Modern Technology and the Return of Oral Communication

Posted: February 27, 2010 in edushifts, reflections

One could easily make the claim that when it comes to communication, the rise of modern technology beginning in the early 20th century has ushered in a resurgence in the use and importance of oral communication skills. Prior to the development of writing, oral communication ruled. Writing, a technology in and of itself, changed society radically in that it allowed people to communicate with other people over vast distances of both space and time. While oral communication skills ruled when it came to communication with someone in the immediate vicinity, writing became a powerful communication tool for those beyond the immediate vicinity.

True, writing was a skill learned only by the privileged elite for centuries. However, the advent of the industrial revolution, the development of the printing press, and the organization of public schooling changed all that. The primacy of writing became so prevalent that, I would argue, more thought and effort were placed on developing reading and writing skills and less on the development of oral communication skills. Classical definitions of literacy always include the ability to read and write an only periodically included the ability to communicate orally. It appears to me that the thinking was if a person could read and write, the would be able to use words in oral speech as well.

The advent of the telephone, the television and radio began to change this as new electronic technology allowed people to record spoken words and transmit them over large distances of space and time. The tools to record and transmit spoken words were kept in the hands of the wealthy until the dawn of modern digital and handheld technology. Now, with the ability to transmit audio and video recording in the hands of everyone, the ability to communicate orally becomes very important once again. It’s not that oral communication was ever considered unimportant, it just that for centuries, reading and writing took more of the centre stage in society and in schooling.

This blog post, then, is a form of a plea to educators who continue to relegate oral communication to the background of language arts education.  It’s a plea to encourage more group discussions and oral communication in daily lessons instead of the one speech or oral presentation per term comprising the total grade for oral communication.  Quiet classrooms may be easier to manage, but they are not necessarily the environment where learning can be maximized.  the development of oral communication skills is richest when planned conversation is included daily in the youngest of grades and continues every year throughout the schooling years.

The connection of the focus of oral communication to modern technology is obvious – oral and visual communication skills allows one to use handheld technology that features voice and camera functions more productively.  This is not to devalue reading and writing as these continue to be very important skills.  The idea is to re-elevate the development of oral and visual communication skills to the same level as reading and writing.

  1. Raj Boora says:

    You make an interesting point with quiet classrooms – I think that is the relic of the era where children are to be seen and not heard and where the written word, was the only one that mattered (heaven forbid a child misspeak to an adult). Quiet rooms also speak to the nature of the other place of learning that many societies also have – the church or the temple. Quiet as to allow for reflection and the transmission of commands in one direction.

    But without communication in both directions, you get at best a library without a librarian or, at worst, a propaganda machine with limitless resources. If we continue to ignore our seeming return to a more oral society, I think we do it at the great peril of our educational institutions. Students will learn about their own world and self organize their learning, much to the chirgin of ivory tower educators everywhere, making what they are told to remember in the antiquated classroom even more irrelevant.

    • Learning in a modern world needs to more about engagement with the learning content and the learning materials. Classrooms where students work together and have conversations around the subject matter are those where higher-level learning takes place.

  2. Orlando says:

    I think that Modern Technology is one of the greatest discoveries thus far. Unfortunately it has been clearly taking advantage of. Instead of society using it solely for improvement, it seems as though we are using it for convenience instead of improvement. for instance the the invention of the cell phone was to allow individuals the ability to multitask and be more productive. Instead of having a home phone or pager and having to either wait at home for a phone call or find a pay phone. The invention of cell phones made it so that we could do things like go to the grocery store and still receive that important phone call. With the cell phones we have today we can take pictures, use the internet, send texts, check emails among countless other things cell phone are capable of. Although I do not agree with the use of this technology, I have to say that I do have a cell phone with those abilities as well. However I very seldom use it for more then making and receiving phone calls. I love technology just not for the purpose the majority of us use it for.

  3. Your point is really valid. It is important that we consider the impact of Oral and Visual communication in learning. Visuals definitely enhance learning and spoken words also have a great impact. For some content types, videos may be a better option than reading something. Good videos on science experiments can be used in m-learning environment.

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