A Brief Timeline of Burrhus Frederic Skinner and His Teaching Machine

Upon review of a variety of articles on the history of educational technology, I have found a recurring reference on the subject of B.F. Skinner and his teaching machine (Benjamin, 1988; Bruckner, 2015; Spector, Merrill, Elen, & Bishop, 2014; Watters, 2014). Burrhus Frederic Skinner, was a research psychologist, who was renown for his theory of operant conditioning (Bruckner, 2015). Skinner had also created a teaching machine to enhance to the academic advancement of the learner (Watters, 2014).

Below is an abbreviated timeline of B.F. Skinner and the era that revolves around his teaching machine. You may find a more detailed background and timeline of Burrhus Frederic Skinner on a website dedicated to his life and work entitled “The B. F. Skinner Foundation” at http://www.bfskinner.org

Note: This timeline was designed using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.


Benjamin, L. T. (1988). A history of teaching machines. American Psychologist, 43(9), 703–712. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.43.9.703

Bruckner, M. (2015). Educational technology. ResearchGate. https://doi.org/10.13140/2.1.2180.9449

Ferster B. (2014). Teaching Machines: Learning from the Intersection of Education and Technology. Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/lib/royalroads-ebooks/reader.action?docID=3318857

Spector, J. M., Merrill, M. D., Elen, J., & Bishop, M. J. (Eds.). (2014). Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology. New York, NY: Springer New York. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-3185-5

Watters, A. (2014). The Monsters of Education Technology, 207. Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/audreywatters/the-monsters-of-education-technology.pdf

Digital Photograph References (left to right)

01 – Baby pram from 1910. Photo taken in Open Air Museum Massing, Bavaria, Germany. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Baby_car#/media/File:Kinderwagen_korb_01.jpg

02 – Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y. Retrieved from https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/99/Hamilton_College%2C_Clinton%2C_N.Y._LCCN2007661271.tif

03 – Portrait of Ivan Pavlov, Russian physiologist and experimental psychologist. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ivan_Pavlov_LIFE.jpg

04 – Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, Harvard University. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Harvard_University#/media/File:WidenerLibrary_HarvardUniversity_Springtime.jpg

05 – Teaching machine, designed by B. F. Skinner. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Skinner_teaching_machine_01.jpg

06 – Baby Crib Photo. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=baby+rattle&title=Special:Search&profile=default&fulltext=1&searchToken=49tn1qwz72b9n4p96xhcm68k8#/media/File:Baby_carriage,_rattle,_barefoot_Fortepan_58242.jpg

07 – Pigeon Photo. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/pigeon-bird-feral-pigeons-2548578/

08 – B.F. Skinner at Harvard circa 1950. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:B.F._Skinner_at_Harvard_circa_1950.jpg

10 – Old Microphone. Retrieved from https://www.pexels.com/photo/night-music-band-microphone-9137/

11 – IBM logo history. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:IBM_logo_history.PNG

12 – A Mongolian typewriter used on the Central Eurasia Program of FBIS during the 1950s. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?search=1950+typewriter&title=Special:Search&profile=default&fulltext=1&searchToken=dgbfddl57lp7xrvmcqwy2wr76#/media/File:FBIS_Central_Eurasia_Program_Mongolian_Typewriter_-_Flickr_-_The_Central_Intelligence_Agency.jpg

13 – Machinists and toolmakers making experimental engine parts at the Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory, 1946.Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machine_shop#/media/File:Machine_Shop_Men_GPN-2000-000364.jpg

14 – Old Book. Retrieved from http://www.freeimages.com/photo/old-book-1-1417902

15 – Grave of B.F. Skinner and his wife, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner#/media/File:BF_Skinner_Grave.JPG

3 thoughts on “A Brief Timeline of Burrhus Frederic Skinner and His Teaching Machine

  1. Steve,

    Thank you for your critique. I used Adobe Photoshop for the resampling of photos, and Adobe Illustrator for layout.

    It was fascinating to learn so much about Skinner and his teaching machine.


  2. Great topic! It is so interesting that one of the first prototypes for for IBM was specifically made as a “learning machine” and not just a calculator, as it later came to be. So interesting.

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