Monthly Archives: April 2014

Seven trends shaping the future of learning

Last week we concluded the start-up challenge on the future of learning with five inspiring pitches at TNW Europe. Many congratulations to Labster on winning and thanks to all five finalists would did themselves proud in their pitches! Check out my post on it here.

I was also one of the keynote speakers on the EduTrack at TNW. I received quite a few requests for a copy of the presentation – here it is and here is a drawing taken during the session.

These days I try to use images more than words in storytelling (except in my blog 🙂 ), so the slides benefit from further explanation. In this post, I would like to share my views on a number of trends that are shaping the future of learning, as seen from the perspective of a provider of learning solutions. Obviously this is in the style of a 15 minute presentation at a tech conference and not a white paper :-).

I would like to introduce myself

I was born in the Heart of England in the early 1970’s. Already at primary school I developed a passion for learning. I wanted to become a doctor and find a cure for cancer. So I studied hard, I really loved to learn, and went on to complete a PhD in molecular biology. Now of course my dream was unrealistic, I didn’t find a cure. But the dream did bring me something else. It brought me an education. And this gave me a passport to the world. So I moved to The Netherlands as a research scientist and university teacher. I then became a science publisher and now lead Sanoma Learning one of Europe’s leading education companies, with headquarters in Helsinki.

About Sanoma Learning

What I like the most about Sanoma Learning is working together with 1500 professionals who share my passion for learning.

We serve about 10 M pupils and 1 M teachers every day in Northern Europe. And we’re an integral player to the educational systems of 5 countries including Finland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and Sweden – a sort of all-star cast for PISA. We acquired our position in Sweden a couple of years ago and are going to help them to improve their learning outcomes and rise in the PISA rankings, as we have been doing in Poland. We have a reputation for quality and export solutions to more than 40 other countries.

We make annual sales of about € 300 M, including € 40 M of pure-play digital and € 100 M of multichannel, arguably making us Europe’s biggest EdTech company today.

Three cornerstones to excellent education

three-cornerstonesWe believe that an effective interplay between teachers, pupils and learning resources is the primary factor in achieving great learning outcomes. From the perspective of being a leading provider of learning solutions, we see seven trends that are shaping the next generation of learning.

Trend #1 From input to outcomes

input-to-outcomesinputThere has traditionally been a lot of emphasis on the inputs into education. How much do we spend? How many pupils per classroom? How many hours of class time? How many devices in the school? And so on. These things are all inputs. The good thing about inputs is that they’re fairly easy to measure. But the value is in the outcome not the input.

Ultimately on the system level, the main outcome we are trying to achieve is to help people to make progress in their lives: to help them in their learning career, to help prepare them for work and to help to develop them to become good citizens.

These are really big goals for education systems, and by the time we know how we are doing, it’s too late to make positive interventions for a better outcome. So in my view we need to guide outcomes in learning on a more local level, maybe on the level of each lesson or each course:

– does this activity contribute to a good learning result for all of the pupils involved?
– in a way that is time and cost effective?
– and in a way that is engaging and motivating for pupils and teachers?

I believe we should re-shape education by bringing these outcomes into focus.

Trend #2 From mass to personal

massmass-personalAs we move from the industrial age to the knowledge age, our ways of working in education will change too.

Technology will support us in tailoring pedagogy, curriculum and learning support to the needs and aspirations of the individual learner.

If we can get that right, we will be much more successful in helping individuals to reach their potential. This is a huge opportunity for us to unleash the potential of our children.

Trend #3 From workload to workflow

workload-workflowworkloadWe did some ethnographic research with teachers in Finland, a world-class education system. We were surprised to see that about 15 hours per week were being lost on bottlenecks in the workflow. For example, keeping track of administration, manual checking, inefficient communication streams and disruption in the classroom. Imagine the effect that these bottlenecks have on learning outcomes and motivation, and think about the impact that could be achieved if those hours were spent on teaching instead. Also, for a primary school with say 350 pupils and 35 teachers, the financial cost of these bottlenecks is about € 500 k per year.

We expect that technology will address some of the problem. For our part, we are digitalising our courses. Other elements of the workflow will get automated and personalised too. Teachers should spend their time and energy on teaching. This is their skill and passion and this is where they bring excellence to education.

Trend #4 From analogue to digital

analog-digitalanalogueSchools are slowly but surely becoming more digital. However, today in northern Europe, there is a big gap in access to technology between the school and the home. And we are arguably the most digital part of the world! There might typically be 5 devices per household. At the same time, there are typically about 5 pupils for every workstation in schools. So we have to design solutions that can play to that dynamic. Currently most of our methods play multichannel. We expect to continue to play multichannel for 5 or 10 more years and that by 2020 digital will be leading in the usage of most courses.

Trend #5 From data to insight

datadata-insightIn the coming years a wealth of data will come on stream about the learning of our children. Clearly, we have to treat privacy with the utmost respect. And also to look to the opportunity. We’re going to get rich data-sets and insights into how individual pupils, teachers, classes, pieces of content, courses and entire systems perform. We can use these insights to guide intervention: to raise learning outcomes, to focus resources, to enhance engagement. We should embrace these insights to improve learning, and to stop doing the things do not bring value.

Trend #6 From classroom to borderless

classroom-borderlessclassroomDigital is fundamentally changing the way we live. In the analogue world, the classroom was the centre of learning, whereas the individual stands central in the digital world. Digital has opened up the border between school and home and we see growing demand for services related to curriculum, tutoring and communication that bring a holistic approach to learning for the pupil.

Trend # 7 From scarcity to abundance

scarcity-abundancescarcityLooking at it from the global perspective, good quality education has been the preserve of the happy few. It’s been a scarce resource. However, that’s about to change for the better. Extreme poverty has halved over the last 20 years and some reckon that extreme poverty will be eliminated within 20 years. Going hand-in-hand with rising prosperity has been increased access to mobile technology for the world’s poorest people.

Education is one of the most powerful instruments known for reducing poverty and inequality and for laying the basis for sustained economic growth, sound governance, and effective institutions.

“Imagine the profound impact on our people and planet if we can bring mobile learning to the four billion people rising out of poverty. Imagine that.”

Time to embrace change and invest in renewing education

So these are seven trends that we believe are shaping the next generation of learning. I am sure there are more, and they are obviously impacted by the perspective you have.

“We believe it’s time for governments, companies, schools and individuals to embrace these changes and invest in renewing education for the next generation.”

What can Sanoma do?

So we ask ourselves what we can do to contribute to the renewal of education. The answer is in our mission already – in supporting pupils and teachers on three fronts:

– Achieving excellent learning outcomes
– Enhancing workflow efficiency
– And supporting engaging learning

By creating courses that play multichannel that address those three goals, we can contribute to building the future of learning.

Learning outcomes accelerator

We see that the most challenging of these tasks for everyone in the educational ecosystem is how we can take a step forward on learning outcomes.

We like a challenge at Sanoma Learning. So we want to run an innovation accelerator focusing on learning outcomes.

“How can we improve and evidence the impact of education in the new era?”.

Together with schools, teachers, pupils and academics, plus about 75 learning and start-up professionals from Sanoma, we want to run a 10 week program to develop ideas and build prototypes of solutions that can improve and evidence the impact of education.

We’re going to start recruiting the teams and participants now, ready for a kick-off in September. If you’re interested to join us or to learn more, please visit

We’ve run 5 accelerators at Sanoma in the last couple of years and I can promise you they are inspiring and energising and you learn new ways of co-developing your ideas with your customers.

Any questions?

Thanks for listening. Feel free to contact me @johnrichmartin. And please let me know if you want to join us in renewing education for the next generation.

Labster wins Sanoma’s start-up challenge on future of learning at TNW Europe

Mads Bonde, CEO of Labster, pitching at TNW

Mads Bonde, CEO of Labster, pitching at TNW

Last Friday at TNW Europe, Labster ( won Sanoma’s start-up challenge on the future of learning. Congratulations to Mads Bonde and the Labster team on winning not only € 25,000 but also eternal fame!

Labster runs 3D virtual labs in the life sciences and allows students to run their own experiments in a concept inspired by flight simulation. They claim their labs are effective in teaching theory, cost 1/10 of a physical lab, help to motivate pupils and yield rich learning analytics for teachers. They have been working together with leading institutions including UC Berkeley, Stanford University Online High School, University of Copenhagen, University of Hong Kong and Novo Nordisk and are currently used by more than 10,000 students worldwide.

Alongside Labster from Denmark, four other promising edtech start-ups pitched for the crown in Amsterdam, including:

i) Eduvee ( from England – an intuitive learning and tutoring platform that integrates and delivers personalised curriculum-mapped content to learners on any device
ii) DragonBox by We Want to Know ( from Norway – a fun, game-based solution for learning maths
iii) Jumpido ( from Bulgaria – a game re-imagining education through games combining physical exercise with engaging maths problems, and
iv) EduKey’s Class Charts ( from Wales – a behavioural data solution supporting teachers in identifying how students interact with eachother and how this impacts their learning.

We chose Labster as winner of the challenge for two reasons:
i) excellent potential impact on the future of education, showing good proof-points on learning results, cost efficiency and engagement, and
ii) a strong “make it happen” team

We were really impressed by the quality of all five of these start-ups – they all did themselves proud in the pitching and we had a heated discussion about which of them would be the ultimate winner. Thanks to you all for having joined the challenge – you are all winners!

Sanoma sponsored this initiative since we are determined to take an innovative position in creating the future of education. We were delighted to have attracted more than 100 edtech startups from 24 countries across Europe. I also appreciated the good collaboration between Sanoma Learning, SanomaVentures and VentureScout in running a successful and spirited challenge: thanks to the teams for making this happen!

Learning outcomes accelerator: co-creating new solutions with schools

The future of learning is personal

personalAs we move from the industrial age to the knowledge age, our ways of working in education will change too. Amongst others, technology will enable us to tailor pedagogy, curriculum and learning support to the needs and aspirations of each individual learner. Developing the talents and potential of individuals and helping them to make progress in their lives will be key.

Our thinking needs to shift. From inputs …

Governments have traditionally put a lot of emphasis on the inputs into education. How much do we spend? How many pupils per classroom? How many hours of class time? How much do we spend on learning materials? How many devices in the school? These things are all important.

… to outcomes

input-to-outcomesHowever, the value is in the outcome not the input. Are we helping individuals to make progress in their learning career? Are we preparing them for effectively for work? Are we enabling them to become good and fulfilled citizens? These are the big outcomes questions.

Maybe these questions are so big that we only know the answers when it’s too late. Therefore, on a more practical level, we should break it down into something more manageable. For example, for each activity (“course” or “lesson”):

– does this contribute to a good learning result for all of the individual pupils?
– in a way that is engaging and motivating for pupils and teachers?
– and in a way that is effective in terms of time, cost and energy?

By bringing these outcomes into focus, we can reshape education for the next generation.

Enter the Learning Outcomes Accelerator

At the OPPI Learning Festival in Helsinki last week (great initiative!), we announced the launch of an open Learning Outcomes Accelerator:

“how can we improve and evidence the impact of education in the new era?”

In each of the countries in which Sanoma Learning operates (Finland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Poland and Sweden) – pretty much an all-star cast for PISA 🙂 – we would like to work with one school where at least one teacher/class would participate.

Also, we would like to ask academics (with expertise in outcomes, learning analytics, pedagogy and so on) to join us to bring an extra richness to our thinking and approach. And 75 professionals from Sanoma, with expertise about course and curriculum development, design and user experience, and lean startup methodologies will join us in creating new prototypes.

How does the accelerator work?

Participants at bootcamp

Participants at bootcamp

We will launch (in September, dates to be finalized) with five “live” kick-offs, one in each of the main schools participating. This will be followed by a seven week program of ideation and training, during which hundreds of ideas will be created, tested and improved. Towards the end of the process the best five ideas will be selected by public voting and the winners will be invited (expenses paid) for a four-day bootcamp in Amsterdam to build their prototype. I’ve previously blogged about how an accelerator works and what happens at bootcamp. It’s really exciting and inspiring to be part of it!

What is it, what isn’t it?

The accelerator will be above all about learning by doing! It will be fast-paced, highly practical and we will go from idea to functional prototype in less than 10 weeks. It will be structured in terms of the goals, process and support. And open in terms of ideas. It will be a journey of discovery and experimentation and this is what makes an open accelerator so exciting.

It’s not a big academic exercise. We won’t write a book about it. (Even if books are good too.)

Register and help us co-create new solutions for outcomes

If you would like to join the accelerator and you’re either a teacher at a school in one of the five countries mentioned earlier, or an academic from there or elsewhere, please let us know at We will strive to have decided which five schools to work with on this particular accelerator by the end of June. Participation is free of charge. We will be accepting applications until 1 September.

I was positively surprised by the interest from other groups at OPPI too. For example, some Foundations, Universities, other companies, schools in other countries and educational journalists also wanted to get involved. If you are from one of these groups and have something exciting to bring to the accelerator, then please take contact with me and let’s see if there are possibilities for us to adapt the program so you can join us.

Looking forward >>

I believe that by bringing outcomes into focus, we can reshape education for the next generation. I hope you will join us on this exciting journey!