Gamification, serious gaming of game-based learning – what is the difference?

Are games only for primary school? Of course not! It’s just that at a later age we will call it something else. Preferably some serious English term: Gamification, Game-bases learing of Serious Gaming, Escaperoom or TeamBuildingActivities! But in the end, those fanatical, tumbling adults are doing the same thing during team building as the group of quartet 7-year-olds: playing! In this blog, I will list the terms.


In his book Gamedidactiek – Het hoe en waarom van spellen in de les definieert Martijn Koops defines gamification (in the classroom) as: using game elements in an ordinary learning environment. For example, you take the ‘competition’ element of games and use it in a different situation.

This app launched by the Dutch brain foundation became very populair in The Netherlands during lockdown. The app contains some of these game elements: you keep track of your own walks and you can share them. You can also walk ‘against’ each other or compete as groups. The funny thing about such a game element is that it motivates you to walk even more: to make a few extra meters to outdo your colleagues. The reward for you is that you are at the top of the scoreboard. A reward like that is so powerful that it even encourages people to go for a walk who don’t even like to exercise!

A successful and amusing application of gamification is that of The Speed Camera Lottery. In Sweden, a camera was set up on a busy road and a sign read that motorists passing by were taking part in a lottery. Everyone was flashed: if you drove too fast, you paid a fine which went into the pot. If you kept to the speed limit, you entered the lottery to win a share of the pot. The average speed on that road dropped considerably. Everyone did their best to win the lottery (reward). Watch the video of this FunTheory:

gamification in the classroom

In the classroom, you already see many forms of gamification: competitions, rewards and challenges. The new generation of students is made up of gamers, YouTube viewers and TikTok fans. And is therefore used to something. As far as I’m concerned, there is still room for a bit of gamification. You can read how to do that in the two-part series Gamedidactiek. These two handy books are a source of suggestions, tools and inspiration.

Also on the Dutch website Vernieuwenderwijs you will find several examples of gamification in the classroom. For example this article about gamification with Google Forms. 

serious gaming

Whereas gamification adds game elements to reality, in serious gaming it is actually the other way round: reality is turned into a game. In the game you dive into a situation that can also occur in reality. In this way, you experience what the situation can be like and/or you look for solutions to problems that arise. For instance, there are many serious games for the healthcare sector. At this website , for example, you can learn more about dementia or learn to recognise elder abuse.

In my newsletter #14 I wrote about Can You Fix It?, een video/game for young people in which they take on one of the roles and can thus experiment in relationships.  The game gives you the opportunity to react in different ways and discover what that gives you.

Serious gaming is also used in science. One of the most important examples is the Foldit-project where gamers and puzzlers helped (and still help) scientists in their research on protein. Do you like puzzles? You can still join the Foldit project. Or contribute to Alzheimer’s research as a citizen scientist:

game-based learning

This is the focus of Pen & Pion / Kenniscentrum Spel. Game-based learningis the use of games to teach skills and knowledge. For example, using a game to repeat the tables. You can opt for existing games or a game that you create and/or adapt yourself.
 An example is the Haba game Het Masker van Amon Ra. We turned a board game into a life-size moving game. For two years in a row, this game has had the most hits on the website.

At Pinterest I see many teachers who make their own games and share the material. That is great! But it also takes a lot of time to think and work. Which is a shame, when you know that there are many very good games on the market. You can use them directly in the classroom. The advantage of these games is that they are of good quality and often have rules for both groups and solo play. Moreover, some publishers provide a smart feedback system, so that you as a teacher do not have to be around all the time. Take a look at, for example de spellen van Haba.

But we want to have fun!

Gamification, serious gaming en game-based learning all three are learning-oriented. They are practices that serve a purpose. Of course, fun is part of it, because if you are having fun, you learn easier and remember better.

Two other games that make adults very enthusiastic are the escaperoom and team building.

Escaperooms have become extremely popular lately.

They are popping up like mushrooms and come in all sorts of themes. What you actually do in an escaperoom is solve a problem. An escaperoom consists of a series of problems. The solution to each individual problem brings you closer to the solution of the whole: finding the exit. And the stick behind the door is the clock. The clock is your motivator to continue working. You get your endorphin shot by escaping from the escaperoom.

The motivation that you automatically feel in an escaperoom is also interesting for education. That is why there are now also various escaperooms that focus on a specific subject or subject. Read about the escapebox I did at Utrecht University.

And then there is the team outing. The team outing or team building focuses on an important aspect of games: the social factor. This can be by working together or by doing activities through which you get to know your colleague better or in a different way.

A board game is the perfect way to get to know your colleagues in a different way. For did not a wise person say:

That is probably why playing board games is number 2 on this (Dutch) list: 20 Geweldige Teambuilding Activiteiten Voor Je Volgende Evenement.

Do you want to get started with game-based learning, do you want to play different games in your classroom or do you want to hold a game afternoon this year as a team outing? Then contact me to talk further.

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