A Digital Architecture for Education: Technology Transformation from Inside Out

By James Hope

Note: James is Head of Digital Strategy at a leading independent boys school Trust in London. James previously worked in Digital Strategy and Transformation at Deloitte, leading technology transformation programmes in data and information strategy for organisations including BP, the European Bank and Cancer Research. For more details you can find James on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jamesdometthope/



Having landed on this page you must already have some conviction to the idea that digital technology is a force for good in our schools, colleges and universities. Yet you, like I, will most probably know fellow educators that profoundly disagree with this notion, who rather believe that technology is superfluous in education and how young people learn. Suffice to say that technology in education has been divisive, and as I will come to argue in the following chapters of this book, might have been better conceived and anticipated by governments and educational leaders, for a number of reasons.

I believe that digital technologies will radically transform education in the next 10-15 years. I believe that technologies will change how institutions function, not just in terms of learning and teaching but across their entire operation, to such an extent that how we understand the education market and how young people approach their learning will become remoulded and understood in terms of technology.

I believe too, that schools, colleges and universities have no other option but to embrace the technological future and that to remain competitive and endure, they will need to engage with technology, change and adapt. My conviction to this is simple as I hope you will agree compelling: in an world that is increasingly digital and online, our schools have a responsibility to empower young people with technology, so they can realise its many benefits, not just for learning, but for participation in the global digital society and economy in which they will enter into. Schools, colleges and universities that recognise this can empower the young people in their care with digital technology, and those that don’t will in time be seen to be out of touch with how young people want to learn and the reality of a jobs market that is increasingly digital and technological.[1]

That is not to say that institutions must now embrace all technological innovations and trends; for such a naive approach will, as particularly some schools might readily admit to, lead to a hotchpotch of technologies with no measurable outcomes or clear idea of the value of technology expenditure. Rather, to find ‘their way’ through what is an increasingly complex market offering of educational technologies and offerings, institutions can take a education-first approach to digital innovation and have assurance that expenditure on digital technologies is leading their institution to perform better and improve educational outcomes. In the following chapter I present to you my thoughts on this, as a teacher and technologist, engaged in this great education debate.

Finally, the message in this book is for all educators; for those working in primary, secondary and tertiary education, as teachers, lecturers, tutors, instructors, in supporting roles, in leadership roles and everything in between. We all share a common goal: to improve the outcomes for the young people in our care, and it is in our common interest to understand how digital technology enables us to do this.


Chapter 1, What went wrong?

A major and inescapable force driving our schools ever closer to a technological future is an ever growing, international demand for a good school education. Technology in education, in schools, colleges and universities can be of critical importance for governments and schools in meeting this demand and in driving down costs. In this technological future, what might the ideal conditions be for technology to flourish; and, what might be learned from the experiences and approaches taken by schools, colleges and universities in digital technology?

The Science of Learning

It is quite remarkable that in many educational institutions, costly decisions about technology in learning are made with little or no consideration to educational need or the science that supports our modern understanding of learning. If the interface between teaching and learning science is truly broken, then how can institutions make well informed decisions about technology in learning.[2]

For schools, colleges and universities to make sense of the innovations in learning technologies and the choices available to them, they must too, understand what makes learning happen best for their particular learning context. This leads me nicely to my next point, and the importance of innovation in our schools.

Foundations for Innovation

Maintained schools have, until recently, existed under local authority control. Teachers have been, and continue to be, rewarded on the principle of years of service rather than on individual progress or merit. Furthermore, the profession is deeply unionised, although increasingly less so, and reform in schools especially, no matter how seemingly pragmatic and sensible, can be tediously slow. And whilst many schools have chosen to become academies relinquishing local authority control and acquiring new freedoms in the process, the historical inertia within these schools has made it difficult for school leaders to establish new foundations for real innovation and progress.

The systems of control imposed upon schools have been so prohibitive in making technological progress that it is hardly surprising the boldest innovations, in secondary education, have been in the independent sector. One example of this is at Dulwich College, where ‘innovation labs’ with flexible spaces and furniture are enabling teachers to break the mould of the Victorian-esque classroom, challenging teachers to re-think their use of physical space and technology in teaching and learning.[3]

Empowering teachers and instructors with the freedoms and incentives to explore and take risks with technology in teaching and learning is key to fostering a culture of innovation schools, colleges and universities.

Digital Expectations of Young People

Education is, after all, about serving the educational needs and interests of young people. This might seem like a rather obvious statement to make, but if young people love to use technology then why is it that technology is so often left out in how we expect young people to learn?

Indeed, the very fact that young people are engaged by technology in their learning is a powerful answer to the argument made all too often in education: that students already achieve outstanding grades and why should we consider doing things differently. This view might be acceptable if made from a position of conscious competence; in other words, that as educators we understand the learning value of the technologies available to us and to our students, but that we choose to employ low tech means in the confidence that these will benefit learning the most. But in my experience, this argument is rarely made from a position of conscious competence, but rather from a position of unconscious competence, where educators are competent at what they do but simply don’t understand the possibilities that technology has to offer to them and their students.

A position of unconscious competence is easily challenged. Questions, such as, ‘What opportunities have students had to use digital technology in their learning?’, will expose the simple truth of the situation. Such a question might highlight complacency or it might highlight a lack of confidence and support. Either way, educators and institutions that are unconscious to the potential of technology run the risk of being viewed as esoteric and out of touch.

There is a lot that schools can learn about the potential value of technology from the higher education sector and engaging with students about their digital expectations and experiences with educational technology as many universities do, should surely become the norm in all schools and colleges.

IT Governance

As technology has become more important in education and in learning, and as technology innovation continues to gather pace, never have institutions and educators been faced with the prospect of so much change and potential for disruption.

My own experience working as a teacher and technologist in secondary education has been that schools have found the area of IT governance especially challenging, not least because of the demand on time and costs in human resource that effective change in this specialist area can sometimes require. Additionally, in some institutions and in schools especially, IT departments have been run as fiefdoms and simply failed to transition to an IT service that is able to support the complex technology needs and priorities of teachers, instructors and students, to whom technology has become mission critical. Suffice to say that in the absence of effective governance and consultation with end users will almost certainly lead to a situation where technology is not only poorly utilised but contribute to a culture of disengagement from technology altogether, as many institutions and particularly schools will attest to.

For all institutions, but for schools especially, the challenge is balancing educational needs with other priorities. In recognising this, and the strategic value that technology programmes can deliver, an increasing number of schools and colleges now appoint a ‘Director of Technology’ or ‘Director of Digital Strategy’ or similar within the academic leadership team whose responsibility it is to understand and develop educational needs for technology across the curriculum, and oversee change management. The separation of duties between the development of educational requirements and IT service and provision, offers an important check and balance in the governance of technology and leads to overall better decision making.

Systems of governance and change management are therefore of critical importance in successful digital transformation. Firstly, in making sure that technology projects and programmes deliver value to end users, that is the teachers, instructors and other business stakeholders using the technology; and to the institution, by making sure that resource and time invested into projects and programmes can be measured against strategic aims and objectives and that institutions can gain assurance over technology expenditure.


Helping young people navigate the dangers and risks of online technologies is a challenging area for all schools. The statutory safeguarding guidance Keeping children safe in education, 2015, recommends that governors and proprietors should consider a whole school approach to online safety, but stops short at recommending the sorts of approaches schools should consider.

It is perhaps no surprise that the approach taken in many schools is one of prohibition; young people learn about online safety but are ring fenced from the dangers so that schools can gain assurance over safeguarding obligations being met. Such an approach, in which decisions about what is appropriate or not appropriate are made by the school, will surely fail our young people in helping them to make their own decisions and judgements about the risks and benefits when they use technology outside of school. Moreover, this approach only further entrenches the idea that individual rights and freedoms, when it comes to digital technology, are absolute; when in fact in a world where the digital rights and freedoms are being threatened and eroded, we should be empowering our young people to question the balance of individual liberties with the power of the state.[4]

An approach where young people are not only taught about the risks and dangers of online technologies and appropriate online behaviour, but are able to use online technologies and learn from their mistakes, within the relative safety of a private network, and on enterprise rather than public platforms, is surely a better overall strategy.

Open Standards

The development of content, media and data on proprietary platforms in unportable formats has caused many institutions to become trapped with legacy platforms that no longer serve their best interests or face the prospect of huge disruption. Whilst this might be considered characteristic of an emergent and burgeoning industry market, it is one of a number of risks of being an early adopter of technology, that schools and colleges particularly have failed to anticipate.

Schools, colleges and universities should look technologies that confirm with open standards, particularly where educational data and content is concerned. Open standards means brings two important benefits. First, with the threat of other competing technologies that conform to the same standards, technology vendors are compelled to remain competitive and value their relationship with existing customers. Second, if an existing technology becomes defunct because of bankruptcy, legacy software that is no longer supported or another technology is deemed to be better suited, institutions can port content, media and data to a new system or platform with much greater ease.


Chapter 2, Benefits for Education

The increasingly great choice for schools, colleges and universities in technology provision has compelled institutions and educators to think more critically about the value that technology has to offer in education and in learning, discussed in the sections that follow. In Chapter 3, I present an approach to digital transformation in education and learning that puts education and learning first.

Digital Domains of Knowledge

So much knowledge now exists in digital forms and formats, online, on the Internet, on virtual private networks, on open and closed platforms.[5] Not only this, but technology has changed how young people construct knowledge and participate in knowledge creation.

In the curation of content, as learners set about finding and organising information on a particular issue, digital and online technologies are of most obvious benefit. In Bhargava’s The Five Models of Content Curation, the models of curation: aggregation, distillation, elevation, mashups and chronology are not just benefitted but reliant upon technology. Simply, without technology, the curation of content is limited to non-digital forms and the act of finding and organisation information becomes considerably more time consuming.

Suffice to say that how institutions empower young people with the technology, to curate content and interact with digital domains of knowledge, is one of obvious potential.

Access & Reach

Technology is profoundly changing how young people access education and learning. Educational technology is changing the on-campus, in-class experience by extending the learning beyond the walls of the classroom or lecture room so that time on campus can be spent on assessment, discussion and consolidation of what has been learnt. In doing so, it has enabled educators to take an entirely different approach in learning and teaching. We often here about ‘flipped’ learning, an approach to learning which is, to a lesser or greater extent, made possible by technology and in particular, the access to learning and teaching that technology provides.

This has led many schools, colleges and universities to reorganise physical space, to the extent that some institutions the classroom and lecture theatre are being altogether abandoned for open, informal spaces with Wi-Fi where students can access a range of online and individualised learning resources.

But remote technology is working at an even more fundamental level than this: it is reforming the entire demographic of schools, colleges and universities. It is providing young people will more choice about how they wish to learn and be educated. Many universities export learning to open online learning platforms or MOOC’S (Massive Open Online Courses) or learning management platforms. These platforms are allowing educators to reach a global audience of students and institutions to market themselves on a global stage.

Remote learning has its own challenges for institutions, but the idea of affording higher quality teaching to even greater numbers of students, remotely, through virtual environments and classrooms is one that, I would argue, is surprisingly underdeveloped.

How technology is improving and enabling access to learning is, without a shadow of a doubt, a truly transformative force in education and learning.

Personalised Learning

The third area of transformative potential is personalised learning. Modern educational technologies are enabling students to follow learning pathways that are highly differentiated, where the learning is continually adapted suit the individual learning needs and progress of the student. Such deeply individualised approaches to learning are difficult to achieve without technology. And though adaptive learning algorithms give us a glimpse of how machine learning and AI (Artificial Intelligence) might transform education and learning in the future.

AI in education could, in theory, accelerate the natural inequalities in the learning of young people and allow us to do away with our current system of standardisation. AI might also provide students, parents, teachers, instructors and other stakeholders more objectivity about a student’s learning needs or the intervention required than a human instructor could typically provide. Indeed, perhaps human interaction in the learning that happens in universities, colleges and even schools might become rare; leading to a ‘premium’ style of education for those that can afford it. In the current climate of shortages of good school places and teacher shortages, AI is likely to lead to some challenging questions about the future of education in our schools and some difficult decisions for policy makers. But whether AI could offer the same level and type of emotional support that students, and particularly younger students, seem to be benefit, through their relationship with a human instructor or teacher is, as yet, unclear.


Chapter 3, Digital Transformation

High quality teaching is as important in schools, colleges and universities as it ever has been, though today, educators have the opportunity to augment technology to leverage the ideas that are so fundamental to learning; to deliver learning in a way that suits the way that young people want to learn, and to enhance learning yet even further. With the EdTech industry forecast to double in size by 2020, institutions will be confronted with an increasingly complex and convoluted market offering of educational technology products. Understanding disruptive technology trends and making sense of an increasingly complex educational technology market presents a formidable challenge for all educational institutions, not least because the most fundamental question of all – how technology makes learning happen best – is dependent upon a specific school or learning context and individual needs for each student. Formulating an approach to digital technology in our schools, colleges and universities that puts education and learning first is more important today than it ever has been.

Chapters 5 – 10 of this book describe such an approach, or a model, for digital transformation. This model enables projects and programmes to be seen in the wider context of a higher agenda of digital improvement; and, conversely, programmes and projects to be prioritised according to strategic aims and objectives. Like all models, they are liable to break or they may not fit precisely. Though the value of such a model, well fitting or not, is in the structure and direction it can provide in project planning and in making decisions about technology.

Digital Capability Model

In this model, transformation is segmented across six broad areas: data, communication, teaching and lecturing, learning, people and culture, and change. These six areas – or Digital Channels – are supported by a seventh channel, infrastructure and networking.

In each channel, institutions progress through five levels of digital capability shown in Figure 1 below.[6]

Figure 1: Digital Channels & Digital Capability

As institutions progress through the levels, the benefits derived from technology become ever more great. For example, at Level 3 and Level 4 in the Data and Communications channels, technology becomes strategically valuable. At Level 3 and Level 4 for Teaching & Lecturing, technology is guided by pedagogy, and for Learning, technology is guided by the learning context.

It is important to note at this point that digital capability, according to this model, is not about how well adopted a particular technology is. Rather, is about technology supports institutions and educators within each channel. At Level 4, for Learning, the technology becomes deeply contextual and it is in fact entirely plausible that levels of adoption may vary more with some types of technologies.

Chapter 4, Transforming Data

Understanding performance data is what enables institutions to improve. This digital channel is about utilising digital technology effectively to get the most from data and is being driven by 3rd generation MIS (Management Information Systems) that are enabling institutions to become data-driven and instantly evaluate their performance at every level.

Level 1: Initiated

At this first level, data and management information is recognised as a valued resource in evaluating performance and identifying areas for improvement at all levels within the institution. There is a need to understand and participate in external data benchmarking system.

Level 2: Organised

At this second level, management information systems are utilised as part of a well organised and coordinated approach to managing the collection, analysis and reporting of data across the institution. Practitioners are supported and trained in the use of tools for assessment and performance evaluation.

Level 3: Strategically valuable

At this level, management information systems are utilised as part of a well organised approach to managing data that supports strategic aims and objectives of the institution. Assessment and benchmarking is a valued tool for evaluating performance against strategic aims and targets.

Level 4: Data driven

At Level 4, data about the data or ‘metadata’ drives decision making. In teaching and learning, data informs and in some cases drives decisions about intervention and enables practitioners, curriculum and pastoral leaders to monitor the effectiveness of interventions as well as the effectiveness of the systems that support this.

Level 5: Optimised

At this last, aspiration level, there is a continual drive and appetite for improvement in the use of data to evaluate and improve performance at all levels. Emergent data systems and technologies are continuously and critically evaluated against institutional needs and aspirations through engagement with vendors.

Chapter 5, Transforming Communications

This Digital Channel is about utilising communications technology to better serve the information needs of practitioners, parents and institution leaders. This Digital Channel is being driven by innovations in the next generation of management information systems, enabling institutions to facilitate administrative communication tasks and provide information to parents and student groups instantly and on demand.

Level 1: Initiated

At this first level, there is a realisation that digital technologies can better serve the information needs of parents, practitioners and student groups; improve the efficiency of administrative communication tasks.

Level 2: Organised

At this level, communications technology is utilised as part of an organised and unified approach to communications. Communications technologies facilitate administrative processes for reporting and the VLE and MIS are used in conjunction with other messaging systems to engage students in learning.

Level 3: Strategically valuable

At this level, communications technology enables student groups, practitioners and educational leaders to access information and information about student attainment and progress is accessible on demand, supporting strategic priorities and programmes

Level 4: Data Oriented

At this level, communication is almost entirely targeted and relevant, and increasingly driven by data.

Level 5: Optimised

At this level, there is a continual drive for improvement in the use of communications technology to better serve teaching and learning. The benefits of emergent communications technology and information systems are evaluated through engagement with vendors against institutional needs and aspiration.

Chapter 6, Transforming Learning

This Digital Channel is about embedding digital technology into the learning context to improve learning outcomes.

Level 1: Initiated

At this first level, there is a realisation that technology is creating new opportunities for learning. There is a need to understand how technology can enhance learning traits – collaboration, interactivity, creativity, media literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, global connectedness; and improved participation and engagement.

Level 2: Valuable

At this level, technology is valuable in particular learning contexts. Technology infrastructure is acknowledged as being ‘mission critical’ in teaching and learning, and driving digital practices and innovation. Practitioners are well supported in utilising a wide range of learning tools.

Level 3: Contextual

At this level, the benefits of learning technologies are understood in the context of the institution, subject and curriculum. Practitioners are encouraged and supported in exploring technologies in areas such as student-centred and problem-based learning. Systems and structures encourage learning innovation and use of technology to improve learning outcomes.

Level 4: Deeply Contextual

At this level, technology is deeply grounded in the specific learning context. Physical spaces are re-envisaged to support innovation in learning and adoption of learning tools. Practitioners have a deep understanding of their learning context and are experts in digital pedagogies to improve learning outcomes.

Level 5: Optimised

The institution is effective at identifying and embedding learning technologies that improve learning outcomes as the technology landscape develops and evolves.


Chapter 7, Transforming Teaching

Digital technology is improving the way practitioners teach. This Digital Channel is about embedding digital technology in lesson planning and delivery, enabling practitioners to collaborate remotely and develop engaging interactive digital content.

Level 1: Initiated

At this level, there is a realisation that technology is a valuable teaching tool, enabling practitioners with opportunities to collaborate more effectively in the planning of lessons and to develop engaging interactive content.

Level 2: Valuable

At this level, digital technology is used extensively in the planning and delivery of lessons leading to positive teaching outcomes. Training and CPD supports practitioners in the use of technologies including virtual teaching tools, interactive technologies and the creation of digital teaching resources.

Level 3: Pedagogical

At this level, digital technology is informed by pedagogical best practices. Training and CPD in digital technologies lead to digital approaches that are successfully embedded.

Level 4: Deeply Pedagogical

At this level, digital technology is deeply informed and led by pedagogical research and the latest research into learning science.

Level 5: Optimised

At the final level, there is a continual drive and appetite for self improvement in how technology can improve the development and delivery of the curriculum.


Chapter 8, Transforming Change

Change is disruptive. This Digital Channel is about winning over support for digital approaches and leading and supporting individuals through change to minimise disruption and to bring about a digital transformation.

Institutions benefitting most will need to be engaged in the big educational questions about the impact of technology in learning. They will need to be open to change; have systems and structures in place that foster innovation and enable the incubation of ideas whilst ensuring that how technology is used is grounded in good practice and is always relevant to the learning context.

Level 1: Initiated

At the first level, there is a need for a digital transformation and change as aims and goals are increasingly reliant upon technology.

Level 2: Co-ordinated

At this level, digital initiatives are well coordinated across the institution. These initiatives are effective in achieving digital approaches that are well embedded and technology that is mostly adopted.

Level 3: Strategically valuable

At this level, change management structures are effective in meeting strategic objectives. Digital project ideas are evaluated against strategic goals; projects are planned leading to digital approaches that are fully embedded and technology that is fully adopted.

Level 4: Business-as-Usual

At this level, change is ’Business as Usual’. Digital technology proposals and plans are routinely informed by and evaluated against pedagogical best practice.

Level 5: Optimised

At the final level, there is a continued effort to improve the systems, roles and responsibilities for change. The outcome of digital change management initiatives are continually evaluated against digital change objectives, and needs are prioritised and supported where necessary.


Chapter 9, Transforming People & Culture

A digital culture is what allows digital innovation and creativity to grow and digital initiatives to succeed. This Digital Channel is about changing attitudes and perceptions to digital approaches through enabling practitioners, parents and institution leaders to realise the benefits of digital technologies.

Level 1: Initiated

At this first level, there is a growing willingness to listen to“the technology disruptors” and ideas to drive improvements in teaching, learning and assessment. There is a growing interest in learning technologies in and outside of the classroom and technology systems that offer improved efficiency in facilitating administrative and data intensive tasks.

Level 2: Collaborative

There is a culture of collaboration, exploration and measured risk-taking in the use of digital technologies in the classroom. Practitioners are supported and encouraged to explore digital alternatives to teaching and learning. Digital technology innovations and change are met with caution but persistent efforts in winning over support lead to technology and systems that are effectively embedded.

Level 3: Embraced

There is a growing culture of digital opportunism and support for digital alternatives. Caution is met with digital opportunism, and digital change initiatives are embraced leading in technology that is fully embedded.

Level 4: Adaptive

At this level, approaches to using digital technologies are embraced and technology is perceived as an enabler rather than as a barrier. There is a willingness to adapt to and trial digital approaches in teaching, learning and curriculum development.

Level 5: Optimised

At the final level, there is a self fulling culture of digital innovation and creativity.



Technology is transforming education, not just in terms of teaching and learning but in the entire operation of educational institutions and the choices that young people have about how they wish to learn and be educated.

The increasingly great choice for schools, colleges and universities in technology provision has compelled institutions and educators to think more critically about the value that technology has to offer in education and in learning.

A culture of innovation is key.

I hope that by writing this book I have, at the very least, challenged you to consider a few of the opportunities that technology has to offer; to your institution, but most importantly of all, to the young people that you teach.

But I hope I have achieved more than that. I hope that this book has caused you to think about digital transformation and overcoming barriers to technological progress within your own institution.

Thinking deeply about the reasons why technology is good in education and in learning means that transformation in our schools, colleges and universities can be from the inside-out rather than the outside-in; in other words, technology can be strategically valuable to our institutions and intrinsically valuable in learning, for our students and for our purpose as educators.



[1]     Education, D. F. (2016). Keeping children safe in education: Statutory guidance for schools and colleges. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/550511/Keeping_children_safe_in_education.pdf.

[2]     Didau, D. (2016). What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong? (Paperback edition). Crown House Publishing.

[3]     Gray, S. L., & Phippen, A. (2017). Invisibly Blighted: The digital erosion of childhood. UCL IOE Press.

[4]     Bhargava, R. The Five Models of Content Curation. http://www.rohitbhargava.com/2011/03/the-5-models-of-content-curation.html.



[1] Throughout this book, the words ‘digital’ and ‘technological’ are used interchangeably.

[2] This point is made powerfully by David Didau in his book ‘What if everything you knew about education was wrong?’

[3] Flexible space here refers to collapsable furniture with writable surfaces and multiple project surfaces.

[4] This point is powerfully made by Gray and Phippen in their book entitled ‘Invisibly Blighted: The digital erosion of childhood.’

[5] An increasing amount of information and knowledge is only available in digital formats, for example, podcasts.

[6] Digital capability is sometimes also referred to as digital maturity.


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