Educational technology in a way could be traced back to the emergence of very early tools, e.g., paintings on cave walls. But usually its history starts with educational film (1900s) or Sidney Pressey's mechanical teaching machines in the 1920s.

The first large scale usage of new technologies can be traced to US WWII training of soldiers through training films and other mediated materials. Today, presentation-based technology, based on the idea that people can learn through aural and visual reception, exists in many forms, e.g., streaming audio and video, or PowerPoint presentations with voice-over. Another interesting invention of the 1940s was hypertext, i.e., V. Bush's memex.

The 1950s led to two major, still popular designs. Skinners work led to "programmed instruction" focusing on the formulation of behavioral objectives, breaking instructional content into small units and rewarding correct responses early and often. Advocating a mastery approach to learning based on his taxonomy of intellectual behaviors, Bloom endorsed instructional techniques that varied both instruction and time according to learner requirements. Models based on these designs were usually referred to as computer-based training" (CBT), Computer-aided instruction or computer-assisted instruction (CAI) in the 1970s through the 1990s. In a more simplified form they correspond to today's "e-contents" that often form the core of "e-learning" set-ups, sometimes also referred to as web-based training (WBT) or e-instruction. The course designer divides learning contents into smaller chunks of text augmented with graphics and multimedia presentation. Frequent Multiple Choice questions with immediate feedback are added for self-assessment and guidance. Such e-contents can rely on standards defined by IMS, ADL/SCORM and IEEE.

The 1980s and 1990s produced a variety of schools that can be put under the umbrella of the label Computer-based learning (CBL). Frequently based on constructivist and cognitivist learning theories, these environments focused on teaching both abstract and domain-specific problem solving. Preferred technologies were micro-worlds (computer environments where learners could explore and build), simulations (computer environments where learner can play with parameters of dynamic systems) and hypertext.

Digitized communication and networking in education started in the mid 80s and became popular by the mid-90's, in particular through the World-Wide Web (WWW), eMail and Forums. There is a difference between two major forms of online learning. The earlier type, based on either Computer Based Training (CBT) or Computer-based learning (CBL), focused on the interaction between the student and computer drills plus tutorials on one hand or micro-worlds and simulations on the other. Both can be delivered today over the WWW. Today, the prevailing paradigm in the regular school system is Computer-mediated communication (CMC), where the primary form of interaction is between students and instructors, mediated by the computer. CBT/CBL usually means individualized (self-study) learning, while CMC involves teacher/tutor facilitation and requires scenarization of flexible learning activities. In addition, modern ICT provides education with tools for sustaining learning communities and associated knowledge management tasks. It also provides tools for student and curriculum management.

In addition to classroom enhancement, learning technologies also play a major role in full-time distance teaching. While most quality offers still rely on paper, videos and occasional CBT/CBL materials, there is increased use of e-tutoring through forums, instant messaging, video-conferencing etc. Courses addressed to smaller groups frequently use blended or hybrid designs that mix presence courses (usually in the beginning and at the end of a module) with distance activities and use various pedagogical styles (e.g., drill & practice, exercises, projects, etc.).

The 2000s emergence of multiple mobile and ubiquitous technologies gave a new impulse to situated learning theories favoring learning-in-context scenarios. Some literature uses the concept of integrated learning to describe blended learning scenarios that integrate both school and authentic (e.g., workplace) settings.

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