Making Connections

The role of networks and how they are altering our perception of the education landscape

Published: 27 November 2012

As schools take advantage of networked services they are increasingly becoming active agents in a hyper connected world that will forever change how they manage, offer and develop education services for the communities that they serve. The success of schools will increasingly be determined by their place and their position of authority within their respective networks. This article examines how connected schools, connected devices, connected services and connected students are altering our perception of the education landscape.

The notion of a linear, irreversible, measurable and predictable education timeline is being shattered by networked devices, networked services and by the network society. Technology is enabling learners to escape the context of this linear educational landscape. [1] They can view a diverse range of learning materials at the same time, technology enables learners to be in several places at the same time and networked services enable learners to participate in several activities from one place. As linear learning becomes less important, greater emphasis will be placed on the assembly of learning activities. For instance, students can access learning materials and collaborate with their peers at any time and in any place; and they can engage in more intensive learning activities over shorter periods of time. The notion of linear learning becomes cruder still when we state that education networks, networked services and information flows are undermining the very notion of a 'before' or an 'after', the 'here' and 'there' of a traditional classroom environment. [2]



The consequences of connected technologies and connected schools on the education sector will not always be so clear. For instance, within an educational setting, technological change consistently points the teaching, learning and administrative functions in many possible directions. [3] But what is clear is that political, economic and cultural factors will determine the broad consequences of connected technologies and connected schools within the education sector.


This video from Ericsson details how networks are influencing teaching and learning. Speakers on the video include Professors Stephen Heppel and Sugata Mitra. [4]

The Ericsson website details how education technology, connected learning and the networked society are shaping how we teach and learn. [5]

Unlike other sectors such as media, archtictecture, finance and medicine the education sector is one of the few places were computing has had less of an impact than one might have envisaged. [6] We must recognise that whilst students do indeed have improved access to networked devices and services; cultural practices and norms within the education sector have tended to lag behind technological change. Unfortunately these practices have lessened the potential impact of technology to transform the education sector. It is important to recognise that the benefits accrued by introducing new technologies into the education setting can only be realised if technological change is embedded within the context of a school’s overall ethos, aims and pedagogy. Technological change must be supported by a favourable and supportive environment at the school if it is to succeed. If changes in school pedagogy and education management take time to evolve it is no surprise to learn that the introduction of new education technologies and services can take time to be realised. Lethargic or delayed introduction of new technologies within a school could arise because there are inherent weaknesses in the management structure that sponsors and supports the introduction of new technology within the school setting. Schools will need to learn new ways of managing their resources, teaching more progressively and using intelligent and meaningful data to fund school projects. Put more simply schools need to change how they think and do; and more importantly they need to reflect deeply about who they are.

The following section highlights examples were technology and networks are playing a part in transforming teaching and learning practices:

Firstly, the use of technology has influenced how teachers and students engage with one another in the classroom. Blended learning, flipped classrooms, e-learning and m-learning are all examples were students can engage in online learning activities away from the classroom; thereby enabling the teacher to spend more face-to-face time interacting and engaging with students in the classroom. The growth of networked devices and services has accelerated and improved the development and use of blended learning activties in many schools. Teachers are able to introduce their students to more problem solving and practicial activities in the classroom and greater time can be spent with students in developing higher order skills sets such as analysing and evaluating classroom topics. Students also state that they are able to spend more time discussing and reviewing topics with teachers.

Secondly, the use of social media is enabling students to connect to others in so many new ways. These connections are expanding the potential capacity of every student as each new connection enables further collaborative opportunities and which leverages the abilities of all who are connected. Social media develops and fosters skill sets that have always been promoted by schools; such as, collaboration, research skills, technical skills, critical analysis and social skills. These are all critical skills that any teacher hopes to develop and nurture in his or her students. Social media reinforces blended learning, flipped classrooms, e-learning and m-learning. Social media promotes a knowledge culture, a problem solving culture, a culture that promotes organisational intelligence; attributes that all students will need in abundance when they enter the world of further and higher education or work.

And thirdly, our external memory devices have developed and evolved over time. The note book, the diary, the external hard drive, the pen drive, the mobile phone and cloud storage services are all manifestations of how we have and will store our personal memories. Our increasing ability to connect to these devices and services has enabled us to have access to an enlarged and intimate supplement to our memory. [1] The intimacy of these external memory devices or services means that many learners are unable to disassociate themselves from them. Education institutions will need to reassess how they perceive the role and function of these networked devices and services for supporting teaching, learning and assessment practices.

Standalone devices and services are giving away to connected and networked services which is changing how schools design, shape and deliver education services through ICT. The management of education ICT services is becoming more decentralised and user centered which is enabling further democratisation of learning. Connected, networked and user centered services encourage greater participation, engagement and collaboration between school leaders, teachers, students and parents. The most reassuring aspect of these new user centered models is that they rely less on technological innovation but more on social and cultural innovation. A school's success is not determined by technology but more importantly by how it redefines how it delivers and enables access to education services to its student body and to the wider community that it serves. To be meaningful, this level of innovation in any school needs to engage with the governing body, the head teacher, the senior leadership team, teachers, students and the many stakeholders that make up the wider school community.

The growing importance of inter school networks will redefine how education services are shaped and offered to local communities. Inter school networks will also determine how individual schools are perceived by communities, parents and students. Vibrant, successful and outward looking schools will be those that have established close educational links with other schools within their inter school networks and networked services will play an integral part in determing the success of these networks. For further information you may wish to explore the following articles on networked schools: The Rise of the Networked School, The Supernodes and Digital Advantage.


  1. As We May Think by Vannevar Bush:
  2. Tyranny of the Moment: Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age by Thomas Hylland Erikson.
  3. The Rise of the Network Society by Manuel Castells.
  4. The Future of Learning, Networked Society - Ericsson.
  5. Ericsson - Learning and Education.
  6. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, page 554. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs discuss the impact that technology has had on the education sector.