Reflecting on Technological Advances, Net Neutrality, and Digital Citizenship


Can learning happen where there are no schools?  Reflections on Technological Advances, Net Neutrality, and Digital Citizenship


Can learning happen where there are no schools?

~ Nicholas Negroponte, 2002


Can learning happen where there are no schools? Certainly. Sugata Mitra’s Hole In The Wall project is a great example that explores how children in the slums of India learned and developed when computers were built into walls in slum communities in India. This technology was new to the people of these communities. In 1999, Computers were not available to the populations of these communities, yet through the Hole in the Wall project. Mitra suggested that children would develop computer literacy with minimal instruction, when provided with this technology. After observing that the children who interacted with the technology were able to use it effectively, they also observed that the children were not only learning the technology. They were also learning English phrases.

The experiment continued, with a microbiology component. Non-English speaking children in the village who were between the ages of 10 and 14 were exposed to basic microbiology curriculum,  mostly delivered in English first on their own, with no facilitator, and then with a facilitator who was not familiar with the subject of microbiology. At the end of each phase of this experiment the children tested at the same level as children attending a state school and who were fluent in English.

This is a perfect example of how learning can occur organically, outside of a structured school environment. Technology can enhance learning so that it can happen virtually anywhere.

Technology by definition changes the way we work, the way we play, and the way we learn. But recent technological advances have made a more significant impact by putting powerful technology literally in the palms of our hands. Smartphones and handheld tablets are more powerful than many computers. And these devices are available to almost everyone. Seeing toddlers in shopping carts at grocery stores, who are watching videos or playing games on Mom’s phone is very common these days. So as educators, how can we better leverage this technology to ensure that our learners are using this technology responsibly, to help them become good digital citizens? How can we help them see their devices as powerful tools for learning, rather than as a way to play games and socialise?

For educators to be able to integrate the use of smartphones and social media into education, maintaining net neutrality will be critical.


Net neutrality is based on the principle that Internet service providers are not allowed to limit or restrict provision of services based on the content, equipment, destination, user, and other factors. From an educational perspective, net neutrality has given us immediate access to large bodies of research, databases of literature, and much more. If this becomes limited education could be impacted negatively. According to Cuk and Robinson (2018), health care workers regularly access information that is available through dynamic internet databases in diagnosing, researching, and providing care to patients. This has carried through to those who are learning to serve in the healthcare industry. Likewise learners in almost all disciplines regularly access the vast resources available via the Internet as a result of net neutrality. (Yamaga-Lynch et al. 2017.)

If net neutrality is not maintained, the impact on education could be significant, especially with regard to online learning. Yamaga-Lynch et all (2017) use terms like “homework gap” and “digital desert” to refer to issues that already exist with learners who may be socioeconomically disadvantaged, or who live in remote rural locations. For these populations, access to reliable technology already results in limitations to access of learning. Eliminating net neutrality could result in further limitations to those in the situations described above, and could result in fewer people having access to reliable information for learning.

Educators can rethink the way that education is delivered to learners, breaking down walls, and creating learning that happens anywhere. But we must ensure that our learners are using technology responsibly and ethically, and that access to information remains unrestricted.









Cuk, N., & Robinson, C. L. (2018). Net Neutrality Repeal and the Potential Harm to Medical Education. JAMA, 319(16), 1655-1656. Retrieved 9 8, 2019, from

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Mitra, S. and Rawal, D. (2010). Limits to self-organising systems of learning: The Kalikuppam experiment. British Journal of Educational Technology, V41,No5. Retrieved from

Pariser, E. (2011). Beware online “filter bubbles.” Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles” [Video]. TED, May 2, 2011. Retrieved from


Ribble, M. (2015). Digital citizenship in schools: Nine elements all students should know. (2nd ed). International Society for Technology in Education.

Ribble, M. (2012). Digital citizenship for educational change. Kappa Delta Pi Record, issue 1. Retrieved from

Yamaga-Lynch, L., Despande, D., Do, J., Garty, E. Mastrogiovanni, J. and Teague, S. (2017). Net Neutrality and its implications to online learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, V18, No6. Retrieved from