The National Education Lab AI (NOLAI), funded by the National Growth Fund, represents the largest public investment globally in the field of AI and education.

The National Education Lab AI (NOLAI), funded by the National Growth Fund, represents the largest public investment globally in the field of AI and education. No other country has allocated eighty million euros specifically for a lab focused on AI in primary and secondary education. This project stands as one of Turner’s most prestigious involvements to date. Driven by the passionate initiator, Inge Molenaar from Radboud University, the lab faces the tremendous challenge of bringing together education, science, and the business community. However, the benefits for all stakeholders will not be immediate.

1. What was the challenge for which you engaged Turner? And what made it complex?

The NOLAI is a broad collaboration among education, science, and the business community to promote the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in education. With eighty million euros in funding from the National Growth Fund, the lab aims to enhance the quality of education through AI. “We need to approach AI from a pedagogical-didactic framework,” clarifies initiator and scientific director Inge Molenaar. “How can AI help empower teachers and students? Currently, we see insufficient integration in this regard. The application of AI brings opportunities but also risks. Primary and secondary education are not adequately equipped to leverage the current opportunities and address the risks effectively, causing friction within the system. With NOLAI, we aim to address this more effectively.”

Extensive exploration has been conducted on how the lab should function, including defining guidelines and considering how to establish innovation labs and drive innovation. “Now the question is: How do we execute this? How do we ensure that these great ideas are transformed into an operation, namely NOLAI? This is a complex challenge, particularly because it involves academia, education, and the business community. There is an existing ecosystem that needs to be shaped to foster innovation across the board.”

2. What led to the breakthrough? Substantially, in terms of change management and/or project management?

“We have only just begun, but the question can be partially answered,” says Molenaar. “Jeroen Visscher from Turner and I have been collaborating for two and a half years in the Education Working Group of the Dutch AI Coalition, another public-private partnership. Within that working group, we have been taking steps that align with what we need to do in the lab: articulating the right questions, investigating the desires and capabilities of various stakeholders, and ultimately finding meaningful ways to bring them together. The knowledge we have gained from the working group will be instrumental in this new project.”

The transformative aspect lies in the quadruple helix structure in which Molenaar and Visscher will work within the education field. “So far, innovation has mainly taken place in silos,” explains Molenaar. “Schools have their own innovation trajectories, which they handle quite well, but they are very operational. Scientists have their own interesting knowledge development trajectories, but they are often slower and focused on theory formation. The business community primarily aims to create viable and scalable solutions that can be commercialized. We need to connect these three entities, so they can reinforce each other. This requires us to develop a dialogical framework for these three parties. It is truly challenging, especially because we are dealing with significantly different tempos.”

3. How was the execution achieved? The NOLAI was only recently opened. The government has provided billions of euros through the National Growth Fund. Molenaar has established a consortium with several parties for this plan. After the grand and celebratory moment of the opening, we are now getting to work. “We are doing it in a way that aligns with Strategy = Execution,” explains Visscher. “Over the past few months, we haven’t locked ourselves in a room to design in isolation how it should look exactly. Instead, we immediately started working with all parties to determine the necessary processes so that we can scale up when possible. This allows us to immediately deliver and achieve sufficient outcomes for education, science, and the business community.”
4. Are there benefits for all stakeholders? For customers, shareholders, employees, management, and society? “The overall value of the lab is that we will accelerate AI innovation in education,” says Molenaar. “We will develop prototypes and applications that reflect the norms and values of Dutch education. In the Netherlands, we believe that students should work autonomously and have self-direction in their learning process. Students also have rights, such as the right to privacy. This is an important point because many AI applications for education are being developed in countries like China and the United States. However, they have different ideas about how education should be structured, particularly in terms of privacy and ethics. For example, everything in the classroom is recorded with cameras. I see it as our mission to develop solutions that align with how we view these issues in Europe and specifically in the Netherlands. That is an important framework for benefits management.” The challenge for schools lies primarily in increasing adaptivity, Molenaar continues. “In general, things are going well: everyone has tablets, and remote learning has taken off during the pandemic. But we can still take a step forward in aligning with the individual development of students.” From a scientific perspective, there are two tasks. “First, we need to anchor the knowledge we have in the solutions used in the Netherlands in a proper way, and second, we need to utilize the current data infrastructure that has emerged from digital education in research. With all the data generated, we can gain better insights into how students learn and optimize the learning process.” The main benefit for the business community will be the ability to compete with foreign competition. Molenaar emphasizes that it’s not just from China or America. “We are seeing a significant push from abroad into the Dutch education market. We have one of the most digitized and formalized markets in Europe, and we are relatively small. So, it’s a great place for development and learning. Sanoma, a Finnish company, dominates the entire chain of secondary education. There is a lot of pressure on Dutch companies in this market. The best way to defend against that, especially for scale-ups and start-ups, is to undergo a rapid development now.”
5. What was the most significant dilemma, and how did you deal with it? The proper scale of the operation is one of the most challenging aspects, according to Inge Molenaar. “The NOLAI needs to become a large ecosystem while also functioning as a well-functioning collaboration. That is the complex balance we must find. We want to involve all parties and give them the opportunity to contribute their thoughts. But to create truly meaningful changes through co-creation, you need to start on a smaller scale.” Visscher believes that will indeed be the most important issue. “You can’t start with the entire Netherlands. But if you start with a small group, you still need to offer enough to the rest so that they don’t drop out. That is truly a dilemma. How can we do that in the best way?” It It is essential for the various parties in the quadruple helix collaboration to be willing to deviate from their own objectives, adds Molenaar. “You must endorse that common goal, even if it is not part of the core of what you aim for yourself. Bringing about that transition takes time and intellectual effort. All the involved parties will benefit from the National Education Lab AI, but not next week.”
Turner-Inge-Molenaar

“All the involved parties will benefit from the National Education Lab AI, although not immediately next week.”

Inge Molenaar, Director of the National Education Lab AI (NOLAI) & Associate Professor at Radboud University

Photo: Peter Arno Broer

“After the grand and celebratory opening of the NOLAI, we are now getting to work in a manner that aligns with Strategy = Execution.”

Jeroen Visscher, Partner at Turner Strategy = Execution

Photo: Peter Arno Broer

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