Leyden Academy

Put yourself in the shoes of the learner

What can people do themselves to grow old healthily? How do you reach those people? How do you encourage them to change their behaviour? A problem full of challenges for Marie-Louise Kok from Leyden Academy.


Learning about health and ageing

Marie-Louise, the Digital Learning Expert at Leyden Academy, a non-profit knowledge institute that is committed to improving the quality of life of older people, explains to us why the institute is so important: “The Dutch population is ageing. We are living longer and the generation of baby boomers has retired. This provides society with opportunities and challenges. Those are the issues we address at Leyden Academy. For example, we investigate how ageing is perceived and how best to organise care for elderly people. But we also look at what people can do themselves to stay healthy for longer. Because your lifestyle can prevent or delay many ailments related to old age.”

That is exactly the focus of the original MOOC Healthy Ageing in 6 Steps. And don’t think that this free online course is only intended for vulnerable elderly people. After all, everyone wants to stay healthy and active as they grow old. At Leyden Academy, we don’t concentrate on chronological age; in fact, the ageing process begins from the moment you are born.

The person behind the project

Getting to know Marie-Louise Kok

An excellent goal, but before we go into greater detail, we’re curious to know more about Marie-Louise herself. She is the driving force behind the MOOC that is available in both English and Dutch. As a true ‘committed professional’ in the field of online learning, she prefers to carry out several projects at a time from beginning to end. She constantly asks herself: “How can you turn an idea into something that has an impact?” And she adds experience and business acumen to the mix.

In the past, she won a prize and funding from Sanoma (a Dutch publisher) for a market place for online courses (Ucourse.nl) and, together with a team, launched the educational tool Listr.nl. For this, she used the Lean Start-up method, and this is still her preferred approach for handling projects. When asked what really attracts her to trying out various tools, she replies: “That’s the nature of the beast, I suppose.” A genuine geek, working through online applications while at the same time dealing with the many challenges posed by her field and not afraid of experimenting.

Why did she make the transition to Leyden Academy? Actually it happened rather by chance. She was looking for a large project, something where she could develop her expertise in digital learning even further. Preferably something with which she could make a real impact and with a significant social purpose. The vacancy for Digital Learning Expert at Leyden Academy provided the perfect opportunity.

From English to Dutch

Transforming a successful MOOC

Now, let's go back to the MOOC. It was essential to create a Dutch version of the successful English original, in which more than 10,000 people took part. The platform on which this would take place and what form this MOOC would take was still completely open. The English forerunner had used the EdX platform, but Marie-Louise quickly concluded that this was not a viable option for the Dutch version. An institute has to publish several courses each year if it is to use EdX and an expensive annual license is required.

Marie-Louise drew up a short-list of learning platforms and LMSs. That’s how she ended up at aNewSpring. The combination of functionalities (including the creation of learning objectives, the use of several languages, the link with Payment Service Provider) and pricing was interesting. In addition, it was pleasant and user-friendly and the on-going development of the software, the good support desk and the right price/quality ratio were decisive factors in the choice.

The trailer

Healthy ageing in six steps

Marie-Louise and her colleagues put together a Dutch version of the MOOC in just 6 months. Intake took place by means of a registration form on Leyden Academy’s site and, thanks to considerable media attention (via Zin, Plus, Libelle Online and Max Broadcasting, etc.) the maximum of 1,200 participants was soon reached. This clearly shows the prominence of the subject and the need for greater focus on prevention. The fact that it was free of charge also removed any barriers.

The participants started on 1 May; the time required for completion was around 6 weeks. The average age of the participants is 67. As many as 97% are older than 41 years old. The oldest participant is 92 and more than 74% of the participants had never taken an online course before. It just goes to show: you’re never too old to learn!

Ensuring success

Reaching the right target audience

What is the secret behind successfully marketing an online learning program? Marie-Louise believes it all comes down to reaching your target audience. A good collaboration with (in-house) communication people is extremely valuable. Her online marketing background also helps.

The translation of the question ‘what’s in it for you?’ into promotional messages and trailers can play an important role. She also recommends friendly invitations, active moderation and incentives during the course. She has written about her experiences with and tips for a successful MOOC.

What’s next?

In addition to the MOOC, Leyden Academy also uses aNewSpring for blended and online courses for both private individuals and professionals, both in the Netherlands and internationally. For example, they offer an executive course on Ageing and Health Care for care administrators and managers. Marie-Louise is also currently working on a learning programme about ‘de-pilling', healthier living with fewer pills. Another current theme which makes use of microlearning.

The idea came to her when she attended Eliot Masie’s Learning 2017 event of in Orlando, in the USA, where she heard a lot about Micro Learning. “That trip is a must because you also get to visit various L&D departments of organisations in America.”

Finally, we asked Marie-Louise for her golden tip for the learning professional. Her answer: “Put yourself in the shoes of the learner and experiment.”