Infinitas Learning has transitioned in recent years from an educational publisher to a learning & education solution provider. In the coming years, textbooks will play an increasingly smaller role, in favour of software solutions that enable ‘smarter’ learning and teaching, according to Taco Morelisse, CEO of Infinitas Learning. What will that ‘smarter learning’ look like, exactly?
- Learning outcomes
“Since the 1980s, learning outcomes in the Netherlands have been deteriorating, and especially the last twenty years. That is also true for the other countries we are active in, like Sweden, Portugal and Belgium. In 2003, the top 10 of the PISA ranking (editor's note: an international study that compares educational systems and outcomes of countries) mostly highlighted European countries and Japan, with the Netherlands in sixth place. Now, countries like China, Singapore, Japan and South Korea are leading the pack. It will not be easy for the Netherlands to turn the tide. McKinsey conducted a major study in 2020 that showed that there is barely any correlation between the amount of money spent per student, and the learning outcomes overall. That is to say, it is questionable whether the call for more education funding will solve anything. As Infinitas Learning, we choose to invest in the development of smarter learning and teaching solutions.”
- Blended learning
“Our mission is to improve students' learning outcomes, and especially in elementary and secondary education, where more than 70% of our revenue is made. That means we think about how to motivate children and young people to learn, by eliminating as many obstacles as possible and making the process enjoyable. Blended learning, which is a combination of textbooks and workbooks and an attractive digital learning environment, offers the best opportunities in this regard. The best part of a digital learning environment is that it becomes very easy to monitor how well a student understands the material, and how they are progressing, because learning often moves in sprints. You can also offer the same material in multiple ways, because different students have different individual learning styles. Last but not least, you can use the data from a digital learning environment to support teachers with a dashboard. Which students have done their homework, which subjects are well-understood by which students, and so on. Teachers have much faster and more specific access to information on where to focus their interventions: they don't have to wait for the midterm test to find out that some students are underperforming. In a digital environment, the system can also automatically check homework and tests. That saves teachers significant time, and makes them more productive. It also becomes easier to substitute teachers, because the system keeps track of the curriculum.
The neat part is: teaching and learning processes are more than 80% identical for every country. We now have all our countries on the same software platforms – one for elementary education and one for secondary education – but each has a local ‘look & feel’ based on their national curriculum and their local teaching and learning materials. This way of working offers huge advantages of scale.”
- Teacher shortage
“A growing teacher shortage – at an average of 9% in the Netherlands and even 16% in the major cities – won't help us turn around the dwindling PISA scores. It's a problem that can't be solved overnight, especially since teacher trainings have seen student numbers decrease for years. Schools are struggling to find solutions, resorting to using parents or even senior high school students teaching classes to younger students. To relieve some of that pressure, our solutions aim at making teachers more productive, by automating part of their work and diagnostics, and by offering adaptive coursework and dashboards that support teachers in managing their classrooms. We expect that students' ‘self learning’ will play a bigger role. And we anticipate that the pedagogy itself – the substance and the method of teaching and learning in classrooms – will need to change in the coming years. We are seeing the first signs of that already. COVID has had a lasting impact on how teachers teach and how students learn. Virtual classrooms and YouTube lectures have become a quite widely used alternative to live classroom teaching.”
“If you look at how the learning outcomes of students are formed, you quicky realise that it is not just about teachers. School administrators also play a large part in that. In that sense, a school is like a business: if the management functions well, chances are the business result will be good. The same holds for schools: there is a strong correlation between the quality of the school administration and the students' learning outcomes. We consider it part of our mission to educate teachers and school administrators on the latest digital developments and their uses in teaching and learning processes. By the way, that last part is not always easy with professionals. Not everybody wants to change, even if they are capable of it. We can still do more in this regard, for example through trainings and on-the-job micro learning.”
“By now it feels like stating the obvious, but the pandemic has given a major boost to the digitalisation of education. Maybe it didn't always work the way we would have preferred, but by now, almost everyone has had some experience with it. The combination of COVID and the improvements we made on our platform led to a 30% increase in weekly use. The teacher is a crucial link. We see that schools where teachers are especially committed to using digital tools in a focused way now score way above average. Some teachers will use our entire suite of digital teaching and homework solutions and dashboards, and others prefer to print some things on paper. We want to support them in a flexible way.”
“Zoals ik al eerder aangaf is een digitale leeromgeving de bron van data die je kunt gebruiken om de effectiviteit en efficiency van het leerproces en de inzet van leraren te verbeteren. Dat maakt dat Infinitas ook steeds meer een databedrijf aan het worden is. Hoe meer leraren én leerlingen gebruik maken van onze elektronische leeromgeving, hoe beter wij op veel verschillende terreinen kunnen analyseren wat wel werkt en wat niet. Het verschaft leraren – en ook leerlingen en ouders – inzicht in de dagelijkse, wekelijkse, maandelijkse en jaarlijkse ontwikkeling van leerresultaten en de tijd die daaraan besteed wordt. Op een heel andere manier verschaffen data ons ook inzicht in welke auteurs de beste didactische oplossingen leveren, wat wel en niet gebruikt wordt, welke 'user experience' gewaardeerd wordt en waar we dus wel en niet moeten investeren om onze producten te verbeteren. Onze dochter Futurewhiz heeft veel ervaring op dit gebied, omdat ze helemaal digitaal zijn en al jaren hun ontwikkeling baseren op data en marktonderzoek. Op termijn zouden we scholen ook meer inzicht kunnen geven in hoe ze leerresultaten kunnen verbeteren en wat 'best practices' zijn – vooropgesteld dat we toestemming hebben om die gegevens te gebruiken.”
“Het is de overheid die het onderwijscurriculum bepaalt, dat zie je in alle landen. Maar er zijn wel verschillen, in het bijzonder hoe adoptie van digitale leren gestimuleerd wordt. In Portugal bijvoorbeeld speelt de overheid een bepalende rol hoe en wanneer digitale leeroplossingen geïmplementeerd moeten worden. In ons land ziet de overheid meer in publiek-private samenwerking op het gebied van curriculumontwikkeling en digitalisering, die nu een nieuwe financiële stimulans krijgt door het Nationaal Groeifonds. Voor de overheid is het enorm belangrijk de productiviteit van leraren te vergroten en daarin spelen wij een grote rol. We hebben duidelijk een gemeenschappelijk belang.”
- Continuous learning
“The world is changing so quickly that, without continuous learning, people eventually lose touch. There is a part of the labour force that has already internalised that need for continuous learning – lawyers, healthcare professionals, bailiffs, and so on. That is a nice group of people to design solutions for, because you can be confident that they will be used. But there is a much bigger group of people whose employer is responsible for their development, or who have to choose it themselves. It is not easy to design a standardised curriculum for them: what is necessary is continuous adaptation. It's hard to predict what skills and knowledge will be required 10 or 15 years from now. As a result, we see more and more companies shift to so-called micro learnings: small portions of digitally presented knowledge, that can be absorbed in ten or twenty minutes. There's often a management system behind that, so that you can encourage employees to regularly study a particular topic and stimulate on-the-job learning. Continuous learning means continuous change. And that is only possible when people feel secure. A work environment where people say: ‘I feel safe being part of this change’ is essential. Without that, it won't work.”
“Maybe I should no longer call Infinitas an educational publisher, but a learning & education solution provider – although that's a bit of a mouthful... In the coming years, books will play a reduced role, and they will be replaced by software solutions that enable ‘smarter’ learning and teaching. The ‘academy’ education concept will become increasingly important. We are transforming from a supplier of products to a partner in learning solutions, in collaboration with schools. We are well on our way to completing that transition. The fact that we are becoming more and more a data technology company means that scale is becoming increasingly important. More data yields more insights, and with higher numbers of users, platform development becomes relatively more affordable. The most important thing is that we are able to attract top talent – we have already seen that in the last few years. With the recent acquisitions of LeYa in Portugal and Averbode in Belgium, we have taken the first steps toward becoming a pan-European competitor. We now deliver our services to about 7 million students, and I would personally like to double that. Our challenge is to keep our local entrepreneurship; that has been at the heart of our success. It's incredibly important for us to maintain our relationships with teachers, schools and authors.”
“I think that what we do is of major social relevance. We sometimes forget that good education is fundamental to how we develop as individuals, the way that we relate to each other in society, and our ambition to remain a strong knowledge economy. Education is essential to separate sense from nonsense – and that is an important skill in a world where growing numbers of people ‘do their own research’ and develop personal theories of how the world works. I see it as our purpose to improve the learning outcomes of students, by contributing to an efficient use of the public funding available for education. Most of that money goes to teachers' salaries, and that should not change. But with the rest, we must continue to invest, so that those teachers are able to develop their capabilities in a changing society and so that students can continue to develop to their full potential.”