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Learn computer networking with online courses and programs

Smartphones and digital devices connect to the Internet and to each other using computer networking. Securing these networks has become increasingly important for business and personal use. Learn computer networking with courses delivered through edX.

What is computer networking?

The system that links a group of independent computers and other devices, like printers, is called a computer network. The connection between the devices is created using cable or wireless technology, and its effectiveness depends on that of its hardware and software components. Some of these include:Footnote 1

  • IP addresses, which can be thought of as a device’s unique identifier. This is the number that allows other devices to connect and communicate with the web and one another.

  • Nodes, which refer to any connected device that has the ability to communicate with other devices within the network.

  • Routers, which serve as liaisons between devices. They help facilitate communication between networks by determining the best path for data transmission.

  • Switches, which enable the creation and communication between devices on the same network. 

  • Ports, which refer to specific connection points within a network device. This can include ethernet ports, USB ports, or other physical endpoints.

  • Network cables, which provide physical connections between network devices. The type of the cable needed will depend on the network size, various elements, and distance between devices.

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How to use computer networks

One way to connect a device to a network is through a local area network (LAN). This is a common way for employees to access a shared server. When an employee wants to open a file or access the company intranet, they can do so by using a connected device within a certain distance from the server. With many employees working remotely, companies are also providing access via virtual private networks (VPNs), which aren’t limited by geography. Depending on the protocols set up by the system administrator, some users may have more or less access than others. 

Building these types of networks requires planning and skill. Computer devices need a shared operating system, some form of network security, and Internet protocols to keep sensitive information safe. These elements all require knowledgeable professionals with computer networking experience to create, operate, and maintain them properly. 

Types of computer networks

There are many types of networks available for personal and professional use, which include both hardwired and wireless options. The level of access you choose will depend on the needs of your organization or household. Factors such as traffic levels, accessibility, and cybersecurity protocols can also be determining factors when selecting a computer network.

In addition to a LAN, you might access shared devices in the following ways:Footnote 2

  • Campus area network (CAN), which can connect individuals within a university or school district. 

  • Enterprise private network (EPN), which allows individuals within an organization to share internal resources at high speeds. This can add a layer of security for more sensitive data.

  • Personal area network (PAN), which connects a small number of devices within limited proximity to one another. Bluetooth connected devices operate via PANs.

  • Storage area network (SAN), which is used to store large amounts of data without compromising network speed.

  • Virtual private network (VPN), which is an Internet-enabled private, secure connection. It is similar to an EPN, however, its access is not limited to private users.

If you want to learn more about these and other types of computer networks, online courses are available for learners who want to advance their careers and knowledge. edX provides a variety of educational options, ranging from specialized boot camps to full degree programs that can enable you to earn a bachelor’s degree or, for more experienced learners, a master’s degree.

Computer networking course curriculum

As businesses and homes become increasingly reliant on technology, professionals who comprehend the dangers of cyber attacks and the potential harm of broken connections are needed. Those who want to understand the basics of building computer networks can explore introductory courses with lessons on networking protocols, network components, firewalls, flow control, and more. 

Foundational classes may also cover the three types of deployment available when activating a wireless network. These include:

  • Cloud-based deployment: The server operates on a cloud network, where all users can access the information via an Internet connection.

  • Converged deployment: All connected devices are operated via a single switch. The switch can also operate as a wireless controller for wired devices.

  • Centralized deployment: The server functions as both a data processor and traffic manager for a localized group of users.

Advanced courses can cover more in-depth topics like cloud computing applications, quantum sensing technologies, and encryption. Cybersecurity knowledge can help you keep your network secure and your users safe from malicious attempts to obtain sensitive information. You may choose to learn network security as part of a larger program, or advance your existing technical knowledge by obtaining a specialized certification. In fact, edX offers accelerated cybersecurity boot camps for learners interested in upskilling quickly. 

Discover computer networking jobs

Network management has become increasingly important as more devices require connectivity to the Internet and other systems. Computer networking skills can provide rewarding career opportunities for anyone interested in technology hardware and software, as well as the components of computer systems. Security is also essential, whether devices are connected to private business networks or public Wi-Fi.

If you’re eager to pursue a tech career, some of the jobs that rely on computer networking skills include:

  • Systems administrator: These professionals establish and maintain their organization’s servers, controlling the flow of information between users and devices. Understanding network technology can help them devise efficient processes that eliminate bottlenecks.Footnote 3

  • Network engineer: These professionals design computer networks for both personal and professional use. They ensure that users are able to connect to the network and access the appropriate information when requested. Cybersecurity knowledge can also be helpful in this role.Footnote 4

  • IT technician: These professionals can have a variety of responsibilities depending on the needs and size of their organization. This usually includes troubleshooting network issues, installing new hardware, or setting up new employee workstations.Footnote 5

  • Database administrator: These professionals ensure that information is available to those who need it, and is protected from unauthorized access by those who do not. Knowledge of computer networks can help provide full context around database creation and administration.Footnote 6

How to become a network administrator

As with many careers that require technical expertise, computer networking jobs may require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, information technology, computer engineering or a related field. Others may ask for a master’s degree or additional certifications.Footnote 7 Due to the evolving nature of technology, professionals in this space are expected to engage in continuous learning in order to stay up to date on new developments in the space. 

Role requirements will vary based on the position and employer, so be sure to read through each job description to determine your best educational pathway to a new career. Then, you can start your educational journey or continue your professional development with online courses delivered through edX. 

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