Enabling children with learning disabilities to bridge the gap with peers through an online education experience
Globally, online education is on the rise. Since 2010, MOOCs (massive open online courses) started gaining traction, often facilitated by traditional learning institutions. In recent years, a trend emerged towards specialisation and hands-on learning experiences - learn by doing (with Datacamp serving as an outstanding example from Belgian soil). The major shift that's taking place when we observe the move from traditional education to online offerings is the global reach. It makes sense to invest in niche learning initiatives that serve a specific audience.

We got in touch with Anny Cooreman and Lucas Hermans from the Eureka school, with its main location near Leuven, Belgium. Within our team and direct surroundings, we knew multiple people who had attended the Eureka school at some point throughout their education, so we were curious to listen to the entire story of how the school grew into what it is today.

Eureka was founded in 1990 by Anny Cooreman and Hedwig van den Bosch as an institution that (individually) guided gifted children with learning disorders towards the Belgian examination commission. By 1996, they were formally recognised as a school, yet operating without government subsidies.

The offline approach

Learning disabilities and special educational needs can determine a gifted child's life and career. Proper intervention early on in the learning trajectory can prevent the disorder to turn into a shortcoming in day-to-day life. This can be considered as the mission statement of the Eureka school: to teach children to overcome their problems by using their talents, and to make them thrive despite a significant disadvantage. 'Learning' can and should have a much broader definition than the traditional approach in the public schooling system, and can take shape in various forms or means. Teachers and counselors at Eureka don't operate from a standard set of principles or tools, but rather from a wide range of hands-on experience.

The online approach: enter CleverKids

Over the years, various learning strategies were tried and tested, with a population of many tens of thousands of children. Don't just take our word for it: watch a video (Dutch)

With the rise of digital channels, all stars aligned to map these strategies into an online experience, which would be less 'teacher-dependent' but more generally available to anyone who needs help.

The dream of CleverKids was born: to build an online learning platform with tailored, hands-on education trajectories for children between the ages of 6 and 14 who are struggling in the traditional schooling system. We set out to build a digital experience for the 10% of children with learning disorders.

Various points of view

At Panenco, we carry a fundamental belief in the constant intertwining between user-, business- and technological interests when building a digital product.

The user perspective: the fact that we set out to build a platform for young children who might have a hard time with reading or writing, was a major parameter to consider. The user experience is all-defining, and, frankly, quite challenging in this setting. Furthermore, children learn in a broader context with multiple stakeholders involved: parents, teachers, speech therapists, paediatricians, .. you name it. Our targeted user base was not just the child, but the entire surrounding context as well.

The business perspective: our guiding principle from day 1 was to help children, not to make a quick buck. We mostly ignored the business aspects in first instance, and solemnly focused on creating the best possible learning experience. Naturally, the platform will need to be(come) self-sustaining and find a revenue model. We're currently working on an accessible pricing model based on a monthly subscription fee per user.

The technology perspective: we opted for a SaaS delivery model on public infrastructure. We set up an agile software delivery process. On a sprint-by-sprint basis we (still) define, design and develop user stories that turn into shippable product increments.

We faced numerous challenges and impactful decisions along the way while building this product. We're excited to take you through the journey.

Our joint mission statement
To create a digital learning experience for gifted children with learning disorders, to help them overcome their challenges by using their talents.
2015 - 2017
Defining and validating strategies for young children to learn math online.

  • Various learning strategies were listed: counting virtual fingers; using apples, coins or lego; making sure that the child could relate to the underlying logic
  • Designing possible approaches for these strategies that would be relatable for children.
  • Thorough iterations on the user interface and user experience design.
  • Meticulously measuring all findings.
2017 - 2019
Building an initial product version based on the assumptions from the product definition.

  • A web application was developed that contained fairly straightforward learning lines and related exercises.
  • Basic account logic was included for the different stakeholders on the platform
  • The first users were onboarded in a controlled. environment at the Eureka school, and the behaviour of the children while interacting with the software was observed.
Ready for launch
Applying all the learnings from the minimum viable product into a revamped architecture.

  • We're getting ready to open up the CleverKids platform to broader audiences.
  • Putting the right measurement instruments in place to keep a constant finger on the pulse concerning the learning intensity and effectiveness.
  • Engaging with parents, teachers and other stakeholders to collect feedback
  • Getting organised for growth.
The product roadmap
Product-solution definition
Building the MVP
2019 - current
Letting children learn at their own pace in a dynamic sequence without manual interventions by using algorithms to determine optimal learning lines.
Traditional (government) learning programs are linear. From primary school onwards to secondary, teachers follow a predefined roadmap. This assumes a one-size-fits-all model, during which everyone needs to progress at the same pace.

This is where the specific situation comes in for children with learning disorders. They have particular challenges, that can make it seem as if they get left behind even though they have the mental capabilities. Let's make this concrete with a practical example:

When you make the following sum: 37 + 45
= 37 + 40 +5 (think about the tens: think 30+40 and don't forget 7 and 5)
= 77 + 5
= 77 + 3 + 2 (think about the next tenth, split 5 into 3 and 2, 77 becomes 80 by adding 3, add 2) => Working memory becomes overloaded
= 82

Every brain is wired differently. The schooling system needs clever technology that grasps this, and that can tailor learning trajectories.

To create CleverKids, we needed a new approach to e-learning.
Rather than a learning line where children can advance level by level, we defined a new way of creating learning paths:
Learning cultures: based on where the child lives, the approach on the same subject can be different. The curriculum in different countries can differ. We provide a tailored learning path for each learning culture

Question boxes: we needed a system to track the same kind of exercises on the platform. This way we can check if it's necessary to give the child the same exercises again. We gain time by not letting pupils do exercises that aren't challenging

Generator: we created a clever generator that can create exercises based on specific parameters. While doing so it also provides a specific analysis of mistakes, predicts feedback, suggests tools, etc. This way, the management of the learning paths becomes much easier and more powerful

Strategies: Most e-learning platforms focus on one grade for one child. We create strategies which make it possible for a child to advance through different grades based on one subject. This way children don't get stuck within a grade. This is a unique approach that is specifically tailored to deliver children a more successful learning experience

Network: Creating a system that is flexible for different target audiences is a challenge. A lot of people work together with children: parents, (remedial) teachers, family, … . We provide them the tools to create and manage their network so all stakeholders can work together and achieve great results
One tool, endless possibilities
Designing a child-friendly interface and gamification strategy to stimulate the learning process. Involving all actors in the learning process on a single platform, with the child front and center.
A child's education happens in a certain context, and network. Throughout the day, the child spends its time at school where he/she is surrounded by fellow classmates and teachers. In the evening the parents come into play to assist with homework, to follow-up on reports, or to give additional tutoring. We aim to create a single view on all interactions, with the child at the center: an online platform on which exercises can be completed by the child, with separate views for parents, teachers or other people involved to follow-up on progress or to assign specific objectives.

We gamify the learning experience to the maximum extent. CleverKids will blend into the classroom and the living room and serve as a natural extension of the traditional education program. We'll play to each child's strengths rather than its weaknesses. By bringing parents, teachers and other relevant people together onto the platform, the most optimal continuous learning experience can be created.

CleverKids is an essential tool when teaching the diverse groups of pupils we have in our classes today. Transforming the specific tailored methods we use at our school to a digital platform is a challenge, but the results we are seeing today are rewarding. Our journey for the future is to keep improving so we can help children achieve their full learning potential all over the world. - Anny Cooreman
Ready for take-off
On the operational front, we're currently streamlining the scale-up operations:
Onboarding: making sure to provide a frictionless experience for new users with an extensive product tour and background information

Customer success: supporting clients with technical and functional questions through an FAQ help center, chat bot, phone and more

Automation: running as many processes as possible in an automated manner. Demonstrating thought leadership through drip campaigns

Thought leadership: demonstrating in-depth industry knowledge through blogging, scientific publishing, email drip campaigns and more

Localization: implementing translations for multiple language versions of the interface and the related automated communication

Legal support: we're assisting to comply with legislation concerning GDPR and making technical adjustments in accordance with ISO27001

Software delivery: continuing to build and ship software in the most agile way possible, with efficient CI/CD pipelines in place for reliable delivery
For more information check out:
We were incredibly excited to launch CleverKids in June of 2020. We're looking forward to welcome thousands of young children, their parents, their teachers and others to collect feedback and keep improving the digital learning experience of our next generation.
Let's join forces to shape, build and grow your next digital product