Fuel Student Engagement with Labster Game-Based Learning

Sometimes, teaching looks like rows of distracted students. Sometimes it looks like the empty black boxes of disabled web cameras. For educators, maintaining students’ attention, interest and participation can be one of your hardest tasks. 

We get it. In fact, our co-founder Mads Bonde was a biotechnology professor who was struggling with disengaged students when he created Labster with Michael Bodekaer Jensen. 

Here’s how Labster’s use of game-based learning is still helping educators like Mads (and you!) motivate and engage  students. 

Labster is as challenging as it is fun


Labster supports course instruction by using some of the elements of games to help engage students in deeper learning.  

“The goal of gamification cannot be to replace instruction, but instead to improve it.” – Richard N. Landers (Landers, 2014)

Labster is not a stereotypical learning game, nor is it “edutainment.” We use gamified learning in a different way. Labster’s virtual labs apply some of the extrinsic motivators of game-based elements while keeping the student’s focus on learning the content. 

Labster does:

Offer engaging experiences that foster mastery learning. 
Facilitates students’ critical thinking, problem solving, analysis, and synthesis of new knowledge. 
Stokes students’ natural curiosity and desire to learn

Labster does NOT:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is x-mark.jpgDrive social competition with leaderboards that show top scorers. 
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is x-mark.jpgEncourage students to mindlessly collect badges. 
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is x-mark.jpgMotivate students to complete a virtual lab experience for the sake of winning.

Labster is fun and challenging

Labster gets your students involved    

In a traditional classroom, students can sometimes find a way to sit at the back of the class and choose not to participate. Fortunately, it’s much harder for students to disengage in Labster’s virtual laboratory where nothing happens without their active involvement. 

“They’re not sitting in front of the computer watching a video of someone lecturing to them. They’re engaged, they’re playing. It’s motivating, not boring.”

Emily Dehoff, Biology Instructor, North County Career Center Vermont

Each interaction a student has with Labster impacts their progress in the game. In fact, research shows that our virtual lab simulations evoke high levels of concentration and involvement.

Listen to The Labster Podcast | Gamified Learning Episode

Labster increases motivation with techniques borrowed from game development 


We’ve spent years developing our virtual learning platform in collaboration with psychologists, learning specialists, and teachers, and we can see the positive impact Labster is having. Today, Labster students are motivated to learn cutting edge science by playing realistic, relatable virtual lab simulations like:

  • Introduction to Immunology: Learn how researchers across the planet work together to save the world from pathogenic infections – from the perspective of the pathogen!
  • Parkinson’s Disease: Use liquid chromatography to evaluate a promising treatment for your grandmother’s Parkinson’s Disease. 
  • Redox Reactions: Build your own battery to power an electric car by discovering the chemical reactions that power batteries.

These storylines are just one aspect of Labster’s advanced learning engine. We also use action language, missions fraught with conflict and challenge, an immersive environment, game-based rules, embedded assessment, and 3D animations. Each dimension of gamification provides another hook that engages students in the learning experience.

Learning with Labster is integral, not an add-on

“Two categories of gamification have emerged over time. In the first case, someone makes a game and then tries to integrate learning, like “oh, we can add gamification to it.’ This can be a good stepping stone, but the true benefit comes from actually integrating the learning into the game so you learn as you play.”    

– Mads Bonde, Labster Co-Founder

Giving Students the Freedom to Fail 

Offering students the “freedom to fail” (Tsay et al, 2018) is one of Labster’s most important gamified features. When students choose an incorrect answer to one of the embedded quiz questions, they receive immediate feedback (including an encouraging nudge to read the Theory pages) and a chance to retake the quiz at a slight reduction in point value. 

Students can also repeat the virtual lab simulation from the beginning. When students successfully complete a virtual lab simulation, they receive recognition and congratulations for a job well done. 

Using Constructive Sequences and the Chunking Method

We want to help your students understand each concept by creating digestible chunks of active learning and presenting them in a constructive sequence that builds on prior knowledge. Every virtual lab simulation contains a series of missions that comprise a clear goal and tasks which work towards attainment. 

Labster presents easier tasks first so students can learn the basics and parameters of the simulation. With repetition and fail-based learning, students are soon able to navigate the virtual laboratory. Labster then gradually increases the level of complexity. It is very common for simulation missions to progress from concept exploration, to skill development, to knowledge application.

Which gamified elements does Labster use?

If you’re curious, this table summarizes the game-like elements Labster incorporates (dimensions via Bedwell et al, 2012).

Action LanguageThe student directly moves their avatar and communicates with the game (Labster’s Dr. One character) using a conversations-with-options approach. Using their avatar to get “hands on” practice, students are able to build connections between lab skills and the new concepts they acquire during the simulation
AssessmentEmbedded quizzes allow students to measure their achievement and progress toward goals. They are used to permit the student to advance in the game.
Conflict/ChallengeThe student is given a mission to perform and is challenged by quiz questions as they play, prompting them to find answers by reading the Theory pages, making choices and evaluating consequences.
ControlThe student can move and interact with available elements, however the freedom is limited to Labster’s linear flow of tasks.
Game FictionThe student’s role and mission are imaginary and challenges are fraught with uncertainty. Labster uses the context of a realistic story to involve students in a mission. They learn new information which is presented in the Theory Pages within the user interface. 
ImmersionImaginative environments and storylines create an opportunity for students to suspend their disbelief and immerse themselves in the information presented. The student plays the role of hero and is able to influence the outcome of events.
RulesLabster is built on a series of missions with clear rules and goals that are communicated before activity begins and throughout the simulation.

Try Labster yourself

If you’re a science instructor looking for creative ways to further engage your students’ curiosity and motivation to learn, we invite you to try Labster.  

References in this post:

Bedwell, W. L., Pavlas, D., Heyne, K., Lazzara, E. H., & Salas, E. (2012). Toward a taxonomy linking game attributes to learning: An empirical study. Simulation & Gaming, 43(6), 729-760.

Landers, R. N. (2014). Developing a theory of gamified learning: Linking serious games and gamification of learning. Simulation & gaming, 45(6), 752-768.

Tsay, C. H. H., Kofinas, A., & Luo, J. (2018). Enhancing student learning experience with technology-mediated gamification: An empirical study. Computers & Education, 121, 1-17.

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We Can Make Virtual Labs Work for You

“The virtual labs have proven to stimulate students' natural curiosity, knowledge retention and outcomes.”
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University of Florida

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