A Curriculum For A Socially Networked Society


|  By Mal Lee and Roger Broadie |

This article will hopefully challenge the conventional thinking – that of schooling children for the 1950s. All schools should, in their teaching today, be guided by a curriculum for a digital and socially networked society, where the young are in essence being schooled 24/7/365.

Ideally, schools need a curriculum that is current, appropriate to the school’s situation, which readily accommodates continual rapid, uncertain change and school differences, is apposite for socially networked learning, that increasingly integrates the in- and out-of-school teaching and which readies each child to thrive in a seemingly chaotic, ever-evolving digital and socially networked world. That said, the curriculum should also continue to address core learning of the type fleshed by Pellegrino and Hilton in Education for Life and Work: Developing Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century (2012) and the values and human rights of contemporary society.

Crucially, schools will want a curriculum where teaching and learning can happen anywhere, anytime, in context in the socially networked world, and not as per the current situation, which is fixated on learning within a physical site, within a restricted timeframe, and which disregards learning and teaching occurring outside the school walls. Upper secondary students should be able to build upon their out-of-school learning and be able to receive part of their teaching outside the classroom, in context, collaborating with the likes of start-ups, international aid agencies, tertiary faculties, theatre companies, digital marketers, hospitality, fashion houses or automotive electricians.

Allied is the necessity of providing guidance for all teachers, as they work evermore collaboratively in the 24/7/365 development of children’s cognitive, inter- and intrapersonal competencies (Pellegrino & Hilton, 2012). While the focus of the curriculum should rightly be on the professional teacher and the critical intensive teaching that occurs within the school walls, the curriculum should also guide all those who assist to educate the young, be they the children themselves, the parents, carers, grandparents, the community mentors, or local businesses and service groups. Teaching and the curriculum should be intertwined, with the students’ needs guiding all. As schools distribute the control of teaching and learning, and work to enhance the contribution of volunteers, so the latter teachers will need instructional guidance. The vast majority of parents would benefit from schools providing somewhat more curriculum direction and support than what is currently provided.

In looking to provide that curriculum, it is vital that schools and government understand that schools will need to:

be genuinely committed to collaboration with their homes and communities, other schools and professional associations to be a successful networked school community

develop and enact a digital, networked mindset

have a supportive digital ecosystem and culture

have the agency and agility to design, implement and assess curriculum that is relevant and meaningful for their context, by responding to and shaping societal and technological changes

recognise that in an evolving socially networked society where the young learn 24/7/365, much of that learning – and teaching – will be seemingly chaotic, non-linear, synergistic, naturally yielding often unintended benefits

address equity issues regarding access to, participation and outcomes of its students in relation to technologies and learning

All are vital preconditions.

In brief, schools need to be ready to successfully teach to a curriculum for a socially networked society. Critically, that curriculum should be delivered by a school that is digitally based, socially networked and which has an ecosystem and culture that naturally promotes and supports a 24/7/365 mode of schooling. It is near impossible to teach to a curriculum that seeks to empower the young, promote risk taking, creativity, innovation, critical thinking, reflection, agility, social networking, teamwork and collaboration in a school that is risk averse, site fixated, micro-managed, tightly controlled and where the curriculum is dated and the students are disempowered. Even the greatest of teachers will struggle to provide a 24/7/365 education in the latter environment.

Michio Kaku rightly observed at the 2016 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference that most schools, by their very nature, are still geared to educating the young for the 1950s (Nagel, 2016). It is impossible – despite the government and bureaucratic spin – for the traditional, centrally developed national and provincial curricula to provide schools a current and appropriate curriculum for a rapidly evolving, socially networked world. Their development invariably takes years of committee work and, as such, they are dated well before implementation and antiquated by their next revision. They are a product of a world of constancy, continuity and government desire for control.

They are designed on the dated belief that all schools are the same, and will remain so for years to come. Schools at significantly different evolutionary stages (Lee & Broadie, 2016), offering appreciably different modes of schooling, are expected to gain guidance and direction from the one document. Schools that have normalised the whole-school use of digital and which are building upon the digital competencies their students bring to every classroom are expected to follow the same technology curriculum as those paper-based schools where the children are obliged to ‘learn’ how to use computers in the lab.

Globally, education authorities continue to ready the curriculum for their particular bailiwick, their own patch of the world, very often strongly swayed by the government of the day. Little or no thought is given to the reality of the socially networked world or ever-evolving complex adaptive systems where geographic boundaries matter little as both the schools and their instructional programs naturally evolve in a remarkably common manner globally. The young are learning and being taught, whether the authorities like it or not, in a boundary-less socially networked world over which governments have limited control.

It is little wonder that the early adopter digital schools globally have chosen to largely disregard the ‘official’ curriculum and work with like-minded schools worldwide in the design of their own.

At first glance, it could be argued that the various education authorities could, in time, particularly if they adopted a digital mindset, produce a curriculum for 24/7/365 schooling. Leaving aside the inherent inability of bureaucracies to accommodate rapid change, there is also the telling reality that schools cannot hope to successfully use a 24/7/365 curriculum until the school has readied a supportive higher order digitally based ecosystem and culture, where all within the school’s community are ready to collaborate in advancing that mode of teaching.

All can see the folly of governments trying to impose a 24/7/365 socially networked curriculum on insular, inward-looking schools unwilling to genuinely collaborate with their communities, to distribute the control of teaching and learning, to network and which are lacking the digital infrastructure and processes critical for ready collaboration.

In brief, a sizeable proportion of the schools would be unwilling or unable to work with such a curriculum.

The key is to recognise that schools, even within the one authority, are at different evolutionary stages (Lee & Broadie, 2016), to understand that those differences are on trend to grow at pace and to endorse the lead of the pathfinder schools and formally support school-based curriculum design.

By all means, provide a system and national guides for the various areas of learning, and matrices suggesting which teachers might best teach what attributes, but understand in the curriculum design that schools will never be the same again; each is unique and should shape its own curriculum. Of note is that, globally, many professional associations already provide these guides.

While some might recoil at the mere idea of a school-based curriculum and student assessment, remember that there are education authorities that have been successfully using school-based curriculum, and indeed school-based student assessment, for generations. Empowering of professionals and the expectation for them to provide instructional leadership is not new.

Helbing, in discussing the impact of the Digital Revolution (Helbing, 2014), made the telling observation that the accelerating pace of organisational evolution and transformation, and the inability of bureaucracies to handle that change, obliges the societal adoption of self-regulating units that have the agility to thrive with the ongoing change, seeming chaos and uncertainty. The pathfinder schools have adapted to that reality.


In writing this article, it is not expected that most education authorities or governments will relinquish their control over the curriculum at any time in the near future. It is definitely not expected that most will cede their control of student assessment and adopt procedures consonant with a school-based curriculum.

What they could do is revisit the warning John Dewey, one of the world’s great educators, offered in Democracy and Education (1966) a century ago: “As formal teaching and training grow in extent, there is the danger of creating an undesirable split between the experience gained in more direct associations and what is acquired in school. This danger was never greater than at the present time, on account of the rapid growth in the last few centuries of knowledge and technical modes of skill.”

All this time later, his concerns about society disregarding the ‘more direct associations’, the informal learning, and the 80 percent plus of learning time available to the young outside the school walls are that much more critical. Largely unwittingly, schooling has in its formalising of the curriculum in the 20th century created highly insular, dated learning institutions, largely removed from the real world. It is time to heed Dewey’s advice, to re-establish the connection and to create schools and provide a curriculum appropriate for a rapidly evolving, socially networked society.

The authors would like to acknowledge the support and advice given by Professor Glenn Finger (Griffith University) and Greg Whitby (Executive Director Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta) in the preparation of this article.

For a full list of references, email


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.

Roger Broadie has wide experience helping schools get the maximum impact on learning from technology. He is the Naace Lead for the 3rd Millennium Learning Award. In his 30-plus years of working at the forefront of technology in education he has worked with a huge range of leading schools, education organisations and policymakers in the United Kingdom and Europe.

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