In the early 1900s, when inventions in the field of audio and visual had started gaining momentum, devices such as radio and movie camera had found their way into classrooms, the earliest uses of technology for learning. During that period, Thomas Edison had predicted that books would be soon obsolete and instructors would be replaced with movie projectors.
“Books will soon be obsolete in the schools. Scholars will soon be instructed through the eye. It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. Our school system will be completely changed in ten years.”
– Thomas Edison in the New York Dramatic Mirror, July 9, 1913.
It has been almost a century and fortunately, the books are still here and instructors are teaching in the classroom. Different kinds of technology have kept finding their way into classrooms over the last several decades – overhead transparency projector (still in use), cassette audio and video player, computers, DVD players, smart boards, and video conferencing are only a few of the useful implementations of technology in the classroom. But nothing has revolutionized education more than the Internet and personal computers. Online courses are very common these days, from schools to higher education to companies. Then why have Edison’s prophecies not come true even today? Why do schools and universities still exist? And Amazon built a business selling books? Teachers are still as commonly seen in the classroom as ever?
The answer to these questions lie in the fact that the developers and implementors of educational technology understand technology more than they do how and why people learn. They succeed in identifying a use for a technology for learning, but they fail to understand that learning is essentially a social process, that the mere presence of a teacher and other students in the classroom (or even in a virtual classroom) increases the motivation and engagement of all students, that technology should be aimed at facilitating learning, not replacing books and instructors.
Will technology succeed in helping people “learn”? Absolutely. There has never been a better time for developing technology-based learning products than it is now.