LeerLevels: Two Teachers and a Personalized Learning Platform
LeerLevels is an online platform to allow personalized learning for students. A fairly common concept for the EdTech community – but there’s a twist. This EdTech startup is run by two teachers and is deeply rooted in the classroom and in the goals of teachers. Their product gets tested in the classroom every day of the week.
Jonas and Youssef set up LeerLevels in 2017 after meeting through the Dutch National ThinkTank. One a high school physics teacher, the other a lecturer in applied mathematics at the HvA. Both had identified key frustrations for teachers, the crucial one being the difficulty of teaching in classrooms where students have different levels of prior knowledge.
What they do:
In an ideal world, every student would have an individual teacher, a truly personalized learning journey. As anyone who knows anything about education knows, that’s simply not possible on an education budget. So, the next best step is an online platform offering personalized learning which can be integrated into current teaching practices. Even better, LeerLevels is currently designed for Physics and Maths learning – two subjects that students regularly have trouble with and two subjects for which it is hard to find good teachers or good tutors.
How they do it:
The LeerLevels platform is based on a building blocks approach to learning. In order to learn a concept, you need to understand the one it is built on. For example, it is difficult to understand levers and leverage if you don’t have a prior understanding of forces. In order to learn physics, you need to follow a logical build-up of concepts which are dependent on each other, to create a full picture.
LeerLevels works from a huge mind-map of concepts which are linked together in various constellations, according to their relationship. Students progress through the map making use of continual positive and negative feedback loops in the forms of questions which test their understanding. So if a student were to watch a video on levers but fail to answer the questions correctly, they would be directed back to a previous stage of understanding, perhaps to the concept of forces, or the concept of movement, to ensure they understand the previous building blocks.
This approach relies on small learning objectives, where the content is delivered and tested in bitesize chunks. This ensures constant forward motion
This approach might be enough on its own, but LeerLevels is designed to be integrated into a classroom setting. They employ a Flipping the Classroom approach, in which students do the majority of knowledge acquisition (reading, watching videos) at home instead of traditional ‘homework’. Classroom time (and more crucially, teacher-facing time) is reserved for exercises, questions, experiments or solidifying knowledge.
The LeerLevels platform allows students to learn various physics concepts at home, then come into class for actual learning – interrogating ideas, pushing boundaries, solving problems and working together.
Why they do it:
The benefits for teachers are multiple.
Teachers can avoid teaching the same content year after year. They can instead focus on problem solving and engaging with students rather than merely transferring knowledge.
LeerLevels generates feedback which is more extensive and more specific than would be possible in an analogue manner. Data such as which specific concept students are struggling with or which students are having trouble is easily available.
Students can progress through LeerLevels at their own pace, meaning working with mixed ability classrooms are easier to handle. Smaller groups can work on different levels of problem, so that differences in ability and prior knowledge do not impact the entire class.
LeerLevels aims to work with groups of teachers to generate content which is useful for them. The platform is interactive, meaning teachers can create or improve content themselves.
Where is it now?
LeerLevels is currently still in development, algorithms being tweaked by a development team. The content is primarily developed by Jonas and Youssef at this stage so only Physics and a little Maths are represented. However soon content will be generated by teacher groups, allowing the inclusion of different subjects at a faster rate.
Although the building blocks approach appears to lend itself more easily to a ‘hard sciences’ learning environment, LeerLevels hopes to eventually integrate soft sciences and humanities to the platform. Jonas and Youssef strongly believe that an approach focused on breaking down concepts into learning objectives is possible for every subject, although the organization of content might look different.
Why it’s interesting
The most interesting aspect of LeerLevels is its deep roots in the classroom. A common accusation thrown at EdTech companies is that the prioritize technology over education. That learning specialists are prioritized over teachers with classroom experience. That design takes precedence over content. LeerLevels avoids this criticism, partly due the background of its founders, but also because it was developed and tested in a classroom setting from the outset. This is not a platform retroactively fitted to what teachers want, but a project conceived and designed with the classroom teacher at the forefront.