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Universiteit Leiden

What do you really want to learn?

Michael Heunks
Kyara Rozman

Introductory speech

Michael Heunks – 3rd December 2018 – Stakeholder pitch at Academie Tien

“What do you really want to learn?”

It’s such a simple question, and yet not a single teacher has ever asked me this.

When I was a young kid, school did not really challenge me.  I was a fast learner and did not find the standard assignments challenging. Whenever I was done with an exercise, teachers just gave me an extra one to keep me occupied.

Think about how that works in the mind of a boy: doing boring exercises only gives even more boring exercises? The result: a completely unmotivated, bored and yes, I have to admit at times utterly annoying kid.

All students who face this problem react in their own way. In High school, I stopped working for school at all, and instead just hung out with my friends. Kyara did it a little differently, she tried to find her challenge outside of school and went on to do an internship in the United States. However, some students need a bit more guidance or inspiration in starting a project like this. They would want to, but don’t know what to do and where to start. That was our main motivation behind our redesign topic.

After choosing our topic, we visited Academie Tien, a school specialized in differentiated learning. Kyara and I were inspired. It is a huge step forward to let students learn at their own pace. However, we found that one key concept was missing. Again one simple question:

“What do you really want to learn?”

That’s why we’re in the middle of creating a program that should guide students in creating their own challenges. Starting by asking this very simple question, and letting them create their own concrete learning plan under the guidance of a mentor. A kind of “project-based” learning for students who feel like they need a little ‘extra’ beside the standard curriculum.


We wanted to create a method that allows students to be as creative as they want to be. In doing so we hope to allow them to find their own passion. The main idea is that they can learn whatever they want and are not bound to any pre-set rules on what they must learn, except for their own learning goals.

Our redesign contains 6 steps that act in a circular fashion. All 6 of the steps will be on a digital platform with a personal page to keep all the information. Through developing this platform we hope to achieve scalability for our redesign.

The students create a project, as illustrated in the picture above, on a digital platform which starts with a question that they should ask themselves: ‘What do you want to learn?’

As soon as they have settled upon a subject or practice, the next step is to find a role model who can help them with this project. This can be someone in the field, with expertise in this particular subject, or just someone who they can turn to if they need help along the way.

Together with their role model, they decide upon their learning goals. They define the exact things they want to learn in the project, which they can fall back on and which also functions as their foundation for further steps.  Following, they make a planning. How many sessions will it require to learn something, when, what to learn, etc.

Up next, is the execution of the planning. In this phase, the student starts the process of self-regulated learning, based on their learning goals and planning created together with their role model. In doing so, we hope that students will not enjoy exploring their passion, but are also taught how to learn in a structured way.

After executing the planning, there is an evaluation
and communication
phase. Students are able to reflect on the process. Have they learned everything they wanted to? Did they experience any trouble along the way? In what way did they grow? When their project is finished, students are encouraged to share their personal experience on the platform as an inspiration to others.

Besides the economic argument of scalability, we decided upon developing a digital platform because it is perfectly catered to the demand of students when it comes to personalization, authenticity, and collaboration[1]. The student is able to personalize their learning environment specifically to their needs and preferences. Our redesign enables learner choice, agency, and self-regulation. Due to the authenticity aspect, the technology provides the student with authentic learning. Both physical and virtual. As such, it can provide relevance and personal meaning to his learning process. As for collaboration, technology provides students with networking capability, socially interactive environments, and a platform to share their information and experiences with others. In this way, we hope to create a vibrant community of students who are actively involved in their own educational path.

Further development of our redesign

Both this course and our personal experiences have motivated us to try to implement our project in the educational system. In the short term, we have 2 activities planned. After presenting our redesign at Academie Tien, we were asked by the Rector of the Spinoza Lyceum in Amsterdam, to present our project to a group of teacher and students in the form of a workshop. In doing so, we hope to inspire the teachers to make them aware of the issue at hand and also get feedback from the students.

Finally, we are planning to run a pilot for our redesign, in combination with another group of Rebuilding Education 2018, to test our method before we enter the development stage of the platform. We are looking forward to the results of this pilot and hopefully, we will see our project grow even further.


We started out with a problem that was very personal for us. For us, it has been so frustrating to be stuck with standard assignments within the normal curriculum. It was very demotivating at times.

When we were younger, we might have blamed the teachers. It’s an easy thing to do, just blame the person who lets you do the boring stuff. Now we are older, we recognize the real problem. Teachers actually want to help out, and would love to see their students find their true passion. They simply either don’t know how, or lack the time and resources to do so. It’s easy to see that the willingness is already there, and I hope that with our redesign we also have provided the means.

We cannot offer students “the” ideal learning experience, we can only let them find their own.


[1] According to the iPAC framework (Kearney, Schuck, Burden and Aubusson, 2012).