The way schools teach and students learn has not changed much since the broad introduction of formal schooling in the late 1800s, despite the fact that most developed countries spend around 5-6% of their GDP on education.
Sure, over the years we have introduced new tools to students like calculators, overhead projectors (if you’re feeling nostalgic from your school days, eBay has a whole section dedicated to “old overhead projectors”), and of course computers.
And now, the public health pandemic has exposed everyone to “Zoom education.”
But fundamentally these changes are largely incremental, not dissimilar from what we typically see at the early stages of technological change. For example, early websites in the 90s were simply static representations of text and images that had historically been in physical print now moved to an online medium; early movies were largely viewed as a modest improvement from physical photographs, without the intricate storytelling and special effects that later transformed the entertainment medium.
This is the common story of technological change – initially take what worked before and simply move it to a new delivery vehicle; in time, rethink every aspect of what the technology entails to deliver a wholly new (and captivating) experience.
And this is where we are today with education: akin to the early days of static websites, but on the cusp of reimagining how to embrace technology to radically transform how people learn, not only in developed countries but across the globe.
Today’s students are still just as likely to sit in the back row and detach from learning as they were in the 1960s, 1980s, or 2000s. Engaging low and middle-performing students, whether they sit in the back row of a physical classroom or hide behind a black box in a Zoom class, has long been the holy grail for educators who want to make an impact.
That is why we are so excited to announce our investment in Labster, a company that is leading the education transformation with its virtual laboratory simulations. Founded by Mads Bonde and Michael Bodekaer in 2012, Labster combines storytelling with an immersive 3D universe to help students across the globe learn science through virtual experimentation.
Today, students around the world benefit from being able to learn science in Labster’s virtual world, combining advanced techniques from game development with learning psychology and virtualization of labs. This allows millions of students to access high quality education previously unreachable, because physical access to quality lab environments is lacking for many. And instead of reading a textbook or watching a lecture, students will participate in immersive, case-based missions such as analyzing samples for life signs on Mars, solving a murder mystery with DNA analysis, and even identifying a new virus.
So, Labster does what we expect of technological innovation – to vastly improve the efficiency and outcomes relative to existing educational alternatives while expanding the reach of a high quality, first-class educational experience to students who are otherwise deprived of this opportunity. It’s a great business that also will do great things.
No doubt we are still early days in seeing the full transformation of education – software has not fully “eaten” education – but we are excited to work with the Labster team and its existing investors on what will prove to be an amazing journey.