Instructional Technology:

The evolution of instruction

We’ve come a long way from relying on blackboards and storytelling to confer knowledge.

The history of instructional technology (IT) as we know it today can be traced back to the early 20th century, and each ensuing decade brought rapid change in methodology as technology evolved. 

Nowadays, instructional designers draw from multiple learning theories and technologies to deliver optimal and customized learning experiences.

woman studying at a laptop with a book in her hand

Timeline: instructional technology, 1900s to present



Introduction of visual media
  • “Visual education” media such as stereo photographs, charts, and lantern slide projectors are utilized to enhance learning.
  • In 1913, Thomas Edison proclaims, “books will soon be obsolete in the schools.”


Audiovisual media and learning objectives
  • Visualizing the Curriculum (Hoban, Hoban, & Zissman, 1937) discusses the value of audiovisual instruction for its realism.
  • Ralph Tyler’s Eight-Year Study explores evaluating effective instruction, a step toward criterion-referenced testing.
  • Establishment of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT).


Wartime innovation and advancement of instructional design
  • Wartime psychologists and educators develop military training and assessment methods utilizing films, slides, and audio.
  • Procedures are established for evaluating instructional materials.
  • Organizations are set up to support the development of solutions to instructional problems.


Television, behaviorism, and computer technology
  • Public educational television channels are launched, though not widely used in schools.
  • B.F. Skinner’s behaviorist theories foster the programmed instruction movement: self-paced instruction in small steps with immediate feedback.
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956) classifies types of learning objectives along a hierarchy.
  •  First forays into computer aided instruction (CAI). 


Design models, criterion-referenced testing, learning objectives
  • Early instructional design models are developed.
  • Mager’s Objectives for Programmed Instruction (1962) discusses learning objectives and assessment criteria.
  • Gagne’s The Conditions of Learning (1965) proposes events that are associated with and promote the mental conditions for learning.
  • Criterion-referenced testing assesses how well students are meeting learning objectives.
  • Cronbach and Scriven introduce formative and summative evaluation methods for instructional materials. 


Instructional design expands into the business sector
  • Continued development of instructional design models.
  • Instructional design graduate programs are developed.
  • The business sector embraces instructional design, including the establishment of international organizations to improve training. 


Cognitive psychology and personal computers
  • Instructional design expands in business and industry, but with only a minimal impact on schools.
  • Cognitive psychology begins to influence instruction.
  • Computers are utilized primarily for drill and practice learning. 


Computer-based learning systems, performance-oriented instruction, constructivism
  • Human performance technology influences instruction, focusing on performance and non-instructional solutions.
  • Constructivism emphasizes learning that reflects real-world problem solving.
  • Development of computer-based learning systems. 


The internet age and online instruction
  • Growth of the internet leads to a boom in online instruction and the need for more effective instructional methods.
  • Social media introduces new opportunities for informal learning.
  • New models are developed to support a simpler, more efficient design process.

Learn more about IT


Instructional technology focuses on the tools we use and how we design the learning experience.

Theories and Thinkers

Discover educational theories used by instructional designers, and the theorists behind them.


Learn how instructional technology can improve your online programs.