IT Trends

Post-Pandemic Learning Frameworks Require Better, More Agile Networks

The COVID-19 pandemic has deeply impacted all elements of life, but few more so than education. The ways that we educate our youth and support our teachers and administrators have had to fundamentally change as the world adjusted to the circumstance of the pandemic with remote learning.

Now, as vaccines roll out and we enter — hopefully — the final stage of this coronavirus era, schools are readying their return to the classroom, if they haven’t begun the process already. This past year cannot be undone or simply forgotten, however, and changes to the role of technology in education will persist in various capacities and bring new requirements for network infrastructures.

Schools need smarter and more agile networks to respond to the demands of a digital learning environment that is still in the throes of major changes. For many schools, this means the displacement of legacy WAN (wide area network) architectures with SD-WAN (software-defined wide area networks).


SD-WAN allows network managers to harness the power of the internet with software-based control to ensure applications' performance is maximized, network reliability and stability is improved, and security and privacy is assured. Through this approach, the network can flex to meet changing needs and scale to meet high demand, making it more suitable to run cloud-based applications.

For example, SD-WAN can provide schools with cost-effective connectivity to transport vital information supporting school administration and course curriculums, while also prioritizing specific applications that the school categorizes as critical for employees and students. This management and prioritization allow schools to dictate what content and applications get bandwidth priority, optimizing both the learning environment and the ability of teachers and administrators to succeed in their roles.

SD-WAN also improves access to cloud applications that are becoming ever more important in the classroom and for blended learning scenarios. Network managers can prioritize application traffic to ensure it takes the most direct, lowest-latency path. This means organizations are equipped with the agility to optimize the network and prioritize mission-critical or latency-sensitive applications, like e-learning tools and the video and voice functionalities that are so critical to both remote learning today and the future of in-person and online education.

With so much of education — whether in-person or remote — dependent on the internet, reliability and availability of internet services is more important than ever. SD-WAN allows schools to use multiple internet access services using different technologies such as fiber, broadband or wireless that seamlessly work together, eliminating dependence on any single circuit and ensuring services are available when needed.

Partnering for Simplified Installation & Management

In addition to the significant performance benefits that software-defined networking technologies can offer, when deployed as a fully managed service, SD-WAN allows schools to focus solely on their mission of bringing the best educational opportunities possible to students. Working with a partner for managed network services allows schools to leverage the support of an experienced telecommunications service provider that can assist in everything from network design, implementation, management and monitoring, to gathering quotes from access partners, and guiding strategy to maximize subsidized E-rate benefits and manage USAC/FCC requirements.

Recently, Charter Schools USA (CSUSA), one of the largest and highest-performing education management companies in the U.S. with more than 75,000 students across five states, selected a managed SD-WAN solution for 86 of its school locations. While the pivot to SD-WAN is an endorsement of the solution’s capabilities, the size of this deployment makes clear the value of working with a managed network service partner to simplify the implementation and management of the network.

The past year has taught us that it is always wisest to prepare for an uncertain future. The move towards SD-WAN in education is not just an effort to solve specific challenges that have come about with the explosion of cloud-enabled learning, but it prepares schools and educators to meet other challenges that may arise by arming them with the secure and agile network that is flexible enough to overcome new challenges today and in the future.

About the Author

Todd Kiehn is vice president of product management at GTT Communications.