The perfect Agora challenge

In Agora education, students work through challenges to learn, research and make things based on their own questions. A new Agora school started this week. Part of the preparation for the new start was the educational development of the challenge that students are taking on. How did this process go? You can read that in this article .

Agora education

Agora is a type of education where every child learns in his or her own way. It is a type of education without fixed levels, classes, homework, subjects and grades. Pupils, guided by coaches, work on their personal questions, on the basis of which they learn, research or make things. Attention is paid to the five worlds of Agora:

  • The Scientific
  • The Social
  • The Spiritual
  • The Social/Ethical
  • The Artsy

Agora is Greek for ‘square’. Ancient Athens knew the Agora, where philosophers such as Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates ‘taught’ anyone who wanted to learn from them. Agora Roermond was the first Agora school, which started in 2014. This school year, 15 Agora schools will be opened throughout the Netherlands: sometimes as an independent school, sometimes as part of a school, including 10-14 schools. You can read more about current developments on the website of the Agora Association . Would you like to know more about the origin and vision of Agora? Then read the book Catharsia , which was written by Sjef Drummen, one of the founders of Agora – a book that we have read and viewed with great pleasure!


Challenges are central to the learning process of students. During a Challenge, students look for answers to questions they ask themselves. These questions come from within themselves because they want to find out about a subject that interests them. A challenge consists of 6 phases:


A word web, a mind map or writing a series of questions is used to think about a possible topic of the Challenge .
Select questions . A choice is made of 2 or 3 questions that the student prefers to see answered.
Determine activities . The student determines which activities he must perform in order to answer his questions.
Perform activities . The student is actively involved.
present . The student shows what he has learned. The form of this is free.
Looking back . The student looks back at what he has done. He decides what went well and formulates what could be done differently in the next Challenge .
A challenge can be large or small and a student can work on several challenges at the same time. The coach helps students in this process. Students and their coaches keep track of developments in the Egodact program (also designed by a group of Agora students).

‘The perfect challenge’

This week Buurtcollege Agora Maas en Peel started, a new Agora school, in Panningen. Part of the preparation of the team was the joint acquisition of knowledge in the field of cognitive psychology and educational science, and making this concrete together with the Agora vision by designing ‘the perfect challenge’. This involved both the explicit design of the challenge, such as questions that students have to answer in Egodact, and the behavior of the coaches, such as questions that they can ask in different phases. To achieve this, a series of meetings was held cyclically on acquiring new knowledge and translating it into the challenges.

In preparation for the first meeting, all coaches watched the movie Most Likely To Succeed . This docu-film was made by High Tech High , a 0-18 school campus in San Diego that works on a project basis and which can be seen as inspiration for the Agora concept. The coaches have derived success factors from this film for a good challenge.

Subsequently, there were a few meetings in which a few building blocks were discussed by means of a short knowledge impulse, followed by the question whether and how these should be part of the challenge. The building blocks originated from cognitive psychology and educational science. Examples were how important prior knowledge is for learning , the power of repetition , the added value of curiosity and working from high expectations .

Learning and innovating together

Questions like ‘What do you already know about this topic (in a different context)?’ and ‘What will you take from this challenge to the next?’ are logical for some to put to students, while others do not always think about it. In addition to working concretely on the design of the challenge, the meetings were also good for joint learning and innovation

In addition to knowledge, discussions were also held about vision. For example, research from cognitive psychology shows that it is important, especially for beginners, to teach students new knowledge step by step, for example with worked examples through explicit direct instruction (EDI). But what if that’s not the goal? What if the goal focuses less on qualification , but more on subjectivitation (Biesta, 2014)? For example, it may be desirable to let students swim for a while, to make them more curious or to make them realize that they need to ask for help in order to progress or to work on their self-reliance.

And with active processing, research is often about the test effect, for example, but isn’t it more valuable to let students learn in the real world ? Concrete matters such as core objectives were also examined : because in what way should this be given a place in education? Good conversations about the complexity of research about learning , the system in which education takes place and the vision on education.