The why in Education

Registration of my TED talk at TEDxAmsterdamED on March 26th 2015. The talk is a short (8 minute) version of the story below:

Did you ever ask yourself if the decisions you make are driven by what you know or feel is good – or are these decisions simply driven by your habits, by what you’re used to?

Habits Continue reading The why in Education

We have to educate for value, not for tests. You can accelerate the change, here’s how.

Value is a verb – it’s the positive things you do

Let’s take a bit of distance from your everyday life, and look at society as a whole. In an ideal world, everybody has value for society. And everybody wants to be valued by others, no matter who you ask. Value is not only about money. People who have value for society are people who care, who inspire, who lead, solve, develop, create, teach, give, organize, research, design, develop, repair, reflect, help, protect, connect, create, improve, who make something grow, who make something beautiful, who make you happy or smile…

These are all verbs. It is not about what you have (money, or knowledge) or your title (status), it is how you use yourself as a tool to make things better. People who are valued, are people who do positive things. To use yourself as a tool, you have to first understand yourself and your strenghths.

Value is very personal. Everybody is capable of having value for society, irrespective of your age, IQ, school grades, income, diplomas, location, race or religion. Continue reading We have to educate for value, not for tests. You can accelerate the change, here’s how.

Uncollege – Hacking your education

Yuri van Geest (thanks!) pointed me at this site and book: Uncollege. “Ditch the Lectures, Save Thousands, and learn more than your peers ever will”.

Both book and organization were created by Dale J. Stephens, a young guy who calls himself “Chief Educational Deviant” of his organization. He will have his book published (at age 19!) by Penguin. Which is a pretty big thing for a 19-year old.Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will!”

“In the last five months of my life–since I founded UnCollege–I’ve crossed more items off my bucket list than I thought I’d live to see. I’ve traveled the world, been on national news, received a fellowship, and now signed a book deal.”

From: Interview FastCompany

I especially like their very powerful ‘Letter to Parents‘:

First, here are some of the challenges:

  • Self-directed learning is not easier than school. It is more work to determine who you are, what you want to learn, and the best way to go about it. Your child will have to research, create, connect, plan, manage, and self-evaluate. However, it is incredibly valuable to be able to do these things, and these skills will serve your child well in life.
  • You will have to explain, defend, describe, and strongly support your child over and over again. Be proud that you have a child who dares to be different. Trust that they will figure out what needs to be done. Unfortunately, many people feel threatened by someone taking a different path in life. These people will feel a great need to tell you why you and your child are wrong, making a huge mistake, and so on. Be strong, be open, and find a statement you feel comfortable with that will inform critics without prolonging arguments.
  • Your child will have to be determined, persistent, resilient, and confident. Having you listen and ask thoughtful questions may be very useful to them, perhaps in different ways than it would be to a student following a standard, classroom-based curriculum. Some of the things they try may not work the first time. Some people may say no or not answer calls or emails. Your child may need to rethink a situation and try a different approach. Again, these challenges are worthwhile and develop essential problem-solving skills.

Second, here are a few of the joys:

  • Being the parent of a happy, thriving, engaged, and courageous young adult;
  • Being amazed by all the practical life skills they are learning and applying that seem light-years ahead of many of their peers;
  • Watching doors open to your child;
  • Seeing the world become their oyster;
  • Seeing your child make new friends, new colleagues, and amazing new connections with mentors and people around the world. (Sometimes you get to enjoy these connections, as well.)[/box]

More info on the website:

A Manifesto for change in Education

Note: this manifesto was written in November 2012. My thinking has developed a lot ever since – and my thoughts, ideas and visions are still deepening and being sharpened. If you can read Dutch, I highly recommend you to continue reading on to learn about our most recent thinking.

If you prefer English, I recommend you to read the transcript of my latest TEDx talk, in which I share my latest thoughts. 

If you are still interested in my early thoughts, please read on… 🙂

From Status & System to Value & Variety

In the summer of 2012, two good things happened in parallel. First: I realized that Layar, the company that I co-founded in 2009, had reached an important next stage and is in great hands with its new leadership. Second: I found my calling – in education. On September 27th, 2012, I announced on stage at TEDxAmsterdamED that I want to help change society by changing our education systems. We need to better prepare the next generations for the reality of today and tomorrow, so they are well equipped to make this world a better place. I am now ramping down daily activities at Layar towards the end of 2012 and started to explore my value in this field.

In the manifesto below I want to share with you my vision on why changing the way we educate our children is key to changing the system our society is imprisoned in. A system that keeps our society from solving the bigger problems we are facing today, such as our financial crisis, energy supply, overpopulation and healthcare.

I want to contribute to these changes and use myself as a tool to make things better. Continue reading A Manifesto for change in Education

CONNECT Online: Web Platform

I want to set up an online environment which enables the sharing, scaling and continuation of what happens during face to face meetings or events. Online can cross borders. I’m convinced that (parts of) what we are looking for has already been developed/ worked out elsewhere. And that solutions can work on a global scale.

There are already a lot of online environments, websites and platforms focused on this subject. I feel that what we need is more a community/ social sharing environment which enables the ‘wisdom of the crowd’, in a well facilitated manner. My main question is: what type of environment can help bring together all the ripple effects, to make it a tsunami?

I’m thinking of using a Winkwaves “Kenniscafe” but am open to other suggestions.

For this part, I’d like to reach out to those who have already done a lot of research in the subject of innovation in education (several have already contacted me) to get more understanding of what is missing to make this movement much, much bigger and well known.

And of course I’d love to get input from, and cooperate with, people who are good at creating and facilitating active online and social environments. Please reach out if you recognize yourself in this description and want to join forces.

Please share your thoughts, suggestions in the comments below or via the contact form on this site.


Nephtalie Demei (the founder of TEDxAmsterdamED) and I will pull this initiative – we are already drawing the contours. They are as follows:

  • Quarterly or bi-monthly events.
  • Format: TEDx meets unconference. High quality, high involvement, high energy, great output, big effect.
  • Starting point: everybody is the expert. We want less ‘broadcasting’ and more co-creation sessions, where smaller groups (max 40p) discuss topics brought up by the attendees themselves.
  • Similar to TED, in case of oversubscription we will select the attendees of each session.
  • In general, the sessions are meant to unite those who: share the vision, have great ideas or initiatives, want to be inspired or are otherways interested in these subjects and want to contribute to enlarge this movement.
  • The events should ideally be free for participants, costs covered by sponsoring.
  • Topics include: showcasing & discussing existing initiatives, what should children learn, how do children learn, how can good solutions scale, how can they be financed, bringing together initiatives in need for funding and investors, etc.
  • Starting point: no complaining at how bad it is now or talking about today’s problems in education, instead a positive forward movement towards creating the new reality.

What is needed:

  • A team of highly motivated organizers, including the following functions:
  • Curator(s): decide on the themes, format, speakers
  • Facilities: organize venue(s), logistics, necessary technology, subscriptions, etc
  • Sponsors: gets financing to keep the event free for attendees
  • Media: get media-attention incl social media, simulcast/ livestream the event and/ or make content incl videos available immediately afterwards

The organizing committee is made up of passionate, highly motivated people, who go for nothing less than top quality.
It is logical that ‘we’ start in the Netherlands, but of course such initiatives can start anywhere in the world. I’m envisaging a similar movement to what Mobile Monday achieved 3-7 years ago.

If these events become successful, we can think of ways how to scale the format in order to reach more people.

Please reach out if you want to help organize these events – Nephtalie and I will get back to you soon. You can also share your ideas and thoughts in the comments below!

Digital platforms [part 1]

Many of the world’s most renowned educational institutes such as Princeton, Stanford, MIT and many others are joining forces and creating online environments which allow everybody with an internet connection to follow its courses. Often for free. Already today, millions of students are studying a wide variety of subjects – this number is expected to increase dramatically over the coming years.

Examples of such online platforms:
Coursera (courses from 33 top universities incl Princeton and Stanford)
Udacity (online courses aimed at better preparing students for real life, partners with renowned IT companies)
MIT-Harvard OpenCourseWare (free MIT course materials)

Khan Academy (free online education for primary and secondary school)
[A group of people is working on translating Khan Academy also to Dutch:]

Gaining knowledge via video courses enables another phenomenon: ‘flipping’ the classroom. Students are given the lecture as homework – so that they can go through the lessons at their own speed. In class, the course is being discussed and teachers can provide support when students are stuck. Many of these platforms also provide exercises online as well as an online system to monitor the student’s progress.

Other interesting digital developments include: – will merge together with into iPoPP [link]. is an online platform which allows teachers from all across the globe to create courses and projects together. It was created by a Dutch guy named Ralph Genang and is active in 196 countries and used by 120.000 teachers today.

There are many many more platforms than I have listed above. I will share more in the coming weeks – and please share your favorites in the comments below!

I see “digital” as an enabler for scale & the valuable human factor: by taking away the ‘robotic’ tasks (such as delivering the same lecture over and over; monitoring student progress etc), the teacher has more time and space for looking ‘into’ a student.

This post contains only a very small selection of digital platforms that will disrupt education. What am I missing? please share in the comments below!

How do you learn?

I learn by doing. By creating stuff, testing it in real life, and improving it after having seen real life results or reactions. By making a lot of mistakes and starting all over. By talking to a lot of people, exchanging thoughts and opinions. I read. I search the web for more info. I watch videos. I ask questions on Twitter. I learn sports by doing, doing, doing, trying, feeling. Reading “how to” in a book doesn’t work for me – I have to feel it, experience it.

How does this relate to the average education at school – where you have to listen to (sometimes very uninspiring) teachers for 45mins in a row, many classes one after the other?

Already at the average conference – where people really do their best to bring their message across, I often get lost or find my thoughts are drifting away. TED conferences are the big exception here. And there must be a reason why no TED talk is longer than 18 minutes.

But my learning style is not similar to your learning style. Some people need to draw, some prefer to listen. Some just want to read books, others prefer a game. It is known for a fact that everybody has their own preferred learning styles – which should be matched to get the most effective learning curve.

Today’s children live in a world where everything goes fast. They learn from playing games on their phones, from googling stuff they are interested in (or need to learn about).  Everything is visual, animated. This is very far from the average learning method which is still via books and lessons or lectures.

It doesn’t surprise me that children get bored and are uninspired by school, to say the least.

How do you learn? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

The problem with standardized tests

Just take a look at 10 average job postings and you will see many ‘wanted’ qualities listed. Skills we need to be happy and valuable in society go beyond what we currently learn at school: we need fantastic teamplayers, entrepreneurial attitudes, creative thinkers and doers, fast-paced flexibility, interpersonal sensitivity and cross-cultural awareness in today’s global society – just to name a few. Humans are more complex and have more talent and value than what we currently measure in standardized tests.

Instead, schools are more and more focused on standardized tests, whether or not forced by legislation or other external pressure – for example because schools are ranked “good” or “bad” according to their student’s standardized test results.

Let’s look at a couple of examples from standardized tests that my cousin and several of my friends children were confronted with.

Test 1: Vocabulary test for 5 year old Dutch children, from an official ‘CITO’ standardized test.

The right answer according to CITO is Blue – Cold. But Casper, my cousin, told his mother: “An eskimo builds an iglo because it’s cold outside, but inside it’s relatively warm. That’s why I picked red”.

Test 2:

The right answer according to the test is D, the airplane. But the child of a friend of mine said C (truck): “because it’s the only mode of transport which was not intended to transport passengers”.

Two weeks later, a colleague of mine sent an almost similar one from her child. In Dutch, it says:

Which word does not belong here?

1: train – car – truck – airplane

Source: Marjolein Stromeier via a tweet

Her 8 year old child answered ‘truck’: “it’s the only one which you can’t use to go on holiday.”

In each case, the child gave the ‘wrong’ answer – while everybody can only acknowledge that his or her answer is ‘also good’, even much smarter than what the test sought to be assessing. However, the system tells them they are wrong and are not supposed to think this way. And worse: give them a low score which may even cause smart children to get to the wrong level of education.

After the TED talk, some people suggested that the children should be able to find a suitable reasoning for each answer…

Standardized tests (including IQ tests) only assess a very limited set of skills or qualities. To put it bluntly, they mostly assess your ability to take standardized tests and to give the answer that is expected by the testing authority. They rarely assess your deeper understanding of the subject, or your ability to use the insights for reflection on what this would mean for the future.

Another set of very interesting examples were given by Tanya Khovanova in this blog post, where she described the array of potential answers for the Mensa (IQ) test:

[box] This test is similar to continuing a sequence. How would you continue the sequence 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9? The online database of integer sequences has 1479 different sequences containing this pattern. The next number might be:

  • 10, if this is the sequence of natural numbers;
  • 1, if this is the sequence of the digital sums of natural numbers;
  • 11, if this the sequence of palindromes;
  • 0, if this is the sequence of digital products of natural numbers;
  • 13, if this is the sequence of numbers such that 2 to their powers doesn’t contain 0;
  • 153, if this is the sequence of numbers that are sums of fixed powers of their digits;
  • 22, if this is the sequence of numbers for which the sum of digits equals the product of digits;
  • or any number you want.[/box]

[box] She also describes another sequence: What is the odd object out in this list?

Cow, hen, pig, sheep.

The standard answer is supposed to be hen, as it is the only bird. But that is not the only possible correct answer. For example, pig is the only one whose meat is not kosher. And, look, sheep has five letters while the rest have three. In the comments on her blog post, contributors have been indicating a ‘right’ answer for every word in the sequence. Worthwhile reading![/box]

In the end of her post, Tanya writes: “it bugs me that I might not have been creative enough to fail their test”…

With our society putting more and more emphasis on standardized tests (because a high score brings you to a higher level on the status ladder), many children now spend a lot of time rehearsing tests. Valuable time which could also be spent on developing skills which may be much more useful in later life.

Do you have more crazy and funny examples of standardized tests? Please share them underneath in the comments!

Moulding people into a system

The school system assumes that everybody learns in the same way, in the same rhythm, everything at the same moment in time.

We find it completely normal that every child learns to walk at a different age – my daughter needed almost double (!!) the time to learn to walk compared to my son. We also know that the age on which they learn to walk (9 or 18 months) doesn’t say anything about their performance (in for example sports) in later life. But at school, we still ask children to all learn at the same speed in classes which are horizontally organized, even if we know for a fact that everybody has their own rhythm and learning style.

I’m deeply concerned by the amount of children who are diagnosed as having a ‘problem’: ADHD, autism, dyslexia, etcetera. It is a good thing that there is greater interest in the fact that every child is ‘unique’ and deserves its own learning trajectory. But diagnosing 10-25% of children with a “problem” is deeply worrying, especially if children receive medication like Ritalin to make them perform better at school – e.g. be more calm, quiet and concentrated during lessons. Read more about this concern and an example in this blog post.

Schools kill creativity. This is the punchline of the most watched (and highly recommended if you haven’t seen it yet) TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. Children are born with a lot of creativity but our school system moulds all the creativity out of them. Watch his talk over here:


A popular diagram shows that at age 40, all creativity is knocked out of an average human being. Where are you on this diagram?

Source: George Land and Beth Jarman


The moulding continues after school

Also in after-school life, we continue to mould people into something they are not. In my TED talk, I shared my experience with the ‘personal development plan’ at Unilever. In order to get higher up into the management hierarchy (the only way to achieve more status), you have to develop your management skills. These have been defined as a set of skills on which you are supposed to score ‘good’, but not ‘too extreme’.

My profile instead was pretty extreme – my ‘passion and energy’ (A) went way beyond all boundaries, causing me to act like a ‘jumping puppy’. What I was lacking was (E) control and structure. Instead of focusing on my strengths and how Unilever could benefit from these, I had to cut back on what I was really good at and work hard on my so-called ‘development points’. So basically I had to try to become somebody else. And despite all the talk about diversity, the corporate system basically creates average people.

A worrying amount of people around me confess that they are not really happy. They have a high level on the status ladder: a “good” job (eg high up in the management hierarchy), partner plus well-behaved children, big car, beautiful house. Despite all this, they are finding they are lacking ‘something’ – I think it might be ‘value’. But they don’t dare to get out anymore: “I have a high mortgage, all my life is set up according to my high salary; I can’t just quit”…

Do you have similar experiences? Did you also find yourself, or people around you, trapped on the status ladder? What did you/ they do? Please share in the comments!