Where to now, education?

by Mal Lee 06 June 2016

The late great management guru Peter Drucker famously observed: “I never predict. I simply look out the window and see what is visible but not yet seen.”

The pace, magnitude and uncertainty of the Digital Revolution makes that evermore important. No one can foretell exactly what technologies schools will be using in five years let alone ten.

Fortunately in considering the role of the digital in future schooling one has only to look at how society has embraced and normalised the use of the digital and social networking, at the young’s 24/7/365 use of their personal technology and the digital transformation of all manner of organisations to recognise the likely scenario.

The challenge is to cease seeing schools as ‘stand alone’, seemingly distinct organisations, immune to the impact of the digital revolution. They – whether they like it or not - are part of the wider networked society where the digital is daily transforming our lives, thinking, expectations, work, education and the nature of all organisations, including schools.

Indeed the digital transformation occurring at pace in the pathfinder schools closely parallels that within the digital masters of business.

...moving schools from their traditional entrenched, risk-averse paper based culture and operational mode to a digital operational paradigm and mindset, where the school thrives on mess, seeming chaos, non-linear growth, risk taking and continued change. It is an immense cultural shift that takes years of astute concerted effort. What is evident is that the digital technology will underpin the total operations of most schools, impacting the teaching, administration and the nature of the schooling provided, continually transforming and enhancing their operations and productivity.

The use of the digital will be normalised, like it is already outside the school walls. The technology will become all pervasive and as invisible as the paper technology of the traditional school.

That normalised usage by the total school community will impact, often unwittingly, on every aspect of the school’s culture, thinking, teaching, administration, relations, structure, performance, growth and evolution.

In moving to a digital operational mode and mindset the experience of the pathfinders (Lee and Broadie, 2016), society and business (Westerman, et al, 2014) suggests most schools will leave their world of constancy and continuity and move to one of continual, uncertain and often seemingly chaotic change and evolution.

In the process schools, like their industry and public sector counterparts, will use the digital to shape increasingly integrated, higher order, mature and more productive ecosystems to enhance their performance and customer appeal. As the school ecosystem grows so it will interact with other ecosystems, and will impact and be impacted by them (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

The digitally based ecosystem will be critical. It will be the desired totality that matters, not the parts or particular technology.

The likely roles to be played by the digital technology includes its:

  • Provision of an increasingly sophisticated and powerful operational platform
  • Normalised 24/7/365 use by all within the school community – the teachers, students, parents and extended families
  • Enhancement of organisational convergence, efficiency and synergy and reduction of operating costs
  • Fostering communication, collaboration and social networking
  • Shaping ecosystems that simultaneously address all the variables that impact student learning, in and outside the school walls 24/7/365
  • Facilitation of continual organisational evolution and enhancement
  • Markedly and continually enhancing school productivity 

When one compares the productivity of the traditional paper based school with the digital it is obvious why all schools will have to go digital to remain viable (Lee, 2015b).

In 2016 only a small proportion of the world’s schools have normalised the whole of school community use of the digital and are using it in the roles described. The reason why is simple, it is very hard to do.

Critically the research reveals it requires astute school principals with vision, digital acumen, persistent intent, willing and able to lead digital schools. It calls for principals who can simultaneously and successfully address the near fifty key variables, human and technological (Lee and Broadie, 2016) required for on-going digital evolution. It entails moving schools from their traditional entrenched, risk-averse paper based culture and operational mode to a digital operational paradigm and mindset, where the school thrives on mess, seeming chaos, non-linear growth, risk taking and continued change. It is an immense cultural shift that takes years of astute concerted effort.

Schools without those principals will struggle to make the shift.

Moreover it entails creating a teaching and learning ecology appropriate for a digital and socially networked society. Within that environment – that is largely antithetical to the traditional - the learner is placed at the centre, the young are trusted and empowered, and learning occurs 24/7/365, anytime anywhere. Within the classroom the students are

  • Encouraged to use their personal ever-evolving suit of digital technologies (BYOT).
  • Responsible for operating their chosen kit.

Trust is critical.

Significantly the pathfinder schools have relinquished their unilateral control of the teaching and learning - and the use of the digital – and distributed that control, genuinely collaborating with all the ‘teachers’ of the young, respecting their contribution, pooling the resources and expertise of the school and its homes, marrying the in and out of school teaching and learning.

Vitally it also sees the teachers being trusted, empowered and treated as professionals, and encouraged and supported to build upon the emerging opportunities, to take risks and push the envelope.

That type of ecology necessitates the school having an appropriate professionally governed and maintained digital ecosystem – not a part time ICT committee. The ecosystem needs to facilitate, support and advance the desired holistic teaching and learning, the realisation of the school’s shaping educational vision and the continued growth and evolution of the school. One is looking at an astutely shaped, tightly integrated, increasingly sophisticated and ultra reliable school digital ecosystem (Lee, 2016) that allows empowered teachers their freedom. It too is antithetical to the traditional unilaterally controlled and managed ICT model.

Central to the operations and growth of that digital ecosystem is a comprehensive continually evolving school website and complementary digital communications suit, controlled and maintained by the school (Lee, 2015b). Together they provide the school’s interface with the networked world.

Experience underscores the imperative of having ample and expanding bandwidth and a campus wide Wi Fi based network able to readily accommodate the escalating student and technological demands.

The pathfinder’s journeys affirm the importance of every teaching room having the apt large screen interactive digital presentation facility/ies, able to interface with the student’s chosen technologies. History has demonstrated that aptness can change over time and vary from teaching area to teaching area, with the needs of a senior art teacher likely being quite different to a special needs teacher.

The ‘one size fits all’ imperative, if it ever really existed, has passed its use by date.

The pathfinders in schooling, and business, have already reached the technology agnostic stage. With the IoT so long as it has Web access it matters not what is used. Schools don’t have to use the one operating system, the one model of computer or the same IWBs. That is likely to be difficult for many school ‘ICT experts’ to accept.

The normalised use of the digital, its slipping invisibly into the background obliges schools largely replicate the conditions that makes that normalisation possible outside the school. All the students need to be trusted to use in class their personal choice of digital technologies, that which meets their particular learning style. One is looking at the evolving suit of digital technologies they already use 24/7/365, which they understand, maintain and refresh. Trusting the students to bring their own technology is critical to moving the school through the BYOT phase to digital normalisation (Lee and Levins, 2016).

The students who can will provide the personal technologies, while the school will support those who can’t and provide the underpinning systems, technology and the support infrastructure.


In considering the likely role of the digital in future schooling it is vital to stop seeing all schools as the same. Each is at a different stage on the digital evolutionary continuum. The difference between schools in the use of the digital is already vast and widening at pace (Lee and Broadie, 2016).

Every school is unique. While as complex adaptive systems there will be many common variables each school has ultimately to determine the role the digital will play in its operations and growth.

- Lee, M (2015a) Lee, M (2015 a) ‘The Changing Role and Importance of the School Website’. Educational Technology Solutions May 2015
- Lee, M (2015b) ‘Schools Have to go Digital to Remain Viable’ Educational Technology Solutions July 2015
- Lee, M (2016) ‘The ‘CDO’ and Governance of the School Digital Ecosystem’ Educational Technology Solutions February 2016
- Lee, M and Broadie, R (2016) A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages Broulee Australia Digital Evolution of Schooling – www.digitalevolutionofschooling.net
- Lee, M and Levins, M (2016) BYOT and the Digital Evolution of Schooling, London EdFutures

- Westerman, G, Bonnett, D and McAfee, A (2014) Leading Digital. Turning Technology into Business Transformation, Boston, Harvard Business Review Press

Mal Lee
Technology Writer, Author & Blogger

Mal Lee is an internationally published educational consultant and author specialising in the digital evolution and transformation of schooling.

His focus in recent years has been on the structural transformation occurring in the pathfinder schools globally and the lessons flowing from those schools. In that context he has written extensively on the move to a 24/7/365 mode of schooling, the critical importance of BYOT and the importance of shaping increasingly powerful, digitally based school ecosystems.

Mal is a former director of schools, head of board of senior studies, secondary college principal, technology company director and a member of the Mayer Committee that identified the Key Competencies for Australia’s schools.