Ask high school student to name the capital of France and they will tell you it is Paris. Ask them to name the capital of Iceland, and chances are it takes them a little longer to come up with the right answer. However, ask them for the capital of Greenland and many students may not really know the answer. Continuing to ask someone for the capital of France will not help them to remember the capitals of Iceland and Greenland. This is what Hedderik van Rijn, professor Experimental Psychology at the University of Groningen, also observed. In his research he focused on how we learn, and he developed an algorithm which can detect when knowledge has subsided and when it is time to rehearse the knowledge for the sake of remembrance. This algorithm was the foundation for SlimStampen, an effective learning tool for all kinds of ready knowledge. In other words: facts.
Van Rijn explains that during his research he soon realised that his algorithm could the change the way we learn forever. “The problem with traditional learning methods is that they are constantly testing everything, including the facts that you already know. This is not very helpful. The key is to rehearse the facts that we don’t already know by heart at the right moment. Thát is helpful. And this is exactly what SlimStampen does. So yes, I saw the potential of SlimStampen, but I didn’t really know what steps to take to turn this into a successful product. Yes, I was an entrepreneurial researcher, but I was not an entrepreneur just yet. I am sure a lot of researchers will recognise this.”
Through his network, van Rijn got in touch with Business Generator Groningen. He got in touch with Frits Wijbenga. Van Rijn: “It so happened that one of my students, who was doing an internship at Noordhoff at the time, told the people at Noordhoff about SlimStampen and they were interested. Business Generator Groningen helped us in drawing up a licencing agreement which allowed Noordhoff to use our SlimStampen program. Their valuable support meant a lot to me, being a researcher, I don’t have a clue about licencing agreements and how to include what is best for both parties. Obviously, this is important because when there is no balance, it could impact the collaboration negatively.” This licencing agreement was the start of a productive collaboration between SlimStampen and Noordhoff. SlimStampen could then be developed into an effective learning tool that is now being used by thousands of high school students on a daily basis.
We do also want to mention the collaboration with other parties from the innovation ecosystem, like for instance RUG Ventures and VentureLab. RUG Ventures was the first to invest in SlimStampen and this enabled the people at SlimStampen to further develop the concept and turn it into a mature learning method. According to van Rijn, the program for entrepreneurs offered by VentureLab proved to be essential for starting entrepreneurs.
SlimStampen is now a serious start-up with a motivated team and an office in the centre of town. “We work with a business developer, developers, a tester and interns from both the Hanze and the RUG. Right now, our focus is on getting SlimStampen published by a few publishers and training institutes both in the Netherlands and abroad. But most importantly, we continue to invest in our product. At the moment we focus on monitoring the learning process of students in real-time. This helps us to tell whether someone knows the subject. If this is the case than the student receives a mastery credit and if it is not the case than the subject matter will be offered to the student once more, at exactly the right time, based on the algorithm. This concept makes learning more effective and more personal and, in the end, exams will be made redundant over time. This may sound like a big step, but it is closer than you think.”
It all started at the University of Groningen, and it is great to realise that the university is now using the learning tool. Van Rijn: “Four faculties are using SlimStampen right now. The university provided the idea for a start-up and now in turn this start-up is attributing to a better university. I really like this kind of reciprocity. This to me is a wonderful example of how scientific research can be used in real life.”
“Yes, I was an entrepreneurial researcher, but I was not an entrepreneur just yet. I am sure a lot of researchers will recognise this.”
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