Schools, technology megatrends and Douglas Adams by @PendukaMark

Personalisation, Mobility and Big Data!

I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Douglas Adams wrote the above quote and it pretty much sums up the education community’s reaction to information technology to date.  So how should schools react to technology?  Hopefully, this blog will help.

It is a truth held to be self-evident that there are 3 current megatrends in technology - personalisation, mobility and big data - that according to Adams’ rules will be standard for kids in school today. These map broadly to the 4 tidal waves flagged by Microsoft at #GEPS2015 of migration to the cloud, migration to mobile, social networking and big data. So are you ready to embrace them, embed them and use them to do things better or do better things? Yes? Then great. The 21st century is opening up before you and you are going to work, learn and communicate in ways you never thought possible when you started reading this blog. If the answer is no don’t panic. You’re not the only one.

Why don’t we break these concepts down a little? That way they sound less like buzz words and more like something you can relate to and see as part of your daily life.  We can also begin to figure out what they mean for your school.


Finally, it’s all about you. It means the stuff you see on the screen (content, services etc.) relates directly to you and what you are doing. An obvious but tired example is email - you get emails sent to you and you keep ones you’ve sent to other people - that is pretty personalised.  This has developed to the point where the device is irrelevant. You get to receive stuff on your device i.e. the device you like and with which you are most comfortable - phone, laptop, tablet.  Products like Delve and the advancements in machine learning mean our IT experiences - the content and services we consume - can be shaped by previous choices and current focus. We can now separate our devices from our stuff so no matter which device you use - phone, tablet, laptop - it knows who you are and delivers the right content and services to you at the right time.  It is very personal … hence the name.

What does this mean for schools?  Well, pupils get to use their own devices if they want so the school can move to a ‘Bring your own device’ approach.  With more and more kids doing this, it means schools don’t have to fund hardware replacement to the same extent and there is a parallel reduced support cost.  So students are beginning to expect their tailored curriculum delivered to their preferred device.  Are you able to give it to them?


If you like to move it, move it then you are gonna love this. People move around now a lot more than they used to and they want their technology to support that. After all, technology is integral to how we work (not so much how we learn but change is coming) and as we become less tied to a desk and the working day moves away from the traditional 9 - 5, we want our technology to move with us.  Likewise schools.  As the Osborne scythe looms ever closer, schools are going to have to share resources, teachers, classroom etc. to check their spending. This will inevitably result in kids moving between campuses and courses being delivered online.  So can your ICT provision deliver that kind of pedagogical model?

Now, not many people actually work whilst they move.  That would involve a lot of bumping into things.  It is more about having the kind of technology (both hardware and systems) that is easy to carry, easy to connect and doesn’t give a proverbial about physical location. In schools, flipped learning (@MrReddyMaths is a great proponent of this) is getting a lot of traction at the moment.  This requires pupils to do a lot of learning at home which in turn requires them to access the content at home.  And that is mobility … learning outside the school building outside of normal school hours.

Big Data

You say data to a school and they immediately think of attainment, attendance, pupil and workforce surveys, RAISE Online and other such stuff. And they’d be right.  But big data refers to more than that.  It is taking the information you already have - maybe tweaking how it is captured and stored to ensure that it is robust - and using it to help you manage the organisation.

So what does this mean for schools and for education more generally? Well, schools and groups of schools have pupil data by the truckload. They also have HR data, finance data, asset management data, IT service data and procurement data. If you take that data and turn it into information, understand how it interacts and presents it back to decision-makers in an easily digestible format, all of a sudden you have business intelligence. Oooh, buzz word! For the Chief Executive of an academy trust, it means you can see at a glance performance levels at a school, regional or trust level for a range of different functions. This means conversations with principals and C-suite colleagues are focussed on problems you actually have rather than hunches. In turn, this will lead to the effective prioritisation of resources.   For the principal or headteachers, performance management of teachers becomes driven by real information. You would be able to ask the following types of question

  • Why are the Yr 7s doing badly in English but ahead of the curve in Maths and Science? Is there a performance management issue with Yr 7 English teacher?
  • Can I map consistently late pupils to understand if they are coming from a particular area? It will really help discussions with the LA on our joint outreach project.
  • Can I view pupil performance by subject and/or a teacher? If I can establish a pattern I can help my team plan targeted interventions.
  • Why has the English Department nearly spent its annual budget in February when all the other departments are only 50% spent. By the same token English is outperforming all the other subjects … maybe there is some to be said for spending big in the first 6 months?

In essence, big data and business intelligence are simply really powerful management tools.

So now hopefully you have a better understanding of the current technology megatrends - personalisation, mobility and big data - and what they can do for your school.  More importantly, Adams’ Rule #3 holds a little less sway over your life than when you started reading this blog.

This is a re-blog submitted by Mark Compton-James and published with kind permission. The original post can be found here. This article was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2020 by UKEd Editorial staff in accordance with website and policy changes.

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The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

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