Digital normalisation: The imperative for all schools

Digital normalisation occurs when the use of the digital technology across all facets of the school operations is so natural, and so accepted, that it appears to be almost invisible.

While the young of the world, their parents and developed societies have normalised the use of the digital in their everyday lives and moved their daily operations to an ever higher plane, the majority of schools globally have yet to do so, with most lagging behind general societal norms and expectations, and still operating in a lower order paper-based culture.

Today’s developed societies, with their digitally empowered parents (Project Tomorrow, 2011) and pervasive application of the digital in every facet of life, should rightly expect schools to provide a higher order education at least consonant with, if not slightly ahead of, the societal norms of the digital and networked world.

The teachers and schools appear to concur. In the school consultations and leadership workshops I have conducted, I have yet to encounter a teacher or school leader who doesn’t believe that in time every school will normalise the use of the digital. Throughout Australia proactive schools, often with the support of their education authority, are striving for that normalisation (Lee, 2013).

Moreover, all the schools and teachers accepted the observation made by Helbing (2014), that in relative terms developed societies are at an early stage of digital evolution and the application of technology, and only when schools have achieved digital normalisation will they be in the position to continually take advantage of sophisticated technology and meet society’s expectations.

With digital normalisation schools are operating within an evolving, higher order, tightly integrated, increasingly education-focused ecology that simultaneously addresses all the variables that enhance each child’s learning. Vitally, they are in the position to harness considerable untapped learning potential (Lee, 2014).

When students have in their hands the suite of personal digital technologies that they use 24 hours, seven days a week, the way is opened for schools to readily harness that technology and benefit from the opportunities being opened in every area of learning; to further lower the school walls, to better individualise teaching and assessment, to interface with the apposite evermore powerful online learning facilities, to marry the 'in' and 'out' of school learning and teaching, and for the children to learn in context anywhere, anytime.

With digital normalisation, the school weaves through its total fabric a fibre that is not constant in form but which seemingly magically grows more sophisticated and powerful, enabling the school and its education to grow, evolve, move to a higher order, and to grasp the relevance of unimagined educational opportunities.

By normalising the use of the children’s own choice of technologies, schools are removing from their load the onerous ongoing burden of funding, choosing, setting up, controlling, maintaining and replacing rapidly evolving personal technologies, while positioning themselves to use the current technologies that each child deems apt.

Tellingly, every pathfinder school studied that had normalised or nearly normalised the whole school community use of the digital had in their evolution not only adopted a remarkably similar mode of schooling but had also evolved a mode appropriate for a digital and networked world. The nature of the schooling at the digital normalisation stage is fundamentally different to, and in many respects, antithetical to that provided in the traditional paper-based school.

Significantly, most of the distinguishing attributes of the ‘new’ mode of schooling are those of the wider socially networked world. The schools, like most other networked organisations, are constantly evolving, with more integrated and networked operations. They employ a networked mindset, and are strongly based on genuine collaboration, the distribution of control, inclusiveness, a concern for equity, trust, respect, empowerment, recognition of the different needs of each person and the understanding that learning and teaching is no longer restricted to the physical place called ‘school’. There is the recognition that each organisation is unique, and each needs to take control of its own evolution.

The schools have skilfully integrated the best practises of the old with the new.

Analyse the ‘46’ key variables that each of the pathfinder schools simultaneously addressed in their evolutionary journey (Lee and Broadie, 2014) and you’ll appreciate the consonance with wider societal evolution, but also why these schools have, over time, been able to shape an ecosystem that makes possible the successful digital normalisation and which positions the school to continue providing the desired education while constantly evolving.

In brief, the pathfinder schools’ experience and time on the journey underscores the imperative of shaping a mode of schooling, a desired totality, an ecosystem, a culture that both facilitates and continually supports the successful and evolving mode of digital normalisation.

The pathfinders’ journeys highlight the fallaciousness of imagining it is simply about providing everyone the technology. Every day one reads of ‘School X’ buying iPads, or ‘School Y’ asking the students to acquire a particular Chromebook and declaring that would educate the children for the 21st Century. It won’t.

There is a very good reason why, as yet, so few schools globally have normalised the use of the digital. The schools, their staff, students, parents and community have to be readied and virtually every facet of the school’s operations transformed in order to provide the necessary supportive ecology and culture.

That readying takes years (not months), committed and astute school leaders, a driving educational mission and the concerted simultaneous addressing of a sizeable suite of interlinked variables.

First, the schools have to move to a digital operational base, where all or nearly all the teachers are using the digital technology in their everyday teaching.

From that base an astute school leadership, with the requisite digital acumen, needs to move the school through the early networked and networked evolutionary stages, all the time contending with the significant natural, and at times chaotic growth, and greater organisational complexity, all while constantly shaping the desired ecology and moving the operations to a higher order.

When the teachers are of mind to lower the school walls, to genuinely collaborate with homes, to distribute the control of the learning and teaching, to understand that formal schooling occupies less than 20 per cent of the children’s learning time each year and to recognise the learning and teaching occurring in the remaining 80 per cent, the school can then seriously contemplate a Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) program. It can then embrace the educational principles that Lee and Levins (2012) identify as critical to the successful whole school uptake of the children’s technology.

BYOT is a critical precursor to digital normalisation. The school has to be of a mind, and have a culture where it is prepared to trust and respect the children’s and parents’ choice of technologies. The school must distribute the control of the teaching in order to genuinely collaborate with its homes and to recognise and capitalise upon the learning that is happening 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Achieve total student usage of their own technology and everyday use of technology in class and not only does BYOT as a term drop from the vernacular, but schools recognise that with the children’s proficiency in using their chosen kit, it is no longer necessary, even at a very early age, to waste valuable time teaching them the workings.

The teachers are able to build on the digital normalisation and apply the functionality and immediate availability of the digital tools in all manner of higher order teaching situations, working collaboratively at the right moments to continually enhance that functionality.

That said, this natural, almost invisible, higher order educational use of evermore sophisticated technology and, vitally, the associated learning ecology, has taken the pathfinders many years of concerted whole of school community effort to achieve. Those school’s leaders have envisioned the opportunities possible, put in the concerted effort and are finally beginning to exemplify why, in time, it will be imperative for all schools to fashion an ecology where the use of the digital is normalised.


Helbing, D. (2014). What the digital revolution means to us. Science Business. Retrieved 12 June, 2014 from

Lee, M. and Levins, M. (2012). Bring Your Own Technology. Melbourne: ACER Press.

Lee, M. (2013). Schools Take Charge of Evolution and Technology. Educational Technology Solutions. No. 56

Lee, M. (2014). Digital Technology and Student Learning. Educational Technology Solutions. Retrieved July 15, 2014 from

Lee, M and Broadie, R. (2014). A Taxonomy of School Evolutionary Stages. Australia: Broulee. Retrieved from

Project Tomorrow (2011). The New Three E’s of Education: Enabled, Engaged and Empowered. Speak Up 2010 National Findings Project Tomorrow 2011. Retrieved from

Does your school have a BYOT program?

Has there been any evidence to suggest that the program has increased student engagement levels?

What is the next step that your school needs to take in order to get to a stage of digital normalisation?