The Ultimate History of Technology in Education.

June 7, 2017
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Evolution in classroom technology

The use of technology in education has provided students and teachers with an unlimited number of options for classroom learning.  When you consider the history of technology in education, there are some very interesting facts that have led us to where we are today.

Did you know?

The introduction of the modern library and the pencil in the mid-1600s marked the beginning of the use of technology in education?  In the latter part of the 1970s, the very first computer was integrated into schools. By the early 1980s when IBM created the first PC, nearly twenty percent of schools in the UK and the US had computers in use.

By the year 2005, more than 50% of public schools included laptops for students in their technology budget.  It was at this same time, more than 90% of schools had access to the Internet.  By 2011, many schools were including tablet PCs for students and teachers in their technology budget.

What today’s students expect.

Today’s students have come to expect the use of technology in the classroom as the norm and know no world without it.  However, when you look at how technology has evolved in education and a chronicle of the key stages of development, it paints an interesting picture of how far education has come.

In this article, we will focus on key points in the timeline that are a significant part of the development of technology in education, beginning with the 1600s.

History of technology in education 1600s timeline

Evolution of Classroom Technology - Slide RuleThe Slide Rule.

In addition to the introduction of the modern library and the pencil during the 1600s, the Slide Rule was first introduced in 1654 by Robert Bissaker.  The instrument was designed for use by scientists and engineers up to the early 1970s.

The Slide Rule was eventually used in the classroom for mathematics (as indicated later in this article) and was a precursor to what we know today as electronic and graphing calculators.

The Hornbook

The Hornbook.

During the 1600s, the hornbook was used in the classroom as a technology device that taught basics such as vowels and consonants as well as the alphabet. Additionally, the Lord’s Prayer and an expression of appreciation of the Trinity were also included. The lesson material was laminated to protect the information from the everyday wear and tear of student use. The protective cover was made from sheep and oxen horns used as a base for the laminating substance.

The Magic Lantern.

The magic lantern was first introduced in 1646 and was also known as the Magin Catacoprica which meant “magic lantern.” Although the device was used in homes and theaters, magic lanterns were deployed in the classroom to enhance learning and student engagement. The photographic slides were inserted one at a time for viewing of specific images or subject matter.  Those who were proficient at using a magic lantern could rapidly change the slides to make it appear as if the image was moving.

Magic Lantern - History of Technology in Education.

Evolution of technology in education 1700s timeline

The Jacquard Loom - imageThe Jacquard Loom.

Computer programming skills are widely taught throughout various grade levels in the UK education system. The Jacquard Loom marked the beginning of modern day computer programming.  First introduced in France in 1725 by Joseph-Marie Jacquard, the loom was designed to weave silk using punch cards that controlled the actions of the device.  Punch cards were used as controls in the very first computers which led to the advanced programming capabilities used in today’s classrooms.

History of technology in education 1800s timeline

school blackboard slateSlates and Chalk.

It was during the 1800s that students used slates which were small blackboards that were written on using a piece of chalk. Students used slates in place of pen and paper, even though slates were not very convenient for longer assignments and could only be used to solve short equations.  Then they were erased so they could be used to solve a new equation.

1800s Blackboard - Evolution of Classroom TechnologyBlackboards.

Blackboards were made of slate that was surrounded by a wood border to prevent the slate from breaking.  Slate was the material of choice due to its broad availability throughout the world during the 19th century when mining provided abundant access. In recent years, it was determined that chalk dust posed potential health risks which is one of the reasons they were gradually replaced by the whiteboard as we know it today.

Calculating Engine

The Calculating Engine.

In 1822, Charles Babbage introduced a calculating engine which led to modern day digital computing.  The engine was created with the realization that a computing device must have input, memory, a central processing unit, and an output device (printer). For this reason, Charles Babbage is known as the “Grandfather of Modern Digital Computing” as we know digital computers in today’s classrooms.

1800s Typewriter - Technology in Education The Typewriter.

In 1873 Christopher L. Sholes first introduced the typewriter which also debuted the QWERTY keyboard which is still used on modern day devices and computers used to enhance classroom learning.

The typewriter was limited to capital letters however, other competitors began to use both uppercase and lowercase letters in the latter part of the 1800s.

History of technology in education 1900s timeline

Stereoscope - Classroom Technology History


At the beginning of the 1900s, stereoscopes were being released on the market and provided a way to view images in 3D.  The device was popular for home entertainment and was eventually marketed to schools for educational purposes.

Classrooms which were equipped with stereoscopes were used to view three dimensional images that emphasized points being made by the teacher during a particular lesson.

Evolution of technology in education 1920s timeline

The Film Projector. Film Projector from 1900s

By 1925, the film projector was making its way into classroom environments.  The projector displayed still images from a film strip accompanied by an audio recording.  The images had to be manually changed as you advanced through the film strip.  This type of technology remained in the classroom until the early 1980s and was used to study a particular topic or timeline of events.

1900s RadioThe Radio.

It was also during 1925 that the radio started to be used in education.  Some schools used the radio to broadcast lessons to other schools using a specific radio station.  The first lesson was sent over the radio by the Board of Education in New York City in 1925.

Evolution of technology in education 1930s timeline

The Overhead Projector. Movie Projector - Evolution of Classroom Technology

During the 1930s, the first overhead projector was introduced to the classroom prior to being widely used by the military during World War II. After its introduction, the overhead projector became widely used in the classroom which provided teachers with a more convenient alternative to the blackboard.  An overhead projector used transparent sheets which could be written on with an erasable marker.

The teacher could write on the reusable transparency while facing the class.  The notes were reflected on a screen during the classroom presentation.

Evolution of technology in education 1940s timelineThe Mimeograph.

1900s Mimeograph.In the 1940s, the mimeograph began to be used by teachers to print classroom materials.  Additionally, school office staff used them to print out various documents used for daily operations within the school.  The copies were created by manually cranking the ink filled drum which forced the ink through a stencil and onto the paper.

The stencil on a mimeograph machine was made of waxed mulberry paper which later became paper immersed in a coating of long fibres.  The stencil was then wrapped around the drum and when turned, forced the ink onto sheets of paper that were drawn between the drum and a pressure roller.  The mimeograph was commonly referred to as a ditto machine.

Evolution of technology in education 1950s timeline

Headphones. 1950s Headphones image

In the early 1950s, headphones were introduced to the classroom and were installed in listening stations.  By listening to audio tapes through the headphones, students could easily review lessons and reinforce concepts to be learned.

The listening stations were commonly called language labs which have since been replaced with computers and headphones in the present day.

The Slide Ruler.

It was also during the 1950s that the slide ruler was starting to be used more widely in the classroom.  The slide ruler was the precursor to the calculator and was commonly used to make scientific calculations.  The device was still being used into the 1960s when calculators were just beginning to appear in classrooms.

slide ruler image - Evolution of Technology in the Classroom.


The use of the videotape in the classroom also emerged during the 1950s when the first videotape demonstration occurred in California.  The videotape was shown using an Ampex tape recorder that kept the narrow tape redeploying at 360 inches per second.  It was not until a few years later that the wider magnetic videotapes were put into use.

In the latter part of the 1950s, the Skinner Teaching Machine by B.F. Skinner a behavioural therapist, was integrated into classroom learning.  The machine was designed to allow the student to learn at their own pace using a specific instruction program.  The device was designed to issue a set of standardised questions.  Each time the student answered the question correctly, the machine would dispense a piece of candy as a reward.

Skinner teaching machine

Xerox Photocopier from 1950The Photocopier.

By the last year of the 1950s, Xerox introduced the first photocopier machine.  This helped teachers to create copies of classroom materials easier and faster than the mimeograph machine.

History of technology in education 1960s timeline

Microfilm viewer - History of Technology in Education

The Microfilm Viewer.

During the 1960s, the individual filmstrip (microfilm) viewer was introduced to libraries and educational institutions.  The device provided a way for students to view individual filmstrips at their own pace.  The device was also used in libraries to search through newspaper archives and other publications for research.

liquid paperLiquid Paper.

It was also during the 1960s that Liquid Paper was introduced and widely used with the typewriter.

Students who took typing class or used the typewriter to complete assignments and research papers could dip the brush into the liquid and then apply it to the paper to correct a typing error.

History of technology in education 1970s timeline

1970s Calculator - Evolution of Technology in the Classroom. The Calculator.

The 1970s marked the transition to the handheld calculator in the classroom environment. Despite the fact there was concern over the loss of basic learning skills such as long division, manual multiplication, and other skills, the handheld calculator became a widely used device and was the precursor to the calculators used in the present-day classroom.

The Scantron.

In the early 1970s, the Scantron was introduced for grading multiple choice exams.  The device used imaging technology to read the answer sheets which had dots that were coloured in with a No. 2 pencil.  The purpose of the device was to save teachers time when grading multiple exams.

The Scantron

PBS - 1970s Public Broadcasting SystemPublic Broadcasting System (PBS).

The 1970s also brought the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) to homes and classrooms.  This allowed educational programming covering a wide variety of topics to be viewed on a television in the classroom or in the home environment.

Apple II - History of Technology in the ClassroomThe Apple II.

In 1977, Apple released the Apple II desktop computer which allowed students to learn geography and math problems using computer games. The Apple II utilised floppy disks for viewing various types of content and did not have access to the Internet.

Evolution of technology in education 1980s timeline

Plato computer - Classroom Technology EvolutionThe Personal Computer.

In the early 1980s, IBM (International Business Machines) came out with the first personal computer.  Additionally, the Plato computer was an early computer that was introduced to the education market as well.  Although schools did not yet have access to the Internet, the computer began to be used for a variety of learning purposes and as an eventual replacement for the typewriter when creating and completing reports and assignments.


The mid 1980s brought the first CD-ROM to the educational environment.  For the first time, students could store video and audio, as well as an entire encyclopedia on a single compact disk. The CD-ROM is still used with current computers, replaced the floppy disk and paved the way to the use of the flash drive for storage.

Evolution of technology in education 1990s timeline

Internet - www. - world wide web - imageThe Internet.

In the early to mid-1990s, the Internet was made available to the general public.  Prior to this time, it was solely used by the military, academic institutions, and NASA.  It was first introduced as a dial-up connection which occupied your telephone line.  It was also a very slow connection unlike the broadband connections of today and incapable of efficiently handling video.

As more people caught on to the potential of the Internet and the value it could add to learning, it began to be used in education.  In most cases, the connection was limited to a specific area of the building via an Ethernet cable unlike the widespread Wi-Fi availability we know today.

The Interactive Whiteboard.

By the late 1990s, the blackboard was gradually getting replaced with an interactive whiteboard.  When first introduced, the whiteboard consisted of a white screen, computer, and projector.  It was not yet being widely used since many were unfamiliar with how to use it for classroom learning.  But nevertheless, it was gradually starting to make its way into classrooms around the world.

Interactive whiteboard

History of technology in education 21st century timeline

You Tube - technology in the classroomYou Tube.

At the start of the 21st century, more classroom and educational institutions were becoming connected.  In 2004, YouTube was discovered as being an effective tool for classroom learning.  This allowed teachers to easily share free instructional videos and share videos associated with classroom projects.


It was at this same time that the iClicker became a popular classroom tool for teachers.  The device allowed teachers to easily poll students during a lesson and receive the results in real-time.  At this point, schools were also beginning to include student laptops in their technology budget.


iPads in the Classroom

The iPad.

Between 2007 and 2010, smartphones were beginning to increase in popularity and were widely used by students.  At this time, they were still not accepted as a classroom learning device until the inception of the iPad in 2010 which brought Wi-Fi enabled mobile devices to the forefront as a learning tool in the classroom.

As of 2015, interactive mobile apps for all types of devices and operating systems have become the centre of effective classroom learning.  The wide availability of low cost apps empower teachers to provide better learning opportunities and simultaneously reach a variety of different learning styles.

Google Cardboard VR for the classroom Virtual Reality.

As recently as last year and into 2017, many educators have been enhancing the classroom learning experience using virtual or augmented reality.  Modern devices such as Google Cardboard VR allow students to study locations and objects in 3D in addition to exploring current events.

Evolution of technology in education - final thoughts

A lot can change in 20 years.

Twenty years is not a long time when you look at the entire chronicle of the history of technology in education. However, in just two decades technology has brought vast improvements in teaching and the availability of classroom equipment that empowers teachers and enhances student learning.

Twenty years ago, a classroom still consisted of a blackboard, television and VCR equipment, calculators, and very limited Internet connectivity. Plus, the number of students that owned a computer was not as prevalent as it is today.

Fast forward to 2017.

Teachers have a multitude of equipment such as whiteboards, tablet PCs, Internet resources, apps, virtual reality devices and other tools that allow them to reach every student, regardless of learning style.  It also empowers them to create fun and engaging lessons that help students get excited about learning. Additionally, in some schools, students are allowed to use their own device of choice and collaborate with other students around the world instead of being limited to the classroom.

Technology has also changed the role of the teacher.

Twenty years ago, the teacher was basically limited to providing class notes, showing a video, and using a limited variety of other tools to try and make learning fun and interesting.  With this, they were expected to reach a variety of learning styles simultaneously without the proper tools to help them accomplish this task.

Today, a teacher role has changed to facilitator and supporter as students collaborate and use apps that suit their learning style.  This enables the teacher to be more proactive about providing individual help when needed without having to worry about hindering other students in the classroom that are ahead in the learning process.

The growth of technology in the classroom represents a win-win situation for educational institutions.  Teachers now have the tools they need to reach each student and students can choose the way they wish to consume lesson content.  It will be interesting to see where technology takes education in the next two decades to come.


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The Author: Katie Parson

The Author: Katie Parson

Content Architect at Our IT Department Ltd.
A Woman of few words, except when writing. Katie likes to write about anything technology related and enjoys gaming in her spare time. Stay up to date with Katies latest work by following her on Twitter.
The Author: Katie Parson

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