Can we replace the bodily teacher? The Dutch history of teaching machines (1960s)

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic


At the beginnings of the 1960s Skinner’s teaching machine reached the Netherlands. This machine used programmed instruction to guide children in small steps through the teaching materials. It provided them with carefully chosen questions and automatic feedback, fitting the principles of behavioristic learning psychology. In the USA the machine was a big hit, since it was a promise for effective learning and a probable solution for the shortage of teachers. Its technological nature was appealing to the Americans, within the Cold War sentiments, and fitted the popular paradigm of scientific management. Skinner aimed for providing an alternative for traditional whole-class teaching, as well as for the child-centered progressive approach of education, in which, according to Skinner, the expectations on what children had to learn were completely unclear. The Netherlands also had to deal with a shortage of teachers and Dutch educationalists also tried to find alternatives for whole-class teaching, but for the rest the circumstances were very different. The Cold War tensions were not that present and educational sciences were still dominated by the German academic ideals in which the notion of “Verstehen” in stead of measuring outcomes, dictated the academic approach to educational issues. Nevertheless, the Dutch educationalist were very interested in this technological innovation. This paper describes the Dutch expectations of the teaching machines. Did Dutch educationalists understand it as a practical solution for the shortage of bodily teachers, or as a suitable device to organize individual instruction or were their motives of a different nature? And did their curiosity resulted in enthusiasm or in fear? The answer to these questions is provided based on an analysis of articles on the teaching machines and on programmed instruction as published in Dutch educational journals in the 1960s and on archive materials on a conference on programmed instruction of the Werkgemeenschap voor Vernieuwing van Opvoeding en Onderwijs (W.V.O.), the Dutch department of the international organization New Education Fellowship, organized in 1965.
Keywords: Educational technology, Progressive education, Teaching machine, Programmed instruction.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 18-Aug-2016
EventISCHE 38 Conference on Education and the Body - Chicago, Chicago, United States
Duration: 17-Aug-201620-Aug-2016
Conference number: 38


ConferenceISCHE 38 Conference on Education and the Body
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address

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