The Open Networking Lab: an open online course for experiential learning of computer networking

Kear, Karen; Smith, Andrew; Mikroyannidis, Alex; Jones, Allan; Rosewell, Jon; Donelan, Helen; Wermelinger, Michel; Sanders, Chris; Third, Allan and Connolly, Teresa (2018). The Open Networking Lab: an open online course for experiential learning of computer networking. In: Association for Learning Technology (ALT) annual conference 2018, 11-13 Sep 2018, Manchester.



The Open Networking Lab project ( aims to provide open online resources to enable anyone to learn the basics of computer networking. The project is hosted at The UK Open University and is supported by funding from UfI ( as part of their ‘VocTech Impact 2017’ funding initiative for vocational learning using digital technologies. Central to the project is the PT Anywhere network simulation software (Mikroyannidis et al. 2017) based on Cisco’s powerful Packet Tracer simulator. Learners can use PT Anywhere to develop their skills in solving computer networking problems. The ultimate aim is to enable as many learners as possible, regardless of prior educational background, to access employment in computer networking - an area which is in high demand from industry.

The Open Networking Lab project is developing a Badged Open Course, which will be hosted on the Open University’s OpenLearn platform, where it will be accessible without cost to any learner or educator worldwide. Initial development is being carried out using the ‘sister’ platform OpenLearn Create so that the learning resources can be iteratively developed, piloted and improved prior to launch on OpenLearn itself.

The Open Networking Lab course and resources will be evaluated with learners and teachers from Further Education colleges within the Cisco Networking Academy ( The evaluation will involve hundreds of learners at different colleges within the UK. Data will be gathered from learners using surveys and observation, and from teachers via interviews. PT Anywhere and OpenLearn also provide various kinds of learning analytics. This data, with appropriate ethical considerations, will form a key part of the evaluation.

Using PT Anywhere enables an experiential and practical approach to learning (Kolb, 1984; Brown et al., 1989). Learners will be shown, primarily via videos, screencasts and animations, how computer networks are set up and configured. They will then try out these ideas for themselves using the PT Anywhere simulator. Quizzes and other forms of assessment will enable learners to demonstrate that they have gained specific skills; they will then be able to claim corresponding digital badges. This package of activity-based learning should help learners feel motivated and engaged, and enable them to gain a sense of achievement as they progress through the online course.

Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18 (1), 32-42.
Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Mikroyannidis, A., Gomez-Goiri, A.; Smith, A. and Domingue, J. (2017). Online experimentation and interactive learning resources for teaching network engineering. In: 2017 IEEE Global Engineering Education Conference (EDUCON), 25-28 Apr 2017, Athens, Greece, IEEE, pp. 181–188.

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