Socrates with students: note that Socrates disapproved of writing; only oral communication could represent 'true knowledge'.

There are several scholarly texts on this topic. Paul Saettler’s ‘History of Instructional Technology‘ is a classic, but only goes up to 1968. A lot has happened since then. What you will get here is the postage stamp version.

However, my point in doing this is to show how education has adopted and adapted technology over a long period of time. There are some useful lessons to be learned from this, even though the term ‘paradigm shift’ is justifiable regarding the invention of the Internet and its impact on education.

Table 1 The development of technologies used in teaching up to 1990


Development                          Year in general use


Teachers                                             1500 BC (at least)

Printed book                                      1450

Postal service                                    1850

Blackboards (chalk)                       1850

Telephone                                          1890

Radio                                                   1920

Film                                                     1920

Broadcast television                        1950

Cable TV                                             1950

Audio-cassettes                                1965

Computer-based instruction         1970

Satellite TV                                        1975

Laser video discs                              1975

Audio-conferencing                         1975

Personal computers                         1980

Audio-graphics                                 1980

Viewdata/Teletext                            1980

Computer conferencing (CMC)     1980

Compact discs (CDs)                        1985

E-mail                                                   1985

Video-conferencing                          1990

Projectors                                            1990

Smart Board                                        1990


Table 2 though shows the rapid expansion of new technologies introduced into education since 1990:

Table 2 The development of technologies used in teaching from 1990


Development                            Year in general use


Internet                                               1990

World Wide Web                             1990

Simulations and games                 1990

Learning management systems  1995

Browsers/web portals                     1995

Wireless networks                           1995

Mobile phones                                  1995

Learning objects/OERs                 1995

Fibre optic cables                             2000

DVDs                                                   2000

Search engines                                  2000

Social software                                  2002

Virtual reality                                     2003

e-Portfolios                                         2005

Clickers                                                2005

YouTube                                               2005

Lecture capture                                  2008

e-books                                                2009

Cloud computing                               2010

Learning analytics                           2011


Comments and questions

1. What have I missed that’s important for education?

2. You can argue about the dates. I’ve worked roughly on when these technologies have been generally available, although, in general, education takes 2-5 years to start using technologies widely that have become publicly popular.

3. Note that with the possible exception of the blackboard (the Smart Board is an electronic blackboard) and the LMS, none of these technologies was invented for educational use.

4. What constitutes an educational technology? Would you classify the tablets of stone that Moses used for the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament as an educational technology? Were St Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians an early form of distance education? How would you classify a recorded lecture from MIT that is accessed as an OER? How much does form and function rather than equipment influence the definition of an educational technology, especially since form and function can change within the same technology? When is a technology educational and not just a technology?

5. Teachers and print have been around for a very long time. It’s probably illogical to consider a person as a technology, but humans are definitely a means of communication and play (or have played) a key role in education. How to relate humans to technology in the educational process is an issue that I will come back to time and again in following posts on this subject.

6. I’ve made a division between pre- and post-Internet. I realise that a form of the Internet (Arpanet) existed long before 1990, but the combination of Internet protocols and the development of html and the World Wide Web are clearly a turning point in both telecommunications and education (at least for me). What then makes the Internet/the Web a paradigm shift? Or are they just an evolution, an orderly next step in educational technology?

7. Not much since 2005, mainly because it’s likely to take a few years to judge what’s relevant and what’s not. Only time will tell whether the last few will ‘stick.’

8. Is writing a technology? Is a lecture a technology? Does it matter to decide this?

9. The more sharp eyed or analytic of you may start to ask questions about the categorization or definition of some of the technologies listed above (quite apart from the issue of how to deal with people as means of communication). For instance computer-mediated communication (CMC) existed before the Internet (from 1978 in fact), but  isn’t it an Internet technology? (It is now, but wasn’t then) How do social media differ from CMC? Does it make sense to distinguish television technologies such as broadcast, cable, satellite, DVDs or video-conferencing, and is this relevant any more? If so, what distinguishes them and what do they have in common from an educational perspective? These are some of the issues I will be getting into in subsequent posts.


You can see I’m better at asking questions than providing answers, but we are on first steps here. I’ll discuss all these questions in following posts. In the meantime, any initial thoughts from you on these questions or the post as a whole will be most welcome.

Further reading

Some clues to how I’m going to approach these questions can be found in: Technology, e-Learning and Distance Education, Routledge, 2005. But a lot will be different, too. A more extensive reading list will be developed as we progress.




  1. As loathe as I am to mention them, one that seems to be missed is “clickers.”

    Nitpicking, but the web really dates from ’92 outside of an extremely tiny group of people. “Browsers/web portals” seems like not a useful category. “Virtual Reality” needs to be dated much earlier (I wrote part of my thesis on it in 1992.)

    Generally, I think your pre/post internet distinction/date IS valid, but the dates post-internet (which I’m obviously more familiar with) all seem off by a few years, but that’s probably here nor there.

    I very much look forward to the rest of the pieces in this series as this is a topic of great interest. Cheers, Scott

  2. I look forward to the discussions on this topic.

    Points of clarification:
    I was one of approximately 3000 people at UBC who received an UNIX account and Pine email access but that was not until at least 1991.
    Search engines for education. In 1994 I took a course at UBC titled “Using Mosaic as a research tool”. This the browser that became Netscape et al.


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