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‘Every day over 500,000 students learn better thanks to UG invention’

Prof. dr. Hedderik van Rijn
Prof. dr. Hedderik van Rijn

In the lab, prof. dr. Hedderik van Rijn, Psychometric & Statistical Techniques of the University of Groningen, developed the algorithm Rugged Learning (‘Slim Stampen’ in Dutch). Rugged Learning is a digital adaptive testing program that adapts learning to the knowledge and skills of the student. Van Rijn: ‘During our experimental research it was immediately clear to me that my invention represented a potential commercial value. It felt good. But for whom, what and how?’

The educational program Rugged Learning is based on the principle of spreading and testing. Spreading means that learning facts is more effective if there is a longer time span between repetitions. Testing means that learning is more effective when the pupil has to actively retrieve the answer as opposed to re-reading it again. Van Rijn: ‘Rugged Learning adjusts the order range of the facts to be learned. This is done by keeping an internal model of each student that indicates which facts are mastered and to what extent. The innovation is in the timing of the repetition.’


A student of Van Rijn did an assignment at Noordhoff Publishers and learned that the publisher wanted to upgrade their online range of learning materials. Van Rijn contacted Noordhoff. Successfully. An intense collaboration was born resulting in a license agreement between Noordhoff and the University of Groningen.

The Rugged Learning algorithm is currently applied in the online learning system for the French, German and English teaching methods of Noordhoff. A successful algorithm that has been proven in practice, reports the Noordhoff website: students learning with Rugged Learning score better than students learning without Rugged Learning.

A big pat on the back for social sciences researcher Van Rijn, his team and the UG. Van Rijn: ‘Under the license agreement with Noordhoff, my research group receives royalties. From that money I have appointed a PhD student who is further developing the Rugged Learning algorithm. Prestige for our university, because more than half a million students in the Netherlands learn better every day through an invention developed at UG.’

The world of Business Development

Thanks to all! stresses Van Rijn. Getting in contact with a private partner is just the start of public private collaboration: ‘You then enter the world of business development, and as a researcher you suddenly have to deal with the legal aspects of a contract, terms and prices. It takes up an incredible amount of time and is work for specialists. Outsource it. The University of Groningen offers inhouse facilities for this purpose.”

For the step from idea to market introduction, Van Rijn sought expertise from the IP & Business Development team, part of Northern Knowledge, as well as from the legal department ABJZ of the University of Groningen.

Together with business developer Frits Wijbenga, the license on the algorithm has been commercially developed to the satisfaction of both parties, and the agreements between publisher and the University of Groningen regarding royalty payments are monitored by the IP & Business Development team.

A way of lightening the load which Van Rijn liked very much: ‘This practical support from the university means that a researcher does not have to look too much at the practical side of a commercial collaboration, and can therefore continue to focus on creating and passing on new knowledge. That is also very close to my heart.’

New initiatives based on Rugged Learning

Nowadays, together with a business developer of the IP & Business Development team Van Rijn is investigating new possibilities to scale up his invention, for example with the RUG Holding. New commercial challenges are coming the professor's way: ‘I am currently talking with foreign publishers about their interest in the Rugged Learning algorithm.’ And is the Rugged Learning algorithm also suitable as a selection tool for determining whether or not people pass an initial training course? ‘Socially relevant and fundamental research that we can finance from the Rugged Learning income of royalties,’ concludes the Groningen professor: ‘It gives an extra dimension to the research that I do.’

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Last modified:24 May 2019 2.46 p.m.
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