Digital Normalisation And The Pattern Of Technology Use


We can now clearly see on the radar the pattern of technology use that schools are likely to experience when they normalise the use of the digital in every facet of their operations, educational and administrative, in and outside the school walls.

The pathfinder schools in the UK, US, NZ and Australia that have reached the Digital Normalisation Stage in their evolution provide schools globally an invaluable insight into the pattern of technology usage they are likely to experience in time in their own evolutionary journey.

For a growing number of you, that will likely happen in the next year or two. For others, at the lower end of the evolutionary continuum, that experience is some time away but notwithstanding you can now see where you are moving.

In reflecting on the pattern of use, and the associated evolutionary trends, what hit home was both the speed of the shift from the ‘traditional’ mode of use, and the reality is that much of the newer use is antithetical to that experienced during the Microsoft hegemony between 1990 and 2010 when the ‘one size fits all’ business model prevailed.

Literally, within four to five years, the pathfinders have fundamentally transformed the mode of usage, shifting from the predominantly business model, where virtually all users were distrusted and disempowered to a strong educational focus based on trust, empowerment, collaboration and the personalisation of teaching and learning 24/7/365.

Significantly, this change has occurred in a remarkably similar way in four nations, with no shaping template.

For the first time in the history of the use of electronically driven instructional technology, the students are not being taught the operational mechanics of the digital technology they are using in class, but rather the schools are recognising, from a very early age, the proficiency the children have acquired outside the school walls and are seeking to build upon that proficiency in higher order teaching.

In making that observation, and indeed all those below, I am simply describing what the pathfinders – in four nations – at their stage of evolution believe to be apposite.

  • Post-PC World

In 2010, Steve Jobs, the then CEO of Apple, spoke of the post-PC world.

While the interactive whiteboard (IWB) had played a vital role in moving teachers globally from a paper to digital teaching base (Lee, 2010) (Hennessy and London, 2013) and in reducing teacher’s reliance on personal computers, the shift away from the sole use of Windows based PCs was accelerated by the universal success of Apple’s iPhone that was released in 2007, and the release of the iPad and the iPhone Touch in 2010. They were game changers.

As is now abundantly clear, the iPhone transformed the mobile phone industry and the iPad, and the associated suite of tablets that emerged at a similar time, soon led to a pronounced and continuing decline in the sales and profitability of personal computers, and the associated software. The big players of the Windows world, the likes of Microsoft’s, Dell and HP, lost their pre-eminent position and were replaced by companies offering an ever- evolving array of ever more powerful, reliable, user friendly and inexpensive hardware, operating systems and software.

The young of the world, their parents and society in general, have normalised the use of that technology – albeit outside most walls.

Vitally, from 2010 onwards, schools throughout the developed world have had access to a plethora of ever-emerging, ever-more sophisticated, very light and increasingly inexpensive mobile digital technologies that each child can use in his/her teaching and learning, 24/7/365 anywhere, anytime, that can be readily used in conjunction with the digital technology in the school.

Increasing bandwidth, ever-greater Wi-Fi access and a veritable explosion of apps and Web 2.0 facilities have been added to that mix.

Finally schools had access to inexpensive personal digital technology that could be readily carried by every child and which could be used anywhere anytime to create all manner of multimedia works.

The pathfinder schools, by virtue of their evolutionary status and mindset, were immediately able to capitalise upon those technological developments and use them to further their evolution and transformation.

What we see with the technology usage in 2014 in the schools that have reached the digital normalisation stage is the following:

  • Strong nexus between school’s shaping educational vision and use of digital technologies.
  • School community working within a networked mindset.
  • Use of the digital technologies normalised and central to all school operations, educationally and administratively, in and outside the school walls.
  • Principal’s orchestration the school’s use of the digital in all operations.
  • School/home/community pool their digital resources and expertise, and collectively fund the school’s digital technology.
  • School digital leadership:

facilitates and supports normalised whole of school community use of their choice of digital technologies and operating systems

provides specialist expertise to school and its leadership

responsible for network infrastructure

has attuned operations to accommodate on-going change and evolution.

  • Students/parents are responsible for choice, acquisition, care, operation, maintenance, understanding and eventual replacement of the suite of personal digital technologies used in class.
  • School ensures student equity.
  • School complements the student’s technology ensuring that each teaching room always has the apposite, current student creation and whole of class presentation technology.
  • Students from mid elementary school years are primarily responsible for understanding the general workings of their choice of digital technologies.
  • Teachers focus on applying that understanding in higher order teaching.
  • Schools recognise the digital learning that children acquire outside the school and build upon it.
  • Schools shifts to every greater use of the cloud in their operations.
  • Students comfortably use a mix of old and new technologies, choosing to ‘write’ with pencils, crayons, biros, styluses, real and virtual keyboards and their voice.
  • Network connectivity is primarily via Wi-Fi.
  • Schools network usage planning based on three plus digital devices per student.
  • School’s website is open to all interested and is central to the school’s operations, teaching, communication and on-going development.
  • There is normalised use of an integrated, multi-faceted, multi-way digital communications suite.
  • All or most social media filters are either removed or appreciably liberalized.

What is important to appreciate is that while the 2014 snapshot of the pathfinder’s situation is important as a guide, it is even more important to note the key trends occurring with the technology usage, to recognise each will be impacted by Moore’s Law, natural growth and ever-rising expectations and that schools need to position themselves to accommodate those trends, and to be able to readily and naturally work with on-going, often rapid and uncertain change.

The traditional digital technology model was in many respects an approach for a world of relative constancy and continuity. While it could accommodate technological development, it most assuredly could not accommodate, let alone support, rapid organisational transformation.

In your planning for a world of constant change and evolution, the key is not simply to view the situation in schools now but also to bear in mind the key trends and the implications for your school. The annual Horizons reports ( have as a collection over the last decade identified many of those trends. The journeys of the pathfinders provide an even more in-depth insight. Many of the trends you will likely be aware of but there are a number only now appearing. Note the:

  • On-going rapid evolution of the technology, with it moving from being highly expensive, immature, user unfriendly, heavy, basically stationary, unreliable and requiring very considerable support to becoming ever more sophisticated, ever lower cost, consumer friendly, reliable, light, highly mobile, able to be used any place anytime by even the youngest of school students.
  • Ever increasing need for greater bandwidth.
  • Moves to make ever greater use of Cloud services, educational and administrative when the bandwidth becomes available.
  • Escalating rate of technological development and competition, and the associated movement away from one to multiple operating systems. Concomitant is the shift from the use of one common instructional technology and operating system to an ever-greater array of technologies, operating systems and software applications.
  • General shortening of the life cycle of the digital technology, with even the most popular of technologies remaining current for often only a few years.
  • Dramatic evolutionary jumps occasioned by game changing technological developments.
  • Ever greater digital convergence, and its impact on the integration and efficiency of school operations.
  • Ever-greater student freedom and flexibility accorded by the ever-improving wireless technology. Related is the growing facility for the personal mobile technology to operate via a telecommunication carrier’s network or Wi-Fi.
  • Increasing trust and responsibility accorded to the students, the teachers and the home.
  • Ever greater importance of personal 24/7/365 network connectivity for all within the school’s community.
  • Escalating call for ever more personalised teaching and services, both face-to-face and online.
  • Sustained currency of the individual’s suite of technology increasingly handled by the market place, with a changing role for the school ICT experts who move from how to operate to how to integrate.
  • General move from specialist to everyday consumer technology with the one unit, like a tablet able to perform a multitude of functions.
  • Shift from unilateral control of the school’s technology to a more distributed mode of control, where all the users collaborate and have a significant voice in the selection and use of the technology.
  • School digital leadership moving from a control over role to become the technology expert within a wider team.
  • Shift from high to miniscule technology mystique and paranoia, with both all but disappearing as the technology use is normalised by all in school’s community.
  • Ever greater importance of the school website in the school community’s teaching and operations.
  • Move from high, paranoia like web filters to ever lesser use and possible removal.
  • Digital and network use ever more normalised and central to all teaching.
  • Increasing propensity for students to acquire their own software applications that they will likely use in and outside the classroom.
  • Increasing ability of schools to secure quality packaged teaching materials online free of charge, and thus obviate schools buying expensive e-texts.
  • Continuing shift to place the learner more centrally in the teaching and to give the learner increased responsibility for managing and operating their own suite of ever-evolving digital technology.
  • Diminishing role of teachers in teaching the young how to use their technology, with the teachers focussing increasingly in applying the functionality in higher order teaching.
  • While still early days, the signs are that there will be ever greater use of the online learning analytics in the assessment of the students.

Space precludes my delving in-depth into these trends. Suffice it to say the desire here has been simply to paint the general picture and that the more detailed analysis will be found in the publication Digital Normalisation and School Transformation that will be published in 2014.


In closing, it is important to stress that the pattern of use described is occurring within the schools currently operating within the digital normalisation evolutionary stage; schools that have, over considerable time, readied every part of their school ecology and learning culture to work that way.

As stressed in earlier writings, one cannot take elements of a higher-order ecology, such as that found in the pathfinders, and successfully transplant it in a lower-order ecology. It will not take.

Schools need to ready themselves and to have moved through the earlier evolutionary stages before they will be able to successfully experience the pattern of technology usage being employed by the pathfinders.



Hennessy, S., & London, L. (2013). Learning from international experiences with interactive whiteboards: The role of professional development in integrating the technology. OECD Education Working Papers No. 89.

Lee, M (2010) ‘Interactive whiteboards and schooling: the context’Technology, Pedagogy and Education Vol 19, No.2, July 2010

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Mal Lee
Mal Lee is a former director of schools, secondary college principal, technology company director and now, author and educational consultant. He has written extensively on the impact of technology and the evolution of schooling.

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