Learning and Technology: How learning evolved since ancient times

Since ancient times we craved knowledge; we sought it out and shared it with each other. We have always found ways to improve how we share information with each other. We have always had natural curiosity to find about things, explore and conquer difficulties and solve problems. All of that curiosity is what drove us forward and what made us build our modern civilization.

learning, heiroglyphics, technololgyIn ancient times around 3500BC, ancient Egyptians created Hieroglyphics in order to set down laws and teach the rules. And in 480BC the Greek historian Herodotus first wrote about the abacus. The ancient Egyptians also used it as a counting mechanism and for trade. The earliest surviving abacus, the Salamis Tablet, is from around 300 BC and was used by the Greeks.

analogue computer, learning, technology, evolved

You might find this surprising but the first computer was made at around 150BC. Yes, you read that right it was 150BC. But they were analogue computers, they weren’t anything like our traditional digital computers which you are probably reading this article from. They were constructed to perform astronomical calculations. These devices contributed to the education of society and to the knowledgebase of the Greeks. Those computers almost never crash and didn’t need software updates.

printing press, learning technologyThe quill pen first appeared at around 700AD and it helped making writing and documenting things easier.  750 years later in 1450AD, Johannes Gutenberg created the first printing press by adapting existing technologies and making inventions of his own. His invention made copying documents much easier, spreading education to the masses. In 1795 the pencil was first invented and made learning even cheaper and accessible to the masses. To help educate more people about numbers, the first mechanical calculator called the Yazu Arithmometer was patented in Japan in 1903. Professionals (as well as students) would continue using those for many decades later.

radio, old, learningIn the 1920s, the radio sparked a new wave of learning for students. On-air classes started popping up for anyone with listening range. Followed by the overhead projector in the 1930s, the ballpoint pen in the 1940s and the headphones in the 1950s. Learning and education started to prepare and look more like education right now. The photocopier (1959) and the handheld calculator (1972) also played a big part in teaching and creating material for the students.

IBM, computer, firstBut something was still missing and education wouldn’t have advanced as much without it. It is the personal computer that changed the whole perspective of education and learning. Although the first computers were developed in the 1930s, every day-use computers were introduced in the 1980s. The first portable computer created in 1981 by IBM weighed around 11 kilograms (24 pounds) and cost $1,795.

In 1990 the World Wide Web was born when a British researcher developed Hyper Text Markup Language, or HTML, and when the National Science Foundation removed restrictions on the commercial use of the Internet in 1993. After that the world completely changed and the way we gain our knowledge massively changed as well. Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2007) changed the world of communications. They connected the whole world and made it easier to gain knowledge from the experts.

In 2008 the first MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses appeared. It was called ‘Connectivism and Connective Knowledge/2008’. This completely revolutionized how education works. It made it possible for people to take classes, courses and learn new things from anywhere in the world as long as they had an internet connection.

And now in 2016 new technologies are evolving that might change education even further. Augmented reality and virtual reality could be the next big thing in education. Nobody knows what’s in store for learning in the future, but we know that the way we learn has evolved and changed a lot by looking back at our past.


Written by: Osama Waheib

May 30, 2016

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