Edtech keeps finding new ways to surprise the industry these days. As Michael Bodekaer puts it, there is really a “big, massive untapped opportunity to make a real impact in the world” with technology – and he’s striving to do just that with Labster.
The company uses simulations to create “virtual labs” – a game-changing method for science students to visualise working in a laboratory with the utmost accuracy, without needing to take them to an actual lab.
Labster co-founder Mads Bonde “ was teaching science, and was overall a bit frustrated with how hard it was to engage students in science topics – something as interesting, as fascinating as science!” Bodekaer said.
“Most science equipment gets more and more expensive, and the time available to engage your students is very hard to actually take them out on field trips and make it relevant and engaging.”
So, with his co-founder, Bodekaer took his experience in the gaming industry to capitalise on a gap in the market. Having been creating games for learning specifically, he was able to take a specific part of his past work and implement it with his co-founder’s knowledge.
“Most science equipment gets more and more expensive… it’s hard to make it relevant and engaging”
There were two key factors of the evolution of Labster: one was the focus on limited budgets in education spheres, and the other hinged on learning concepts.
The service is available to K-12 and post-secondary students, but the company is also planning to expand into corporate training.
“It’s really hard to create high quality learning content because you have to essentially create a whole game for every single topic you want to teach – it’s not like a normal game,” Bodekaer explained.
“We had to dramatically reinvent the way we created learning experiences to make it simple to build high quality content at low cost.”
The set up of Labster means it works directly with teachers to help them “optimise” their teaching experience. Instead of using something like a PowerPoint or a YouTube video, they insert Labster’s interactive games and labs.
The simulations work in VR, and Labster does allow customers to use those experiences, but they give most priority to low-end devices, such as Chromebooks, or iPads – devices that schools are more likely to already have.
“It all runs in a browser, so it’s more or less the same – except instead of giving the student a passive monologue video, they can say, ‘tonight for homework I want you to play this game’ so that tomorrow when they go into the lab or classroom they can evaluate student performance better.”
The labs part can be used independently, as Bodekaer puts it, “like a flight simulator” – so that an experiment that could be time-consuming, dangerous or expensive can be done on Labster and then post-lab exercises can be done swiftly and smoothly.
Because of Covid, he said, thousands of schools have “essentially moved their entire science facilities online” – and post-pandemic hybrid learning could prove to be a very lucrative venture for Labster.
“We’ve seen the early signs of teachers planning to go back to the classroom, so one of the key things we wanted to emphasise was the value of helping prepare students for class, and how virtual can help with physical learning – for example, educating teachers across the world on how it can be used in combination with physical labs.”
As the world moves out of the pandemic, Bodekaer said the shift has mostly been from using entire virtual labs to using them for homework – pre and post lab exercises – and according to testimonials and research, students perform “much better” and are “less scared” entering physical labs when they’ve used the exercises on the platform.
“We’ve told our team our mission, our goal, is to reach 100 million students”
Speaking of going across the world, Labster’s markets are expanding. The company’s two primary markets are the UK and US, but it’s now expanded to other parts of Europe, with translations into Spanish, French, Italian and German – as well as Latin America.
“We’re seeing global growth now, it’s really exciting,” Bodekaer mused.
“We want to reach more and more students around the world – we’ve told our team our mission, our goal, is to reach 100 million students.”
While the expansion continues, Bodekaer also wants to reach loftier heights, predicting that they might be looking at Asia in a year or so.
“One of my big dreams is to essentially make this learning experience free to emerging markets who typically have very limited access”
Bodekaer describes the approach to new markets as thoughtful; he stresses that making a good curriculum alignment, and making sure that local stations of Labster and usage is of “high quality”.
“We’ve already done it with the UK and US, we want to make sure we really create the right level of localisation,” Bodekaer explained.
The expansion isn’t the only plans Labster has for the future – in the works are added learning in physiology, anatomy, and building into the “core sciences” as well as adding verticals to the existing virtual labs and exercises.
“The global expansion of high school markets as well as entry into health care – the natural extension – are the big areas we’re focused on right now,” Bodekaer says, spelling big things possibly coming in the next few years.
“One of my big dreams is to essentially make this entire million dollar laboratory learning experience available for free to emerging markets who typically have very limited access to high quality science education,” he said.
“Being in a position where we can offer this to markets that are truly in need and would benefit dramatically is something I’m really excited about,” he added.