On the Job Learning: The Gutenberg Phase

September 17, 2013 by Wally Bock

Johannes Gutenberg invented his printing press in 1455. What did people do with it?

In the beginning, they produced books that were just like the books people had been creating for centuries by hand. The first printed books had the same subjects as those other books: the Bible and religious commentary, mostly in Latin. That was OK, because there was no distribution system in place to move lots of books to people who might want them and not a lot of people could read anyway.

During the next few decades there were small changes in books and how people used them. Ink, paper, and typography got better. Page numbers were invented. Printers sprang up. It took until the early 16th Century for everything to be in place so that people could read The Prince (1513) or Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible.

When it comes to learning on the job, we’re still in the Gutenberg phase. We’ve got lots of neat, new technology, but we’re mostly using it to do things the same old way.

Ever since the Medieval universities, education has been mostly a mass production medium. One person, at the front of the room, taught a bunch of other people gathered for the occasion. When people talked about “Lifelong Learning,” they usually meant going to class.

With mass produced education, the emphasis is on teaching. But today, there’s no reason we can’t flip the emphasis to learning. When we do, we’ll be aligning our systems with the way human beings naturally work, and that will be a good thing.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Leadership Development

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