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Socrates famously held a low opinion of writing, believing it encouraged superficial understanding. True understanding, he argued, requires face-to-face dialogue. This is not found on the written page; rather it is achieved through dynamic question-and-answer exchanges involving challenging and reframing ideas across a range of perspectives. Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI), like ChatGPT and Google Bard, exemplifies Socrates’ concerns about the educational significance of writing. If AI can be used to complete assignments by generating elegantly framed essays, it calls into question why academic writing skills have become such a key aim of education.

So, how did we reach a point where advances in technology pose a threat to our established educational methods?

In our forthcoming book, The Theory of Educational Technology: Towards a Dialogic Foundation for Design (Wegerif & Major, 2024), we argue that considering education technology from a broader historical perspective can help us better understand the impact of emerging technologies like GAI. This reveals that technology has consistently played a central role in education. The first schools were established in Ancient Sumeria as scribe schools with the purpose of supporting a new technology: inscribing cuneiform marks in clay for preserving contracts and stories. In the 17th century, Comenius proposed today’s ‘modern’ schooling system around the new technology of print, viewing education as the process of imprinting knowledge on learners’ minds. An aspect of education has always been ensuring that individuals internalise and adapt to the latest forms of communication technology.

‘An aspect of education has always been ensuring that individuals internalise and adapt to the latest forms of communication technology.’

If we acknowledge technology has consistently played a role in shaping educational systems, to understand education we need theory that considers the distinctive ‘voice’ of technology. Socrates emphasised the importance of spoken language. Different technologies since – such as print textbooks, blackboards, and now electronic screens – offer educational affordances that need to be understood. GAI based on large language models (LLMs) is no exception. This is not an ‘intelligence’ set against humans, but rather a language assistant serving as an interface, accessing and making available the resources of the continuously expanding internet. Engaging with GAI effectively enables a dialogue with the collective knowledge documented on the internet about a topic, or at least that indexed by searchbots informing the LLM, potentially offering a new form of educational dialogue if we can learn how to use it. This new kind of dialogue is both collective and individual, with the act of framing questions and responding to answers opening a personal dialogic space of reflection unique for each user. There is also obvious potential for GAI to be used as a support for guided small group inquiry learning.

GAI challenges us to recognise how the dominant understanding of knowledge has been shaped by print technology. Knowledge is often portrayed as something that can be transmitted into minds, like a diagram in a textbook that students memorise and reproduce in exams. This is rather different from knowledge understood in oral cultures, such as the one that influenced Socrates. It is also likely to be different from the way we understand knowledge in future societies using new modes of communication. At this time of potential transition, it is important to re-evaluate our assumptions and reflect on the fundamental purpose of education. It also raises the question: How should we design the future of education?

Considering the educational use of GAI offers clues into the nature of education beyond a focus on literacy, numeracy and standardised curriculums of the kind proposed by Comenius. Our work suggests the challenge posed by GAI should inspire a rethinking of education as dialogue. This includes face-to-face and face-to-interface interactions, as well as dialogic engagement with the long-term and often global dialogues of culture. Such a shift may better enable learners to participate in the ongoing journey of collective knowledge and identity formation. To achieve this, there is a need for a new form of education that emphasises AI Literacy, or the competence of being able to effectively work with AI. Education can no longer overlook the voice of technology. It should focus on enabling students to learn effectively alongside GAI, functioning as part of a cybernetic team.

Socrates’ method of focusing on asking better questions appears to be a timely response to the challenge of GAI. To design the future of education in response to GAI, we may need to return at least partially to the oral traditions of education, when dialogue was valued more than written texts, and exams were conducted through verbal questioning – viva voce, meaning with living voice.


Wegerif, R., & Major, L. (2024). The theory of educational technology: Towards a dialogic foundation for design. Routledge.