Learning and Innovation

Learning & Innovation is one of Maastricht University’s (UM) leading research themes. Research on Learning & Innovation is all research that is concerned with practical, conceptual, and theoretical aspects of (life-long) learning, concerning both the ongoing practices, as well as innovative practices of learning and teaching. This website is still under construction and we hope to inform you soon about the activities taking place within this theme, news and insights from researchers and about future plans and projects.

Conference on Learning & Innovation

On June 12, researchers and education experts gathered for the first conference on Learning & Innovation.  

At this conference the UM Learning & Innovation taskforce welcomed a diverse group of people at the AINSI in Maastricht. This day was filled with inspirational and thought-provoking keynotes, workshops and networking opportunities.

Rianne Letschert (rector magnificus at UM) explained the importance of Learning & Innovation (L&I) research and the importance of getting together with researchers, teachers, policy makers and other kinds of experts, to pick each others brains. To learn what societal challenges could be tackled by research in the field of learning and innovation. And to learn what cross overs UM researchers could establish, with colleagues within and outside the university. What is our common ground? In which fields can we stand out and really add value to reality? The conference was set-up to think in terms of possibilities and opportunities. To bring back the spirit of the old days, when this university started and nothing was set in stone.

Opening conference by Rianne Letschert

In order to get more insight into the focus of L&I research at UM, the audience was asked what, according to them, UM’s strengths are when it comes to research on L&I. The most frequent answers were, not surprisingly, Problem-Based Learning (PBL), interdisciplinary, active learning and international. Additionally, the audience was asked to name a niche within the field of L&I at UM that should receive more attention. It became clear that the majority of the answers was related to cognitive science, technology and students.

Keynote Hanne Leth

Keynote speaker Hanne Leth
‘(Re)directions for learning in a changing world’

‘We should not program students, we need students who are able to program’

During her keynote speech, Prof. Dr. Hanne Leth Andersen discussed how a person can become a ‘lifelong learner’, how students’ motivation and engagement can result in quality. She made a plea to put the student at the center, to promote motivation and engagement, so that it would result in quality. However, the current trends in higher education seem to be going towards students that focus more on their individual performance and their grades in comparison to other students This is part of the broader performance culture. In order to tackle all societal challenges that lie before us, we need people who are creative. Problem oriented Project Learning (PPL), as is being used at Roskilde University, might be a way to tackle this dilemma.


(In)equality and its relation to learning

During the ‘(In)equality and its relation to learning’ workshop, organised by Phil Brüll (behavioural scientist at UM's Faculty of Neuroscience and Psychology) the question ‘Should (in)equality be regarded as a problem or as an opportunity?’ was discussed.

In research on L&I, inequality and diversity is a cross-cutting theme. This goes from children receiving unequal opportunities in the educational system, to using diversity in the classroom to enrich the learning experience of students.

One of the main themes discussed here, was the differences and similarities between ‘inequality’ and ‘diversity’. While the latter is seen as a good thing, considering it can enrich group learning- and performance, the former is seen as a bad thing when linked to unequal opportunities. The focus should be on equality of opportunity, instead of striving toward equality in itself, or homogeneity.

Phil Brüll

  If we pretend we are all equal, we do not appreciate the diversity,
and create inequality without meaning to do so   

Trends and developments in education and learning​

During the ‘Trends and development in education and learning’ workshop, organised by Dr. Roy Erkens (teacher plant evolutionary biology at the Maastricht Science Programme, course/skills coordinator and chair of the Educational Programme Committee of the Maastricht Science Programme), participants were invited to think about opportunities and possibilities to innovate education.

To do this, participants read case-descriptions, and were asked to come up with innovative ideas that could be applied to the case. Subsequently, participants were asked to cluster these ideas in a matrix, with the elements ‘difficult – easy’ and ‘standard – novel’’.

It proved to be difficult to think outside the box and come up with radical innovations that would change the system. A first tentative conclusion is that challenges in the field of innovation lie more at the level of the teacher than at the level of the students.

Infinite learning and competence development

This workshop was organised by Dr. Johan Adriaensen (Assistant Professor at FASoS at Maastricht University, and Research Coordinator CERiM). Three topics were discussed:

  • Identify relevant skills and competences – Which skills are important? What do we want to learn?
  • Design curricula to facilitate their training – How can we learn those skills? Which shape would this take?
  • Improve our teaching practices.

In this workshop many fundamental and practical questions were raised? Should university teaching focus on skills development? Who gets to determine the skills to be learned (academia, the students or the future employees? Is PBL the optimal didactic to learn skills. Another theme that was discussed was the role of exams, and knowledge acquisition in relation to the developments of AI. This provides a lot of food for thought and inspiration for many new research projects.


During the ‘unpanel’ discussion, an interactive discussion with experts and the audience as panel members, the topic of ‘Interactions between societal developments and research’ was discussed.

Topics that were discussed provided important input for the Learning & Innovation research theme. To name a few, increase communication between neuroscientists and education research to discover the possibilities of the insights from neuroscience, more focus on bridges between different education levels, the role of technology in education, fostering creativity in students, translation of thought into behaviour, finding new ways of expressing students learning processes. Reflections on the struggle and fun of learning and education. And the overall issue that has been part of the agenda for decades: the translation of research finding into educational practice.


Keynote René Kneyber

René Kneyber (math teacher and member of the Board of Education) gave an inspiring keynote speech about ‘A teacher-centered approach to educational improvement and innovation’.

During his keynote, René Kneyber discussed topics such as teachers’ engagement in improvements and innovation, experience, expertise, effective teacher learning, the importance of networks, and what is needed for improvements and innovations in the future. One of the main messages is that it takes time to learn new routines, in order for teachers to truly change their teaching, time is needed. Teachers rely heavily on routines during their work and these take a long time to change.

Rene Kneyber


The main conclusions of the conference: There is much enthusiasm and willingness to collaborate in research on learning & innovation. Many new, and not so new, ideas were brought up, opportunities were signalled and new energy was created.

The taskforce Learning & Innovation is now working on ways to help realise this ambition, to continue with this broad dialogue. We will keep you posted on this website in the upcoming months.

Photos: Philip Driessen