Did you know that electronic learning systems have been in use at American universities for over 50 years now? While Blackboard itself isn’t quite that old, its predecessors such as the PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations) system—pictured here—date back to the early 1960s, well before the implementation of the internet as we know it, and 20 years before the consumer computer market began to expand beyond a core group of dedicated hobbyists.
While electronic learning systems have changed quite a bit over the years, they continue to share a common set of core functionalities. An instructor presents course material to multiple students, lessons and quizzes may be automated, and the system records user actions and results. Becasue all modern electronic learning systems share some similar core features, modern learning systems are largely differentiated by ease of use and the effectiveness of the user interface. The basic technical challenges involved were (mostly) solved over 50 years ago, but the ongoing struggle for a friendly, easy-to-use, easy-to-learn interface continues.
As technology and the way we use it evolves, will new learning management systems such as Canvas carry on the proud tradition of electronic learning systems here at S&T? We here in Educational Technology certainly hope so!