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ATD Blog

Gaming or Gamification?

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

My last blog on gaming, “Are You Using Games to Engage?,” discussed the importance of engaging the learner and how gaming allows that to happen with ease. In this blog, I’d like to clarify a question I frequently hear from learners: What is the difference between gaming and gamification?

Gaming is a physical or mental activity that involves competition. It may be part of a larger contest, assigns some sort of point system to determine winners, offers a reward, has a defined set of rules, and involves what we call “play.”

Gamification, on the other hand, is the act of applying gaming elements to something that is not a game to make the activity engaging or interactive.

For instance, you might design a virtual reality learning experience that has the learner walk through the steps for turning a machine on and off safely. To add gaming elements (or gamification), you might have the learner do those steps while timing them. In other words, if they perform under X number of minutes, they earn X number of points. Then, you create and award a badge to recognize that achievement.


With gamification, we can apply a few elements of gaming without having to design and create a whole game system. This enables us to engage the learner without having to allocate time and space that a game system might require.


Both gaming and gamification have a place in engaging today’s learner. Like any learning method that we choose to design and then develop into our learning programs, we need to take a step back and ask:

  • What’s the goal of the program?
  • What do we want our learner to walk away with?

After we know the goals and objectives of our program, we can determine whether gaming or gamification is the right fit.

To learn more about designing and developing learning games, check out my prerecorded session, Supercharge Your Learning with Games, during the ATD Virtual Conference: Building Capabilities and Connection, June 1-5, 2020.

About the Author

Barbara Greenstein, principal of Human Resource Prescriptions, is a performance improvement specialist providing proven and creative ways to improve human performance in the workplace. By identifying issues and opportunities for improvement, she helps organizations large and small meet their planned goals.

Barbara is highly regarded for her facilitation and instructional design skills. With over 20 years of experience in the training and development field, her mission is to help clients put the systems in place that will help them manage effectively in today's changing business environment while ensuring optimal performance and job satisfaction for all employees.

Prior to becoming an external consultant, Barbara's corporate experience included training and instructional design for Burger King Corporation, Pizza Hut, and Electronic Data Systems (EDS). She completed her undergraduate work in consumer affairs and management at Florida International University and received a master's degree in human resource development, as well as graduate certificates in instructional design and total quality management (TQM) from Marymount University.

Barbara is an adjunct professor for the master's program in human resources at Chapman University in San Diego. She has also served as a facilitator for the University of San Diego's master's program in executive leadership program. In addition, she is a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT), a certification awarded through the International Society of Performance Improvement (ISPI) and the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD). Barbara is past president of the San Diego chapter of ASTD and an active member of ISPI.

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