There’s a new set of four episodes from BBC Radio 4’s consistently splendid “In Our Time” series honoring the anniversary of the Royal Society. I’ve just started listening to the first one, but already it seems this series will likely be at or near the level of the magnificent series on Darwin that Melvyn Bragg hosted about this time last year.
Early lessons from the formation of the Royal Society:
Their first leader, John Wilkins, was a born diplomat (a Cromwellian who could be trusted with Royalists’ children), endlessly and widely curious, thoroughly geeky (he loved automata and gadgets generally, and speculated about life on other planets), and convinced that natural philosophy, what we’d later call science, was best practiced in groups, and with plenty of informal opportunities for interaction (read: coffeeshops, where one could drink all day without falling over, but also without sleeping at night).
Some clear connections here to ideas of learning environments, integrative learning, interdisciplinary learning, autodidacticism, tinkering as a vocation, informal learning, and plenty of social learning.
The coffeeshops were called “penny universities,” because coffee cost a penny a cup. What are the equivalents today? There are usually hangouts nearby–can’t we count them as learning spaces, too?
And Gresham University at Oxford offered free public lectures on a regular basis, for those who wanted more formal learning. Something like iTunesU, maybe?
Most of all, the Royal Society offers us an opportunity to analyze a truly transformative learning community in the early modern era, one empowered by new technological platforms–chief among them print, which few today regard as a technology, though they should if they want to have any understanding at all of the communications revolution we’re currently undergoing. But that’s material for another post.
In the meantime, give the podcasts a listen, and let me know what you think.