While revolutionary inventions affect every aspect of our culture and way of life, their greatest impact is not the individual changes they make in our economies, labor markets, or industries, but rather on the way we think and learn. Perhaps no advancements have more potential to influence our thinking and learning than those made in publishing and information technology. By altering the ways in which ideas are disseminated to the public, publishing changes our relationship with information and can have drastic effects on society, culture and education. In his essays “The Next Information Revolution” and “Beyond the Information Revolution,” Peter Drucker examines the psychological impacts of the printing revolution in fifteenth century Europe as well as the current Information Revolution. By putting modern advancements into historical context, Drucker shows that as the role of information in our lives changes, so does our conceptual meaning of education.
Like the computer, the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in the 1440s made publishing cheaper, faster, and easier, spreading the ability to read, write, and publish ideas to a much larger segment of the population. With printing no longer an exclusive activity of the church, the first purely secular books began to be published on subjects like science, philosophy, and politics. Eventually, brand new social institutions organized around the new ideas that were finally able to spread more easily with the advent of print publishing. More and more universities were founded, and, unlike the schools of the previous century, they were not for educating on theology, but for teaching disciplines like law, medicine, and philosophy.
As we bring digital publishing technologies into the modern day classroom, tools like personal computers, e-readers, iPads, and electronic textbooks bring us greater access to finding and sharing information. They are allowing for ideas to be published in entirely new mediums, changing the way information and ideas are spread and thus impacting the way we learn.
Advances in publishing that took place in the fifteenth century not only changed what was learned, but how people learned. No longer reliant on verbal instruction, teaching methods slowly shifted from an apprenticeship model to a teacher-class model. We are seeing even more changes today as new class formats like online classes and flipped classrooms begin to evolve with the new technology available. Today we’re better able to preserve and store the ideas of scholars and educators, and the introduction of tools like Google has made searching for facts quicker and easier. Learning has become less dependent on memory and schools are becoming less concerned with making students memorize facts. Moving forward, we expect schools to continue focusing more on critical thinking skills.
Just like the printing revolution in fifteenth century Europe, today’s advances in digital publishing are having a profound impact on the way we learn. With these changes comes an enormous potential to improve the quality of education. As technology continues to expand our ability to access, deliver, and absorb information, students will continue to benefit from a more democratic exchange of ideas and unprecedented opportunities to learn.