Definitions and Historical Overview
The term technology is derived form the Greek word “techne” which means to construct.
Technology refers to the application of scientific knowledge to any practical art and does not necessarily imply the use of
machines. Although technology was first “conceived as a process related to science, art, and philosophy, the popular
meaning of the word “technology” has changed considerably” (Januszewski, 2001, p. 151), over the last 50 years technology has become associated with electronic machines and more recently with
computers and the internet. However, exact definitions of educational technology are hard to find and educators who see it
solely as the application of some electronic device as a tool to enhance learning are limited in their perspective. It is
more about using science to define learning, machines are simply an element (albeit, an important one) of the tools available
for this purpose. As Roblyer (2003) points out:
…in the view of most writer, researchers, and practioners in the field, useful definitions of
educational technology must focus on the process of applying tools for educational purposes as well as the tools and materials
used (p. 28).
The purpose of educational technology is not only to utilize existing tools to augment learning, but
to apply scientific knowledge and advances in learning theory to the application of assistive devices in the classroom. Since
the time of the ancient Greeks educators have strived to improve systems of learning. Embedded in the methods of the Sophists
were strategies associated with the development of rational thought. These early technologies helped lay the groundwork for
instructional theory which, in turn, evolved into the modern processes inherent in systems of measurement and change utilized
by today’s educational technologists. Therefore, as Januszewski (2001) states, educational technology might best be
…a “worldview” of education, which sees education as instruction. Instruction is
considered a set of activities and strategies that that can be prescribed to bring about pre-specified and measurable learning
objectives. The activities and strategies associated with this view are based on established theories of learning and are
developed and tested to ensure replicable results. As a worldview of education, educational technology emphasizes applying
scientific techniques to solving educational problems inefficient and effective ways (p. 178).
Consequently, we can view educational technology as a process that takes into account scientific advances
in the theories of learning and utilizes the most sophisticated tools available to develop educational delivery systems, but
it is important to note that differences exist between the definitions of instructional technology and educational technology.
I believe that the former is based on the systematic application of strategies and techniques derived from the behavioral
and physical sciences for the purpose of solving instructional problems, whereas educational technology is the combination
of instructional technologies for the solution of educational problems.
B) Historical Overview: Early Figures
At the dawn of Western civilization and democracy, in the Greek city-state of Athens,
the fundamentals of a new style of educational discourse were taking place. A move that changed education and learning that
up until then was derived only from the structure of tutor and student, shifted to a new paradigm as group known as the Sophists
wandered into town and began to sell their methods of teaching. This systematized method of instruction was developed “…for
the purpose of incorporating the results of learning into ways of thinking, acting, speaking, and feeling” (Saettler,
1968, p. 24).
Later they developed methods for analyzing poetry that led to the first formalized rules for governing
grammar. The influence of the Sophists was enormous their use of rhetoric, dialectic and grammar “…dominated the
design of the quadrivium and the trivium
(the seven liberal arts, as they came to be called) which made up the curriculum of European education for a thousand years
to come” (Saettler, 1968, p. 25).
The Sophists used demonstrations to lure new students into their program and once indoctrinated, these
men taught by a group method instead of one-on-one. They used the Sophistic dialogue to help develop the main principles
of instruction: form of language, form of oratory, and form of thought. The Sophists were that first to recognize that individual
differences existed among learners, and that it was necessary to utilize different instructional strategies to bring about
desired behavioral results.
In the seventeenth century Johan Amos Comenius wrote a treatise called
The Great Didactic that made him the forerunner of modern educational technology.
Comenius was credited with systematizing education.
He believed in teaching the fundamentals systematically to everyone. He
advocated the formal education of women, an idea which was unheard of in his day. His philosophy of Pansophism (meaning
"all knowledge") attempted to incorporate theology, philosophy, and education into one. He believed that learning, spiritual,
and emotional growths were all woven together. Comenius himself was a supporter of change in education, as pointed
out in Spinka (1943), Comenius’ frustration was palpable:
My whole method aims at changing the school drudgery into play and enjoyment. That [fact] nobody here
wishes to understand. The youth, including the well-born, are treated altogether as if they were slaves; the teachers rest
their esteem upon stem faces, rough words, and even in beating, and wish to be feared rather than loved. How many times have
I pointed out--privately and publicly--that this is not the proper way, but always in vain (p. 241).
This idea of a system of universal knowledge that could be applied to all people led to a graduated approach to learning. It also assisted in the
change of education as a means of developing the minds of all people and challenged the notion that only a select few could
master the knowledge necessary to evolve as both a pragmatic and a spiritual person. The modern system of kindergarten through
university was much influenced by his tenets.
C) Late Historical Figures
Johan Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827) developed a comprehensive system of instruction based on the
educational theories of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Pestalozzi took many of the ideas of Rousseau, made them less radical, and
applied them to education in ways that were workable within existing schools. Pestalozzi stated that he “wished to psychologize
instruction.". By this he meant that instruction should follow the child’s natural tendencies and that the intellectual
and physical development of the learner was based on his or her mastering “…widening circles of experience….before
the learner could enter the next stage of development” (Saettler, 1968, p. 46).
One of his great approaches, the idea of teaching by getting students actively involved in learning through using
all of their senses, became very popular. His particular method for doing this was called the “object lesson”.
Pestalozzi (1965) confirmed his commitment to the natural when he stated:
I wish to wrest education from the outworn order of doddering old teaching hacks as well as from the new-fangled
order of cheap, artificial teaching tricks, and entrust it to the eternal powers of nature herself, to the light which God
has kindled and kept alive in the hearts of fathers and mothers, to the interests of parents who desire their children grow
up in favor with God and with men (Quoted in Silber, 1965, p. 111).
He defined education as the harmonious development of
all the powers of the child, especially the intellect. This represented a fundamental shift in thinking from traditional schools
which saw education as specialized institution for the development of the intellect alone.
Edward Thorndike (1874-1949) was an instructor at Columbia University, when in 1902 he was the first to apply quantitative measures to the science of instruction. This lead to his decision
that the mind was not separate from the body but connected to the total organism, responding to the learner’s environment
and influencing behavior. Thorndike’s Theory of Connectionism differed from
other theories that emphasized practice or repetition and stated that equal concern should be given to “reward or punishment,
success or failure, and satisfaction or annoyance to the learner” (Saettler, 1968, p. 77).
Later, he incorporated this into his technology of instruction which is guided by these two rules:
(1) to put together what should go together; and (2) to reward desirable connections and make undesirable connections produce
discomfort. While, his basic principles of instruction were: (1) self-activity; (2) interest (motivation); (3) preparation
and mental set; (4) individualism; and (5) socialization (Saettler, 1968, p. 78).
The nature of the learner’s response depended on that learner’s special interests and
past experiences. In Thorndike’s view, it was the responsibility of the educator to formulate learning activities that
delivered individual variations based on the development of these principles. He also stressed the importance of associative
learning. It is important to note that “People may most effectively learn new material through mental associations they
make to material they already know” (Tiene & Ingram, 2001, p. 30).
Thorndike’s ideas and his use of empirical studies to provide a science of instruction cannot
be underestimated, and although Dewey’s philosophical criticisms against what he viewed as the promulgation of “habit”
and “systematic practice” somewhat devalued his impact, he was nonetheless, a giant figure in the field of educational
technology and his work in the field of animal learning helped lead the way for systematic studies of intelligence and learning.
Trained as a philosopher at Johns Hopkins, John Dewey (1858-1952) was fascinated by the relationship
between the individual and society. He felt that education should be viewed as a democratic process and he considered the
school a laboratory to test his notion that education could integrate learning with practical experiences.
Dewey believed that individuals were guided by their desire to learn and master the social world in
which they lived. He felt that by focusing on these natural tendencies and incorporating an instructional method designed
to give students activities of an experiential nature, it would be possible to develop minds focused on the betterment of
a democratic world. Schilpp (1934) remarked that:
…moral interest is also central in the philosophy of Dr. Dewey. Although resolute in the desire
to understand and interpret the world solely on the basis of empirical findings, he is equally concerned to use these findings
to change the world so that human goods may become more secure, more numerous, and more widely shared (p. 419).
His curriculum, which emphasized the child instead of subject matter; where the learning process was
at least as important as what was learned and where curiosity was encouraged, was attractive to many Americans. This experiment
(The Dewey School) in education influenced a multitude of educators at every level of the system in America at the start of
the 20th century.
Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was a key figure in the development of the science of instruction. Her
revolutionary technique included these characteristics:
…adaptation of schoolwork to the individuality of each learner; provision for freedom in which
the teacher did not dominate the learner nor did the learner become overly dependent on the teacher; and emphasis on sensory
discrimination, perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the system (Saettler, 1968, p. 112).
Montessori emphasized the full realm of senses with which people learn. She incorporated exercises
that focused on the tactile, visual, and auditory stimulation in learning. It can be said that the Montessori Method blended three major elements of instruction: learner
freedom, learner individuality, and sensory exploration. Montessori (1912), in reference to her method said:
Truly our social life is too often only the darkening and the death of the natural life
that is in us. These methods tend to guard that spiritual fire within man, to keep his real nature unspoiled and to set it
free from the oppressive and degrading yoke of society (p. 37).
The contributions of Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934), a Russian philosopher, to the field of educational theory have been immense. Vygotsky saw a clear connection between
cognitive growth and social growth. He noticed that children derived much of what they knew from the culture in which they
existed. Roblyer (2000) explains Vygotsky’s central premise:
Vygotsky referred to the difference between the two levels of cognitive functioning
(adult/expert and child/novice) as the core of psychological development. He felt that teachers could provide good instruction
by finding out where each child was in his or her development and building upon the child’s experiences. He called this
process “scaffolding” (p.70).
Vygotsky theorized that through the use of scaffolding
(the concept that certain tasks must be completed with assistance) within the child’s zone of proximal development (an region of maximum potential) could lead the student to not only discover
new ideas, but to develop the type of complex social awareness that is so evident in the minds and behaviors of well-evolved
Vygotsky also felt that learning needed to be tailored to each student and that uniform
methods were not valuable forms of learning. As a forerunner of the constructivist framework, he felt that teachers should
facilitate learning through the use of pertinent activities that require the interaction of diverse groups of learners.
B. F. Skinner’s (1904-1990) influence in guiding the science of behaviorism and its effects on instructional technology cannot be overlooked. He believed everything we do and is shaped by our experience of punishment and reward and that the "mind"
(as opposed to the brain) and other such subjective phenomena were simply matters of language and that they didn't really
exist. He was eager to extract from human behavior an exact science so that regulations governing
learning could be devised and then applied on a large scale. Roblyer (2000) states that:
…he concentrated on cause and effect relationships that could be established by
observation. He found that behavior could be shaped by “contingencies of reinforcement” or situations in which
reinforcement for a learner is made contingent upon a desired response (p. 78).
Skinner’s theory of “operant conditioning” stated that any organism
is most likely to repeat desired behavior that is reinforced at the time it is practiced. This conditioning will bring about
the desired outcomes of the teacher and although his experiments were performed on lower animals (rats and pigeons, for example)
he felt that with proper organization they could successfully be applied to humans.
The work of Robert Gagné (1916-2002) built upon the discoveries of the behaviorists
and the group known as the information-processing theorists. These concepts were at the forefront of objectivist
theory and Gagné was a leader in developing working models based on these notions. He is best known for introducing
his three conditions of learning subsets: the first is known as events of learning, the second types of learning,
and the third learning hierarchies. Taken together this triumvirate of conditions gave instructors a solid base for
applying the theories of objectivism in a practical, consistent way.
Gagné posited that intelligence was framed by the building of knowledge in a planned,
systematic way in which teachers played the leading role. He felt that lower level skills must be mastered as the foundation
for higher level skills that followed. These learning hierarchies formed the basis for all learning. These ideas have been
used by educators to plan direct, systematic instruction and have implications for curricula models centered on computer instruction.
C) Historical Implications for Learning Today
Since before the time of the ancient Greeks man has endeavored to master the task of
learning so that critical information could be preserved and handed down from generation to generation. Starting with the
Sophists, efforts were made to develop systems of learning that were efficient and that would progress from the age-old method
of mentoring or apprenticeship into more complex constructs. The motivation for these changes began with society’s requirement
to educate larger and larger numbers of people and led to empirically designed approaches focused on the learner, not the
As education advanced, so did technology and the tools available to assist learners
in their efforts. Today a vast number of electronic devices are in use as educational tools, yet educational technology isn’t
just about integrating these devices into learning, it focuses also on the ways we learn and has supplied varying learning
techniques based on ever-evolving theories of learning.
The arc of development in the field of learning saw the monolithic world of teacher/learner
morph into a less static, more dynamic universe of learning that emphasizes the discovery of new ideas and their connections
to existing ones; while the need to memorize facts has diminished thanks to caches of quick information made available by
computer programs, calculators, the internet and theories of intelligence that stress creative connections. At the heart of
many of these educators was the feeling that education should be more interested in exercising the natural curiosity that
dwells in all of us than merely the recitation of facts and figures; and that discovery through experience would help to better
connect understanding to the inner network of knowledge within a learner’s mind.
Taken as whole, these great men and women who have led the way in instructional innovation
have had in mind similar goals: systemization of learning based on scientific study, an examination of the principles of experiential,
connective, and differentiated learning, and the democratization of education so that all people have the chance to explore