The Skinnerian Teaching Machine (1953–1968)
instructional design; design case; teaching machines
This design case describes B. F. Skinner’s teaching machine, an educational tech- nology developed in the mid-twentieth century, commonly viewed as a precur- sor to later innovations such as computer-based instruction (Niemiec & Walberg, 1989) and eLearning (McDonald et al., 2005).The value of this case is not only as historical precedent, however. Although it does provide insight into the design of later approaches, Skinner’s device was only one antecedent of modern educa- tional technologies, and, in fact, was not even the first mechanical apparatus that could be referred to as a teaching machine (Benjamin Jr., 1988). An additional benefit of the case, then, is found by examining how Skinner made design deci- sions to intentionally apply his behavioral theory of operant conditioning in the development of his machine. Even today, despite how Skinner and his behaviorist approaches have fallen out of favor, his work is still an important illustration of how a psychological theory has been operationalized for practical implementation in a specific technology.
Original Publication Citation
McDonald, J. K. (2021). The Skinnerian teaching machine (1953-1968). In Boling, E., Gray, C. M., Howard, C. D. , & Baaki, J.(Eds.), Historical instructional design cases: ID knowledge in context and practice (pp. 85-103). Routledge.
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
McDonald, Jason K., "The Skinnerian Teaching Machine (1953–1968)" (2021). Faculty Publications. 4477.
David O. McKay School of Education
Instructional Psychology and Technology
© 2021 Routledge
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