Education has transformed over the last 20 years from being a means to an end to becoming a change agent on the battleground to improve the life chances of all individuals, regardless of where they live, their economic status, gender, ability or religious persuasion. Education has been revitalised as the gateway for equal opportunity.
Much credit can be attributed to advances in technology. Knowledge sharing and transfer can be invited in, no matter who produces it and where it can be delivered. Education no longer needs to take a physical form to bring about inclusiveness, with virtual learning environments providing the ability to open buildings and facilities, as well as skills and competencies.
My own journey into disruptive technology-enhanced education started in 2010 as a biotechnology student in Denmark. Teaching exposed a mismatch between my aspiration, ambition and passion for biotechnology and the subject’s ability to create a positive impact. It ran up against a lack of motivation, weak engagement and poor knowledge sharing and transfer.
My inner entrepreneur was awoken, leading me to develop the first prototype of a virtual laboratory simulation. It was an expression of the empowerment that I could see that others would benefit from.
From this vision grew a company that now includes a world beating team of technologists and educationalists. Labster’s catalogue of virtual laboratory simulations is used in 25 countries by 120 of the world’s leading higher and secondary education institutions. Our goal is to reach at least one million students by the end of 2017.
Labster has joined the wave of educators and learning scientists that focus on the importance of designing motivating, engaging and immersive learning experiences. We act on evidence-based practice to create simulations that prepare students and professionals for real life.
Technology is an enabler
Labster has worked with universities such as MIT, Stanford and UC Berkeley to measure how virtual laboratories compare with traditional teaching. Our results from students using Labster show an increase of learning effectiveness of 76% over traditional teaching methods. When traditional teaching was combined with Labster, the effectiveness increased to 101%, as teachers use the virtual laboratories to become freer and more agile in the way that they motivate, mentor and support their students’ development.
Our findings show that technology is most effective when it is integrated and used in parallel with physical learning environments, not as a replacement for the real world. Indeed, so-called EdTech should be an enabler and a catalyst for new perspectives and innovation, and allow us to rethink conventions and reimagine how we plan and organise education and skills development.
Labster can generate small or massive virtual learning environments. We can replicate laboratory and learning environments in a technical package that which can be accessed remotely, and even fit in your pocket when on the move. More students can now become inspired and motivated by seeing how science, technology, engineering and maths can help with real-life problem solving.
The ultimate impact of our approach will be to leave fewer people behind in the digital world of progress. Technology-enhanced education will give students and employees an opportunity to take control of the new production revolution 4.0 rather than be led by it. Technology provides a fast track that encourages inclusiveness.
Equal opportunity, greater impact
Labster’s research has shown that virtual laboratory simulations provide the greatest benefits to low knowledge and poor performing students. The comparison of low, medium and high level of knowledge students show that the gamified, 3D real life and simulation-based learning enabled the most challenged students to achieve better understanding and motivation together with highest improvement in post-test results.
Students feel empowered by using virtual laboratories. It is a tool that that they can take with them seamlessly throughout primary, secondary and higher education, equipping them with a digital literacy that will empower them for life, in the workplace and beyond.
We expect many more life-long learning EdTech tools like Labster to emerge in future, as part of a trend that will democratise education and empower equal opportunity among the workforce. Increased access and reduced costs of that access to massive amounts of knowledge and data will bring education into the reach of most communities around the world. A wider application of computational thinking and 21st century skills will bring more adaptive, problem solving, critical thinking and collaborative skills. These will be important ingredients in our collaborative effort to create a more equitable and opportunity-filled world for all.
Ted Talk by Labster co-founder and CTO Michael Bodekaer: www.ted.com/talks/michael_bodekaer_this_virtual_lab_will_revolutionize_science_class
Bonde, Mads T et al. (2014), “Improving biotech education through gamified laboratory simulations”, Nature Biotechnology Vol. 32, p. 694–697, doi: 10.1038/nbt.2955
Bonde, Mads T et al. (2016), “Simulation Based Virtual Learning Environment in Medical Genetics Counseling: An Example of Bridging the Gap between Theory and Practice in Medical Education.” BMC Medical Education 16
Makransky, Guido et al. (2016), “Virtual Simulations as Preparation for Lab Exercises: Assessing Learning of Key Laboratory Skills in Microbiology and Improvement of Essential Non-Cognitive Skills” PLOS ONE, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0155895