination and enable him to address real-world problems. Moreover, the case study highlights the motivation behind John’s project, which is deeply rooted in his personal connection to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. By envisioning how the desalination plant could positively impact communities in these regions, John gains a sense of purpose and meaning in his learning journey. This aspect of the case study showcases how game-based learning experiences, such as those provided by Minecraft, can foster intrinsic motivation and allow students to connect their academic endeavors with real-life implications. Furthermore, using reflection videos in the case study allows John to articulate his thoughts, motivations, and learning process. This practice enhances metacognition and facilitates novel modes of communication, as John effectively communicates his ideas and project outcomes to a broader audience. This highlights the potential of game-based learning approaches to support academic learning and develop important communication and presentation skills.


Bloxels (Pixel Press Technology, 2023), as an innovative online learning tool, goes beyond traditional game-based learning by empowering students to design their video games, incorporating complex elements commonly found in such games. A remarkable example of Bloxels’ potential is evident in a game that guides players through the life story of Sir Alexander Fleming and the discovery of penicillin. This integration of storytelling, science, and art within a single platform exemplifies how Bloxels seamlessly bridges interdisciplinary learning experiences. By engaging with Bloxels, students acquire technical skills in game design and cultivate essential 21st-century competencies. They develop their communication skills as they craft narratives for their games, fostering their ability to convey ideas effectively to an audience. Moreover, designing video games on Bloxels encourages creativity and innovation, prompting students to think critically about game mechanics, narratives, and aesthetics. Beyond individual skill development, Bloxels fosters collaborative and community-building experiences. In an online environment, students can interact with peers, exchange ideas, and work together on game projects. This collaborative aspect enhances their social presence and helps them develop teamwork skills, preparing them for a digitally connected world where collaboration and communication are paramount.

Furthermore, the flexibility of Bloxels opens up boundless possibilities for students to explore their creativity and imagination. With the ability to create diverse games, students can delve into various subjects and themes, sparking their curiosity and interest in different academic areas. The synthesis of storytelling, science, and art within Bloxels, coupled with the cultivation of 21st-century competencies and collaborative experiences, underscores the potential of this learning tool to transform education. By leveraging technology to blend creative expression with academic content, Bloxels enriches students’ learning journeys and prepares them to thrive in a rapidly evolving digital landscape. As educators embrace such innovative approaches, they can foster a generation of learners who are adept at utilizing technology and skilled at applying their knowledge and creativity to address real-world challenges.

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

In conclusion, incorporating games and game-like elements in education offers significant potential for enhancing collaborative learning, problem-solving skills, and student engagement. While gamification, game-based learning (GBL), and game design share similarities, they employ distinct approaches to support teaching and learning. Gamification involves integrating game-like elements into non-gaming contexts to enhance enjoyment and engagement. This strategy includes implementing game elements in grading systems, offering incentives and rewards to students, and incorporating competitive elements such as leaderboards. On the other hand, game-based learning (GBL) utilizes games to achieve specific learning objectives. Different types of games serve different purposes, ranging from teaching math and statistics to enhancing creative writing skills, problem-solving abilities, and understanding of scientific concepts. While these approaches hold promise, empirical research on their effectiveness in learning environments still needs to be conducted. However, existing studies suggest that well-designed and appropriately implemented gamification and game-based learning can enhance learning outcomes. Notable applications of gamification in education include the use of Minecraft as a learning tool, where students can create projects that demonstrate their understanding while fostering collaboration and imagination. Additionally, Bloxels allows students to design their own video games, integrating storytelling, science, and art into an interdisciplinary tool that develops essential 21st-century competencies. To further explore the potential of game-based learning, it is crucial to conduct substantial empirical research to examine the impact of specific game elements within different educational contexts and for diverse learners. This research will provide valuable insights for instructors interested in incorporating gamification and game-based learning into their courses. Overall, leveraging games and game-like elements in education can create immersive and captivating learning environments that foster student engagement, collaboration, and the development of essential skills for the 21st century.


Buffington, L., & Rosengrant, D. (2020). Making Differentiation Magic in the Classroom with Minecraft. The Physics Teacher58(8).

Dicheva, D., Dichev, C., Agre, G., & Angelova, G. (2015). Gamification in Education: A Systematic Mapping Study. Educational Technology & Society18(3), 75–88.

Gamification vs. Game-Based Learning vs. Game Design. (n.d.). Teachwithict

Growth Engineering. (2019). The History of Gamification: From The Very Beginning to Right Now. Growth Engineering.

Kapp, K. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: Game-based methods and strategies for training and education. Pfeiffer.

Lee, J., & Hammer, J. (2011). Gamification in education: What, how, why bother? Academic Exchange Quarterly, 15(2), 146.’_Why_Bother

Malone, T. W. (1981). Toward a Theory of Intrinsically Motivating Instruction. Cognitive Science, 5(4), 333–369.

Minecraft Education (2023). Mojang AB. TM Microsoft Corporation. [Computer software]

Nintendo (2023). Pokemon Go.

Pixel Press Technology (2023). Bloxels. [Computer software)

SnapChat Inc., (2023). SnapChat.


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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2023 Copyright © by Michael Ziarno is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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