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Audrey Watters

Sep 7, 2021

Teaching Machines

The History of Personalized Learning

MIT Press 2021

Contrary to the claims of many of today’s advocates of computerized instruction and online learning, efforts to use technology to improve the education process are hardly new. In Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning (MIT Press, 2021), Audrey Watters recounts the attempts over the past century to use technology to improve educational procedures. These began over a century ago with psychologist Sidney Pressy’s effort to invent an “automatic teacher” that would eliminate drudgery by automating test scoring. While such efforts gained momentum in the 1930s, the attempts by manufacturers to profit from such technology often complicated their introduction and adoption. In the 1950s B. F. Skinner gave new life to these endeavors by developing devices and processes that applied his theories of behavioral psychology to the learning process. Though the idea of “push-button education” seized the public’s imagination and stimulated efforts to introduce his teaching machines to the classroom, by the end of the 1960s the growing backlash against Skinner’s ideas and regimentation in education ensured the demise of his vision of the automated classroom.

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