Virtual Museum Teaching Machines

Teaching machines have been around since the 1920s (for a review see Benjamin [1988]), but they achieved their most sophisticated development under Skinner (Skinner’s early teaching machines). These devices today would be classified as assistive technology devices, like the self-help devices in the Self-Management display. The method of learning through the use of material presented through a teaching machine was labeled programmed instruction.

The teaching machine was only a hunk of metal or plastic. The heart of the teaching machine was the program that delivered the material to be taught. The basic idea of teaching machines, derived from Skinner’s ideas about learning, was to break material down in such a way that learning could be shaped without, or with minimal, errors, while progressing through a series of successive approximations to more and more complicated material. The teaching machine gradually gave way to the digital computer as the programming device, but the organization and development of the material to be taught remains the key to instructional design. Good instructional designers still follow the principles set out by the 1950s and 60s generation of instructional designers in creating software that relies on the principles of differential reinforcement of successive approximations (shaping), immediate reinforcement, and step-by-step mastery of material. Each of the teaching machines shown in this display were means of presenting material arranged according to these principles to result  in an end product of more effective learning and improved mastery of the subject at hand. Teaching through programmed instruction was one of two teaching methods that developed out of Skinner’s ideas about learning. The other was Personalized Self-Instruction, or PSI. Learn more about PSI.

About Aubrey Daniels Institute

The Aubrey Daniels institute promotes research and dissemination of science-based best practices in accelerating and sustaining learning. 

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