The first “teaching machine” was invented nearly a century ago by Sydney Pressey, a psychologist at Ohio University, out of spare typewriter parts. The device was simple, presenting the user with a multiple-choice question and a set of answers. In “teach mode,” the machine would advance to the next question only once the user chose the correct answer. Pressey declared that his invention marked the beginning of “the industrial revolution in education”—but despite his grand claims, the teaching machine failed to gain much attention, and soon faded into obscurity.
It stayed there until the 1950s, when the famed behaviorist B.F. Skinner introduced a teaching machine of his own (Skinner blamed “cultural inertia” for Pressey’s previous lack of success). His new device taught by showing students questions one at a time, with the idea that the user would be rewarded for each right answer.