Developing a Theory of Gamified Learning: Linking Serious Games and Gamification of Learning


Gamification, Serious games and the link to learning have been studied for quite some time. In essence gamification is a technique, used to motivate people to engage in targeted behaviors. Examples can be seen in marketing to influence consumer behavior or in education to train employees. Nevertheless, a parsimonious model of gamification has yet to be described. Parsimony is a law that states if multiple constructs are used while one would suffice, one should use one. This article attempts to first define the construct of gamification to then differentiate it from serious games and finally describe how gamification affects learning.

Gamification is a technique, used to motivate people to engage in targeted behaviours

What is gamified learning?

Gamification in the purest sense involves the use of game elements outside a game, or similarly an existing process is augmented by attributes used in games. In a learning context gamification is a technique that consists of the attributes:

  • Action language: an interface that communicates between the player and the game.
  • Assessment: accomplishments in the game are tracked.
  • Conflict & Challenge: problems faced by players varying classified by nature and difficulty.
  • Control: the extent to which players can alter the game and the degree to which the game alters the response.
  • Environment: the physical surroundings for the player (i.e. virtual world).
  • Game fiction: the game world and game story (i.e. adventures).
  • Human interaction: the degree to which players interact with each other in both space and time.
  • Immersion: the affective and perceived experience (i.e. real-time images displayed).
  • Rules & Goals: defined rules and information to progress towards goals for the player (Landers, 2014).

Thus gamification in a learning context can be defined as “the use of game elements including: action language, assessment, conflict & challenge, control, environment, game fiction, human interaction, immersion and rules & goals, to facilitate learning and related outcomes” (Landers, 2014. P.6).

How do serious games and gamification relate to each other?

Both gamification and serious games incorporate elements (the above toolkit of attributes) of games and aim at altering learning outcomes. Yet serious games include all game attributes at a varying degree, while gamification only involve a limited and meaningful combination of attributes. In addition, the processes differ in that serious games include clear instructions to influence a recurring game cycle which causes learning, while gamification influences behavior and attitude contextually without debriefing. With that serious games aim at affecting learning directly while gamification is proposed to affect behavior and attitude indirectly.


Figure 1. Serious gaming and Gamification (adapted from Landers, 2014)

How does gamification affect learning?

All in all, gamification affects learning only when it affects behavior and attitude. Thus for gamification to be an effective method of learning, the instructor must ensure the relation between game elements and target behavior to ultimately affect learning. This is referred to as a mediating effect.


Landers, R. N. (2014). Developing a Theory of Gamified Learning Developing a Theory of Gamified Learning : Linking Serious Games and Gamification of Learning. Simulation & Gaming, 45, 752–768.


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