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Major Developments in Instructional Technology:
Prior to the 20th Century

Alena R. Treat, Ying Wang, Rajat Chadha, and Michael Hart Dixon
Department of Instructional Systems Technology
Indiana University

 

The purpose of this digest is to provide a history of major developments in Instructional Technology prior to the 20th Century. While this field is fundamentally a 20th century movement with the major advances occurring during and immediately after World War II, we can trace the actual beginnings of Instructional Technology to philosophers such as Confucius, Aristotle, Socrates and Plato. Comenius and many others over the following centuries gradually helped to refine the understanding of instruction.

Molenda (2001) wrote the following definition of Instructional Technology:

 

“Instructional Technology is the profession in which a knowledge of the science of instruction and the art of teaching, gained by study and experience, is applied to develop and manage, with economy and elegance, instructional materials and systems that contribute to the provision of humane, effective learning environments that are accessible to the greatest number of people, thereby advancing the progressive well-being of mankind.”

Molenda (2004) pointed out that this definition reveals four key values:  (1) access; (2) efficiency, redefined from the phrase “economy and elegance”; (3) effectiveness; and (4) humaneness. These values have been framed as factors by which to analyze the contributions of various philosophers and educators.

Analysis of the early history of Instructional Technology shows several evolving trends.  The following timeline, framed according to these four values, will describe these trends in more detail:

Values Associated with Instructional Technology

Confucianism - Confucius (551– 479 BC )

ACCESS

EFFECTIVENESS/ EFFICIENCY

HUMANENESS

Education is for everyone that is eager to learn regardless of social status (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2002).


  • Regarded learning as a highly personal/individual activity (McEnroe, 2001)
  • Individualized instruction through discussion
  • Believed that different people called for different instructional approaches
  • Took an educational approach to lead people toward a good life

(Beck, n.d.)

Sophists (500-400 BC)

ACCESS

EFFECTIVENESS/ EFFICIENCY

HUMANENESS

First recorded instance of mass instruction. (Saettler, 1990)

  • Recognized that different instructional strategies led to different behavioral outcomes;
  • Used techniques of applied analysis for effective instruction;
  • Applied systematic procedures in instruction;
  • Combined science and art in teaching through technology – Sophist legacy.

(Saettler, 1990)

  • Innovative instructional methods such as expository lectures and group discussion (Molenda, 2004).


  • Sophists were “aware of the problems associated with perception, motivation, individual differences, and evaluation”
  • The goal of instruction was a “polymath”

(Saettler, 1990)

  • Assumes that all are capable of learning.
  • Virtue can be learned

(Molenda, 2004)

Socratic  Method – Socrates (470-399 BC)

ACCESS

EFFECTIVENESS/ EFFICIENCY

HUMANENESS

 

“Socrates believed that the most effective way of teaching a student to argue logically was to engage the individual in a philosophic dialogue, in which he would attempt to argue a point.” (Inside Yahoo! Education, n.d.)

Individualizes instruction through questioning (Beck, n.d.)

Plato (427-347 BC) 

ACCESS

EFFECTIVENESS/ EFFICIENCY

HUMANENESS

 

Plato documented Socrates’ teachings.

  • Ideas exist separate from matter.
  • Human souls know everything before entering the body and become contaminated with sensory experiences.
  • One must turn away from the physical world and learn to use the “mind’s eye” to truly know the world of ideas.

(Molenda, 2004)

Aristotle (384-322 BC) 

ACCESS

EFFECTIVENESS/ EFFICIENCY

HUMANENESS

 

  • First cognitive scientist in the Western tradition.
  • The mind ponders sense impressions to find order.

(Molenda, 2004)


Sensory information is the basis for knowledge (Molenda, 2004).

Scholasticism -12th-13th Centuries

ACCESS

EFFECTIVENESS/ EFFICIENCY

HUMANENESS

Scholastic approach to instruction was instrumental in the rise of universities in Europe. (Saettler, 1990 p.28)

Abelard wrote Sic et Non, which mentioned advantages and disadvantages of “theological and philosophical propositions”. Students had the freedom to draw conclusions after reading the text. This influenced St. Thomas Aquinas who developed the Scholastic method of instruction. This method emphasized the use of syllogisms to help students acquire knowledge.
Scholastic approach “helped lay groundwork for the later system of scientific inquiry and experimentation.)
(Saettler, 1990)

 

Comenius 17th Century

ACCESS

EFFECTIVENESS/ EFFICIENCY

HUMANENESS

Proposed the system in which people advance from kindergarten through university grade levels based on ability and not on social status (Saettler, 1990).

  • Wrote Orbis Pictus (published in 1658) for children studying Latin and sciences. This book had 150 pictures that were associated with abstract word symbols. (Saettler, 1990 p.31). The use of pictures was based on the theory that people learn through senses. (Heinich et al., 1999 p.71)
  • Recommended the establishment of a college of pansophy, or scientific research. (Saettler, 1990)


  • Wrote The Great Didactic, which emphasized “a system of universal knowledge in which a methodical procedure could be applied to all problems of humankind” (Saettler, 1990).
  • Acknowledged by Piaget as a forerunner of genetic psychology because of his suggestion to divide language teaching into stages parallel to the four stages of human development. (Heinich et al., 1999 p.70)

Before 1800

ACCESS

EFFECTIVENESS/ EFFICIENCY

HUMANENESS

Predominantly individual method of instruction, group discussion not common. Most students didn’t progress beyond basic reading and writing skills (Saettler, 1990).

Teachers relied on fear to motivate students (Saettler, 1990).

Pestalozzi (1746-1827)

ACCESS

EFFECTIVENESS/ EFFICIENCY

HUMANENESS

  • Focused on the study of objects instead of words.
  • Laid groundwork for a science of instruction.
  • Demanded competence in the teachers in order to create meaningful lessons.
  • Re-emphasized the psychologized examination of learning.
  • Provided the impetus for other educators and researchers to seek the scientific discovery of better teaching methods.

(Saettler, 1990)


  • Recognized that learners have different styles; realized that instruction needs to account for the learner as a whole.
  • Focused on giving content to ideas and encouraging firsthand experience in learning environments.
  • Attempted to organize instruction based on the laws of natural human development.
  • Respected the creativity of the learner. Replaced drills with observations. Brought real life closer to the student.

(Saettler, 1990)

Lancaster (1778-1838 AD)

ACCESS

EFFECTIVENESS/ EFFICIENCY

HUMANENESS

  • Established a free school in his father’s home at age 20 to educate the poor.
  • Low-cost instructional method. Allowed teachers to teach many students through group instruction. One teacher could be in charge of 500 students

(Saettler, 1990)

 

  • Organized subject matter into a lesson plan for group instruction.
  • Lancaster studied utilized special classrooms that efficiently utilized instructional media and student grouping.
  • Cheaper, more utilitarian instructional materials.
  • Influenced centralized management practices in US schools. Encouraged systematic approaches to teaching, and laid the groundwork for modern instructional technology. Encouraged emphasis on the quality of instructional media

(Saettler, 1990)


  • Lancaster explored motivational techniques.
  • Increased the need for competency in teachers.   
  • Released “the poor and distressed of this world from the power and dominion of ignorance.”

(Saettler, 1990)

Early-Mid 19th Century

ACCESS

EFFECTIVENESS/ EFFICIENCY

HUMANENESS

1826: Friedrich Froebel  published The Education of Man; established methodical kindergarten system

1855: Mrs. Carl Schurz established first American kindergarten in Watertown, Wisconsin.
(Saettler, 1990)

1835: Johanna Herbart  published Outlines of Educational Doctrine; formulated systematic method that transferred Pestalozzi’s method of sensory impressions to intellectual level of learning:

  • Clearness (Learner’s absorption of new ideas; objects broken up into elements so learner can focus on each fact/detail in isolation)
  • Association (After learner gains adequate knowledge of an object, it was then associated with related, already known objects)
  • System (When facts are viewed in their appropriate relationship, they could be seen as an interrelated whole)
  • Method (Test system by checking relation of individual facts within it)

(Saettler, 1990)

1845: Boston Survey (wide scale assessment of student achievement). (Instructional Technology Global Resource Network, Petroni, 2003) 

1892: National Herbart Society formed. For 20 years, Herbartians wrote most educational texts and dominated several educational journals. (Saettler, 1990)


1826:
Froebel’s philosophy of education:

  • Free self-activity (directs learner’s growth; allows active creativity and social participation; readiness is a condition of man’s inner nature rather than resulting from curiosity, interest or past experience)
  • Creativity and social participation (necessary to merge individual personality with spirit of humanity)
  • Motor expression (learn by doing)

Froebel’s instructional method:

  • Children, plants or animals grow by impressing the form of their own lives on external material while developing their inner nature
  • Growth is the process of overcoming differences by finding a connection between things that first seem opposed

(Saettler, 1990)

1832: Wilhelm Wundt referred to as the “Father of Experimental Psychology” and the “Founder of Modern Psychology” established the first laboratory in the world dedicated to experimental psychology. (Petroni, 2003)

End of 19th Century

ACCESS

EFFECTIVENESS/ EFFICIENCY

HUMANENESS

  • 1,400 public kindergartens in the U.S. (Saettler, 1990)
  • John Dewey founded a laboratory school in Chicago during 1896-1904 (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001).

 

John Dewey:

  • Focused on learning through experimentation and practice (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001)
  • Applied scientific method broadly to education (Keller, 2000)
  • Advocated a systems approach (Keller, 2000)

1895–1905: Joseph Rice organized assessment program in large school systems; used for educational decisions such as standardization of curriculum (Instructional Technology Global Resource Network, Petroni, 2003) 

  • Progressive education in late 19th to mid-20th century, with John Dewey as an early proponent, opposed formalized authoritarian procedure and recognized individual differences
  • “Dewey considered education as a tool that would enable the citizen to integrate culture and vocation effectively and usefully.”

(The Columbia Encyclopedia, 2001)

 


CONCLUSION

Through their thoughtful examination of the phenomenon of learning, the early philosophers and educators presented in this overview laid the groundwork for the modern notion of Instructional Technology. The establishment of public and free schools, including kindergartens, improved access to instruction.  The Socratic method, Scholastic approach, scientific methods of examining teaching methods, the Lancaster method, Herbart’s systematic method, Dewey’s scientific method, and Rice’s assessment program, were all instrumental in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of instruction.  Humaneness evolved through the individualized instructional methods of Confucious and Socrates; the Sophists’ assertion that all individuals were capable of instruction; Aristotle’s belief that sensory information is the basis for knowledge; the arranging of teaching by Comenius and Pestalozzi according to stages of human development; Lancaster’s motivational techniques; Froebel’s instructional method; the establishment of Wundt’s Experimental Psychology laboratory; and Dewey’s progressive education.  Even in the 21st century, we are still attempting to use these ideas effectively and efficiently to grant access to a more humane education .

For further information, see the following timelines:


References

Beck, Sanderson (n.d.). Confucius and Socrates compared. Retrieved November 30, 2004, from http://www.san.beck.org/C%26S-Compared.html

Carter, L.E. (2004). Timelines: Usability and instructional technology. Retrieved November 29, 2004, from http://immersion.gmu.edu/portfolios/lcarter3/timelines.html

The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.) (2001). Progressive education. Retrieved December 1, 2004, from http://www.bartleby.com/65/pr/progrsved.html

Heinich, R.; Molenda, M.; Russell, J. & Smaldino, S. (1999). That incomparable Moravian. In Instructional media and technologies for learning, 6th ed. (pp. 70-71 ). Columbus: Merrill.

Inside Yahoo! Education (n.d.). The Socratic method. Retrieved December 1, 2004, from http://education.yahoo.com/college/essentials/articles/law/law_socratic_method.html

Instructional Technology Global Resource Network, (n.d.a). Instructional technology timeline. Retrieved November 17, 2004, from http://www.ittheory.com/timeline.htm

Instructional Technology Global Resource Network, (n.d.b). Instructional technology timeline. Retrieved November 17, 2004, from http://www.ittheory.com/timelin2.htm

Keller, J. (2000). Founding theorists and practitioners in educational technology: John Dewey. Retrieved December 1, 2004, from http://php.indiana.edu/%7Ejbkeller/R511/start.html

Lee, D. (1999). A brief history of instructional design. Retrieved November 30, 2004, from http://www.pignc-ispi.com/articles/education/brief%20history.htm

McEnroe, A. M. (2001). Confucius’s education theory. Retrieved November 30, 2004, from http://www.newfoundations.com/GALLERY/Confucius.html

Molenda, M. (2001, August). Proposed definition of Instructional Technology submitted to AECT.

Molenda, M. (2004). R511 class lecture, December 2, 2004, Indiana University.

Petroni, L. (2003). Instructional development timeline Retrieved November 18, 2004, from http://www.my-ecoach.com/idtimeline/indexlist.html 

Saettler, P. (1990). Early forerunners: Before 1900. In The evolution of American educational technology (pp. 23‑52). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2002). Confucius and education. Retrieved November 30, 2004, from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/confucius/#4


September 2006 IDT Record