Learning never stops: Harnessing the power of network connectivity in education

It can also be used by teachers to manage their online communications with students, via social networking sites, and to pick up coursework submissions.

The technology has already been implemented by the University of Birmingham in the UK, and is now used by an estimated 11 million students across more than 700 education institutions in America.

The cloud-based nature of the platform means network connectivity is essential to the delivery of its services, according to Kenny Nicholl, director of international expansion in the UK at Canvas.

It also brings the added benefit of allowing pupils to be flexible about when, where and how they study, and lets teachers take a more tailored approach to student support.

"With institutions having to work harder than ever to attract students and the students themselves demanding to see the value of their tuition fees, implementing [this type of] technology is a positive step towards making sure students get the most out of their learning experience," he says.

Making connections

Improved access to internet connectivity across the globe has also served to democratise education in some ways, as it has become easier for students from all backgrounds to get online and learn new things.

TED prize winner Professor Sugata Mitra is a keen advocate of using the internet to help groups of children educate themselves, without the help of teachers, through a process he calls self-organised learning.

He claims children, when given access to the internet, can work together to learn about almost anything.

With the help of self-styled professional innovation agency Made By Many, Microsoft and the team at Newcastle University, Mitra used this idea to provide students with formal self-organised learning opportunities through the launch of School in the Cloud.

Through this, parents and teachers are encouraged to give groups of children a "big question" or educational concept to get their heads around with the help of of an online School in the Cloud Self-Organised Learning Environment (SOLE).

Adults, from all walks of life, are also encouraged to get involved with this by signing up to become "Skype Grannies", who can use the video calling software to answer questions from children all over the world about a whole range of topics.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.