In November 2015, I gave a TED-talk about the role of simulation games in higher education and how they could disrupt the education system as we know it. Below, you’ll find the video, the slides I used and the full transcript of the text.

7 Billion Universities: How Simulation Games could disrupt Education

Transcript of the TED-talk:

Good morning. Albert Einstein once said:

it’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.

I’ve been working in education for quite a while now and I think he is right: I believe that the education system does a much better job at delaying than at accelerating our learning.

I quite often use metaphors to describe how I feel about higher education. Sometimes I’d like to compare the education system is like Microsoft Windows.

  • It’s already out-of-date when you pay for it
  • it’s full of programs you are never going to use
  • and it’s almost impossible live your life around it

But today, I’m going to use another metaphor: a prison. Don’t get me wrong: I’d rather be in school than imprisoned, but there are some striking similarities.

Just like in prison, education is an institute that will take people out of their normal life for a few years. A life-changing event that can make you feel insecure, isolated and frustrated. And upon graduation you feel a mismatch, sometimes even very small and lost.


So did my brother Willem, the guy with the white shirt on the middle right. He didn’t spend much time in class, but after class he developed a talent for programming. His first milestone had something do to with a friendly hack of his high school exam system. Later, programming became his expertise and he now is successful entrepreneur in the Silicon Valley region. However, he is also proudly registered as a so-called university drop-out, just like for instance Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs.

His curiosity blossomed during education, but not because of education. The education system is failing on us.

  • The top 10 of highly wanted jobs of today didn’t even exist 5 years ago.
  • 75 million graduates are currently unemployed worldwide. And at the same time, employers complain that they can’t find the right people for the job…
  • 58% of employers experience a staggering mismatch between the skills that they think are important and the skills that are taught in higher education.

From Climate Simulation to Business Simulation

A lot of complaining so far, but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have an idea on how to solve the problem of education. To explain the idea, I need to share a bit more about myself.

Just like my brother, I lost myself in a hobby when I was young. It was the weather, or more specifically: climatology. I was that kind of kid that wrote down every detail about every weather station in the area and used mathematical algorithms to build my own weather simulations.

It was a hobby with ups-and-downs.

I had a temporary breakdown when I got my first computer at the age of twelve and found out that all thinkable data was freely available on the web and my little data diary was worth nothing.

I also do remember the highest up I had: it was during university time.

One morning I woke up and found out that my weather station recorded an enormous amount of rain that night. A new personal record! Perhaps even a new local record. Being in an ecstatic state, I ran down the stairs and woke up my roommates to tell them. But when I saw their faces I knew something was wrong… They went out the night before and apparently decided to use my rain collector as…. Well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Despite that, I continued to study industrial engineering and started to work in a university. I saw an opportunity to spice up my lectures with games and I started to build my first simulation game. It took me three years, but the idea turned into a successful product.

Just a short explanation for you: Simulation games are imitating complex real-world events over time.

I took this picture in Sao Paulo where groups of startups were battling against each other in a startup game to experience the struggles that are ahead in the startup phase of their business.

Fascinating Results

I was able to gather a lot of student evaluations over the years and while reviewing this data, I saw some fascinating results. When games are applied in higher education they increase:

  • of 21% in how satisfied students are with the course.
  • of 14% on how much literature they use.
  • of 46% on the time they spend on the course.
  • of 19% practical experience.
  • of 30% passing rates: students who pass the course at the first time.

Moreover, there is a decrease of (on average) 0.7 teaching hours/student, which equals to a €35,-/student saving in western countries.

I started to realize that simulation games could well be the revolution education is waiting for. I believe that the new generation of super-games are so intelligent they are able to replace complete university programs and studying available for anyone, anytime, anywhere.

There are 4 ways in which education could be disrupted:

  • They bring us from homogenization to individualization. In higher education, a student is typically being viewed at as a category. Such as: “you are a law student, so your preferred learning style is learning something by heart. We give you a lot to read and a lot of free time to do that.” Simulation games see every student as an individual, with their own styles and needs, and treat them like that.
  • They will bring us from standardization and prefabricated programs to personalized and flexible master programs.
  • And they will bring synergy between universities and the industry, so that students are more likely to succeed upon graduation.

Currently, there are around 72000 bachelor and master programs worldwide. But in theory, my idea would create a world in which everyone should be able to follow their personal master. Which will mean: 7.2 billion higher education programs.

That is the 4th.

The system has been designed upon design principles that were invented ages ago and is not able to cope with the needs of the industry and students anymore.

If we don’t change the way we look at education, we’ll slowly start to underutilize the potential of our children.

So we need to gradually deinstitutionalize it. Increase Individualisation, Increase Personalization and Increase industry interactions. Just like Rome hasn’t been built in one day, this is a process that will take some time.

Simulated University

Let me show an example of how this simulation game of the future could look like for my own situation. All the technologies that I’m going to refer to, already exist.

  • The game would recognize my hobby and offer me a few specialized climate courses in high school.
  • Through a technology called Mind Cloning, with which it is possible to upload our mind to a clone, I would be able to Skype with super-mentors, such as Galileo and Einstein, who would teach me about the basics of climatology.
  • Through Big Data I would receive the advice to do a project for the National Hurricane Center and I would be able to physically collaborate with people from around the world through holograms or virtual reality.
  • Multiple sensors will record my behavior and will teach me new soft skills such as communication and leadership and would offer me custom-made and automatically created online courses to finish my study.
  • And I would finally graduate, with a Master of Jan Spruijt.

It may take a few years, but it’s my personal mission to make a first version of the Simulated University ready to enroll by the year 2018

I started my presentation with Albert Einstein and I will now also end my presentation with another quote from Albert Einstein:

“I never teach my pupils. I only provide them the condition in which they can learn.”

Let’s built this game together. Thank you.

Presentation Sheets

Innovative Dutch creates strategy simulation games, business simulations and management games for students in innovation and entrepreneurship.