Every Week we give you insights into a startup’s life, vision and business. Our new series launches with Learn Technologies.
How can gamification revolutionize the way pupils, students and employees learn? Can learning be made less boring? What is so special about high-tech 3D online education platforms and solutions like Labster? Our interview with Michael Bodekaer, Founder and CTO of the Zurich-based start-up Learn Technologies will provide answers to these questions.
Michael, did you like school?
(Laughing) Generally, yes. But I think that learning at schools and universities could be more engaging. According to a study conducted in collaboration with Labster, which was published in the magazine “Nature”, many students generally perceive science as being “boring”, and – what is even worse – as something that is not part of the real word. It is about time that we rethink the way we approach teaching − whether it is in an academic, a professional or in any other educational contexts. Innovative, IT-based and virtual approaches like “Labster” may provide an opportunity to increase the skill level of learners and to motivate them to pursue their educational and training goals in a more dedicated manner. Ironically, we now experience how virtual solutions reconnect us with the real world.
What gave you the idea to create “Labster” and found Learn Technologies?
My colleagues and I wondered why traditional teaching methods were still dominating education despite their obvious deficiencies. And even existing IT-based approaches mostly follow the beaten track instead of opening new horizons. Books are simply being turned into e-books, blackboards into videos, and lecture monologues into monologic online courses. The medium has changed, but didactic methods have remained more or less the same. We asked ourselves: How can education become more immersive, exciting and closer to reality? What can we do to make it more fun, engaging and effective? Why can’t it be like, let’s say, 3D flight simulators which are taking pilots to new levels of performance? And this was it! Based on the concept of flight simulators, we built our first prototype virtual learning simulator, “Labster”, which is now used all over the world. Based on this, we founded Learn Technologies in order to create and market a Unity3D platform that allows schools, universities, R&D institutions and companies from all industry sectors to easily and quickly develop made-to-measure education games and solutions.
Why did you headquarter Learn Technologies in Zurich, and not, for example, in California?
We decided to launch our start-up in Zurich because it is home to worldwide renowned education institutions such as ETH and the headquarter of leading companies from all industry verticals. Furthermore, it is a first-class hub of innovation and digitization in Europe. The greater Zurich and Swiss innovation ecosystems enable us to tap into a vast pool of digital talent to further develop our technologies and solutions. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. But, being an internationally acting company, we are not limited to Switzerland. “Labster” collaborates not only with ETH Zurich but also with top universities including MIT, Harvard and Imperial College.
Is gamification the answer to the issues of contemporary education?
Definitely. Several studies have challenged the effectiveness of traditional learning methods. Not surprisingly, they found that it is more effective to stimulate the learner’s curiosity and highlight the intricate connection between subject matters, science and “real world problems” than to focus on memorizing facts, listening passively to lectures and performing “cookbook” exercises. This applies to all kinds of learning − from university and school education to company trainings, re-training, onboarding of new staff or other instructional measures. By combining gamification elements with simulations, we stimulate, motivate and engage learners with an immersive 3D universe, storytelling such as crimes scene cases, conversations, fictional characters and a scoring system.
Can you prove your assertion?
In our above-mentioned collaborative study “Improving biotech education through gamified laboratory simulations” we show a 76% increase in learning outcomes by using “Labster” instead of traditional teaching tools, and a 101% increase by using “Labster” in combination with conventional teaching methods. Today, already tens of thousands of learners and students from all over the world use our gamification platform to bring education content to life.
Is the Unity3D platform by Learn Technologies suited for any educational purpose? Does it have the potential to replace traditional learning methods in the future?
Our platform offers infinite application possibilities. Labster, for example, is used to transform biochemistry studies in high-quality labs of leading universities all over the world including ETH and MIT, and our educational game “Startup Heroes” supports teaching entrepreneurship to business students. Just to give you a few examples of what is possible. “Labster” helps universities, labs, companies and organizations overcome many common barriers such as cost, safety and time. Solutions and processes of any kind and purpose can be implemented more efficiently and much faster. To answer the second part of your questions: face-to-face learning in the physical space will still play a significant role in the future. But gamification can significantly increase the outcomes of education, particularly when it is combined with traditional teaching.
How would you advise institutions, companies and organizations that run education and training programs?
There is a revolution going on in the classroom in line with the ongoing digital transformation process. It offers a great opportunity and provides affordable access to unlimited education. Become part of this development now and use this unique opportunity to exploit the growth potential of innovation in education − for your company and our society. More about this idea in my recent talk “Reimagining Education” at TEDxCERN.
About Learn Technologies
The Zurich-based start-up Learn Technologies was founded by Michael Bodekaer and offers a revolutionary Unity3D platform for the easy and quick development of education games and simulations. The customizable, system-agnostic platform allows the execution of learning-by-doing concepts in virtual space.
The interview was conducted by DigitalZurich2025 and Michael Bodekaer, Jan 2016. Meet Michael and the Learn Technologies team at CeBIT, Hannover, 14-18 March 2016, hall 6, Swiss Pavilion.
This was Learn Technology at CeBIT 2016 in Hannover, March 16th.
 See “Improving biotech education through gamified laboratory simulations”, article in Nature Biotechnology, Volume 32, Number 7, July 2014.
 See e.g. Lanahan, L. et al. “Fundamental Problems in the measurement of Instructional Processes: Estimating Reasonable Effect Sizes and Conceptualizing What is Important to Measure” (American Institutes for Research, Washington, dc, 2005); Keller, D., An Asessment of NationalAcademic Achievement Growth (University of Delaware, 1995).