Embracing 15th Century Learning Tech

|Matt Offord

When we read we can also join the company of authors. We can share ideas and experience with them…

Frank Smith, “The book of learning and forgetting” (1998: 24)

In 1450 Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, making it possible for ideas and experience to be shared, for the first time, globally. Knowledge could be the preserve of anyone who could read, rather than the few who owned hand written manuscripts. This did more to democratise learning than any modern learning technology.

This week I recorded how much learning I did through the medium of reading. I included the reading I am doing for the MSc in Digital Education (I am currently doing two courses together), reading for work and finally, in my leisure time. Technically, the latter category qualifies as I rarely read fiction, but if I did I would still be learning language, characterisation, story-telling etc. MSc reading is just when I am reading articles and book chapters. Work reading is usually the same kind of material, I am not counting e-mails etc., just journal articles, text books etc.

Frank Smith (1998:25) likens reading to apprenticeships, since you learn at the feet of the aithor, this is dialogue, this is true learning. Yet we increasingly denigrate it as not sophisticated enough, preferring instead, perhaps, a video presentation, passive “banking” of knowledge (Freire 1993:45).

This week was, admittedly, a good week I was reading for 4 to 5 hours throughout the week, I am proud I managed to do this around teaching, marking and admin. My apprenticeship continues.


Freire, P., 1996. Pedagogy of the oppressed (revised). New York: Continuum.

Smith, F., 1998. The book of learning and forgetting. Teachers College Press.

2 thoughts on “Embracing 15th Century Learning Tech

  1. Very much like the dataviz and the reflections on Gutenberg. If I recall, John Naughton (the Guardian tech columnist) wrote a book some years ago called From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg, which you might find interesting. An interesting historical parallel here might be how early printed texts were the basis for the expansion of particular forms of expertise and knowledge too–scientific, clerical, political. Those who could produce printed texts had extraordinary power to control what kind of knowledge was (made) available. So print was an amazing technology of democratization, but not without struggles over the production and circulation of new knowledge. Maybe experts of data hold a similar form of power to control knowledge and the interpretation of the world now too. The internet has been held up as an amazing technology of democratization, but gathering, analyzing and visualizing data from it–and in sectors such as education that depend on it–depends on certain forms of expertise, existing assumptions, and power to control the flow of information and knowledge to others.

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