Return from Belgium and the Netherlands

  • 4 Min Read

“Radically practical.”

That was one of my takeaways from my meetings with our clients in the Netherlands and Belgium last week. And it’s not just educators — people from all walks of life in both countries take pride in taking a reasoned, sensible and logical approach to challenges. I have to say that, as an engineer, it does my heart good to see countries use the lens of radical pragmatism to solve everyday problems.

For example, if you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, you know what I mean. Bikes, cars, metro, trams, trains, and pedestrians coexist and thrive in a phenomenally well-planned, complex system of lanes, walks and rails that runs like a giant, well-oiled machine. It’s a thing of beauty.

That ability to solve enormous challenges — from integrating diverse modes of transportation, to reclaiming land from the sea — also extends to our partners in education. The Dutch and Belgian systems of education embrace and encourage diversity in culture, thought and expression and are relentlessly student-centric.

That student centredness has made the Netherlands and Belgium relatively new, high-growth markets for D2L. And it is what makes them ideal partners in the pursuit of changing the way the world learns.

Like Canada and the US, they’ve made great strides in their approach to classroom education and are using technology to continue to evolve their pedagogy. One striking difference that I noticed is that they take a much less prescriptive approach than most North Americans — particularly in higher education — and give their learners a lot of flexibility to explore their interests on their own time, at relatively low cost.

In my conversations I heard a lot of general concerns about technology and the use of personal data. We had some very spirited discussions in several campuses where concerns about privacy and the use of personal data by companies like Facebook and Google had made users a bit leery of how an LMS like Brightspace uses data. But by talking through the issue, the people I spoke to came to appreciate the way that Brightspace strongly protects data, safeguards personal information and is focused on using the data to aid student success. I’ll share more on this topic soon – the learnings from this trip on this topic alone could help us shape a number of blog posts and whitepapers. This conversation is critical as it impacts how we can give feedback to students to keep them on track for success, how we remove bias of data in assessment, and the use of artificial intelligence in education to help the sector outperform.

Finally, I was struck by just how deep the intellectual and educational culture of the two countries goes. Hundreds of paintings of Nobel prize winners, and other remarkably influential and important thinkers were found on the walls of the institutions. While we in Canada and the US have geography in abundance, Europe has history. And it is always humbling and inspiring to visit those places where knowledge runs so very deep.

I am already looking forward to my next conversations with my new friends in the region.

Met vriendelijke groet,

John

John Baker Standing Next to Poster
Groupshot Outside of Garden
Groupshot Inside Building
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