A Snapshot of the History of Educational Technology

In exploration of the history of Educational Technology, defining this term seemed like a good starting point. Wikipedia defines educational technology as “the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources”. The Association for Educational Communications and Technologies (AECT) expands the definition to include theory and research in the application of best practices to progress learning abilities. What is clear from these two definitions is that educational technology is not limited to one area, rather it includes both the physical means and foundational theories to support learning experiences (Wikipedia). Educational technology also serves as an overarching term encompassing a wide range of terminologies that are not limited to, but include computer-based training, information and communication technology, e-learning, computer mediated communication, and networked learning, just to name a few (Wikipedia).

As robust as its definition, educational technology has a long and rich history documented by its many contributions to the field of education. It can trace its origins back to the first use of tools for communication and learning such as the abacus in 3000 BC to perform mathematical calculations (Englisheasily, 2012). Bates (2014) points out that technology also served as a method to backing up and preserving oral communications through the use of scrolls and slates. With the invention of visual media such as photography, films and slides at the onset of the 19th century (Sandoval, 2008), our access to learning greatly increased. WWII, in which educational technology was used for the training and implementation of weaponry in the US, revolutionized the use of educational technologies (Englisheasily, 2012). Micro-teaching, computer assisted instruction and the use of language laboratories were a few of the instructional approaches and technologies used by the military which served as a national model for innovative technologies and instructional approaches in the US (Englisheasily, 2012; Sandoval, 2008). Fast forward to today’s society, and we can see how much technology has advanced education from the days of the abacus to present day in which mobile learning and how we learn in a digital age take on a renewed focus (Sharples, 2015).



Association for Educational Communications & Technology (AECT) (n.d.). The definition and terminology committee. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from https://www.aect.org/

Bates, T. (2014). A short history of educational technology. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from https://www.tonybates.ca/2014/12/10/a-short-history-of-educational-technology/

Educational Technology. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved September 8, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Educational_technology

Englisheasily. (2012, August 7). History of technology in education (module 1) [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/1WaCn-KKprg

Sandoval, F. V. (2008, June 17). History of educational technology [PowerPoint presentation]. Retrieved from https://www.slideshare.net/lspu_eductech/02history-of-educational-technology?next_slideshow=1

Sharples, M. (2015, November 20). A very short introduction to educational technology [PowerPoint presentation]. Retrieved from https://www.slideshare.net/sharplem/introduction-to-educational-technology-55332225



5 thoughts on “A Snapshot of the History of Educational Technology”

  1. Hi Mel. Thank you for offering a snapshot of the history of educational technology. I found particularly interesting your reference to the use of learning technologies in the US Army. It looks like the military has been an early adopter of overhead projectors for training and the use of PowerPoint in presentations around 1990.


    Bates, T. (2014, December 10). A short history of educational technology. Online learning and distance education resources [blog]. Retrieved from https://www.tonybates.ca/2014/12/10/a-short-history-of-educational-technology/

    1. Hi Dino – Thanks for your comment. I was quite surprised at first to read about the influences that WWII had on educational technology in the US. In Part 1 of Reiser’s (2001) paper on A History of Instructional Media, WWII’s influence is further discussed. As you mentioned, the overhead projector in addition to others was one of the devices developed during this time. It is quite amazing to learn about the impact major world events had on educational technology.

  2. Hello Mel,

    Thank you for your snapshot of the history of educational technology! I truly appreciated your statement that the definition of educational technology is robust! Michael asked me if I felt there was a difference between instructional technology and education technology. In preparation for my response I came across several different definitions and concepts for both.

    You mention in your post how technology has advanced education. In an article by HEQCO – Pitfalls and Potential: Lessons from HEQCO-Funded Research on Technology-Enhanced Instruction, this particular statement stood out to me, “The simple presence of technology will rarely enhance a classroom. Instead, some thought has to go into
    integrating it effectively” (Lopes & Dion HEQCO, p. 2). With this in mind, do you think technology is responsible for the advancements in education or that educators have advanced in how they use technology to enhance teaching and learning?

    Lopes, V., Dion, N. (2015). Pitfalls and potential:Lessons from HEQCO-Funded Research on Technology-Enhanced Instruction. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

    1. Hi Sue – great question! I wanted to reflect on this a little more after doing our Unit 1 readings. Although I am still in the early stages of formulating an opinion on this, one could argue that the advancement of educational technology is perhaps a little of both. According to Reiser (2001), instructional technology or ‘media’ is seen as distinct from instructional design from a historical perspective. Reiser argues that the development of both areas have taken place independently of each other. From this perspective, technologies that were created, such as the networked system behind PLATO led to important innovations in the field of educational technology (Watters, 2014).

      However, as Reiser (2001) also points out from a historical perspective of the field, a range of instructional solutions have resulted from a combination of instructional design with that of technology/media. As we move forward in the future of educational technology, I wonder if we might see increased opportunities and flexibility for students and educators alike to program technology for learning purposes…and how this will advance the field of education!

      Reiser, R. A. (2001). A history of instructional design and technology: Part I: A history of instructional media. Educational Technology Research and Development, 49(1), 53-64.

      Reiser, R. A. (2001). A history of instructional design and technology: Part II: A history of instructional design. Educational Technology Research and Development, 49(2), 57-67.

      Watters, A. (2014). Un-fathomable: The Hidden History of Ed-Tech, Chapter 2. In The monsters of education technology. Licensed under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA

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