Jonathan Swift & E-Learning

This article is the opening editorial for the journal E-learning.  I wanted to just record one insight that I found especially interesting.  The author writes that Jonathan Swift’s “writing machine” in Book 4 of Gulliver’s Travels reminds him “of various ‘teaching machines’ that promised an automation of teaching and learning. And perhaps also thinking, in the sense of metacognition models based on computer simulations…” (p. 2).

Peters writes this because he wants readers to understand that “[w]ith e-learning, then, we must be willing to recognise the deep structure of the medium…” (p. 1).  Nevertheless, E-learning, he states, was founded with “the clear policy intention of scrutinising the dominant technicist view” (p. 5).  More importantly, in our “rapidly evolving contemporary history, one might be tempted to think that the history of teaching and learning machines, indeed, the history of e-learning, was purely a technical matter, prescribed by technological change and the invention of machines. Yet this machinic history certainly gives way when the events are relocated within a wider political economy of learning and educational change and when the ‘culturalisation’ of technical knowledge raises the stakes of the argument, as an example of symbol manipulation” (p. 3).

I think these statements are interesting about the importance of the wider political and cultural factors.


Peters, M. A. (2004). E-learning machines. E-Learning, 1(1): 1-8.


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