History Of Audiovisual Education Essay

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Audiovisual education became a prominent movement during the period immediately following World War I. In the decade after the war, filmstrips, motion pictures, audio recordings, and radio programming began to be widely integrated in educational settings. Classroom uses of film and 16-mm projectors lent an aura of modernity and innovation to classrooms, becoming symbols of progressive teaching practices.

In higher education, the first official credit course in visual instruction was offered at the University of Minnesota in 1918. Other courses were established at the University of Kansas and North Carolina State University Teachers College in 1921. When introduced into normal schools, the curricula provided courses of study that gave teachers the opportunity to learn the advantages and disadvantages of visual instruction through formal and informal training. Over time, many courses were offered for teachers at the college and university level, related journals and professional organizations appeared, and the first systematic research studies were reported within the emerging audiovisual field. This entry summarizes those developments.

The Audiovisual Era

With the introduction of recorded sound and radio broadcasting, sound recording was integrated with film during the 1920s, beginning the transition from the visual instruction movement to what was soon to be known as the audiovisual era.

In 1920, the Radio Division of the U.S. Department of Commerce was established, and it began to license commercial and educational radio stations. Later, during the 1920s and the early 1930s, radio became the focus of a number of educational endeavors throughout the nation as colleges and universities experimented with educational radio and began to integrate audio technology with film and visual instruction methodologies. Among these was the Ohio School of the Air in 1929, launched in a joint effort by the State of Ohio, Ohio State University, and a Cincinnati radio station.

Classroom broadcasting to enhance instruction spread rapidly during the decades preceding World War II. Typical broadcasts included lectures and performances by college bands and orchestras. Likewise, university extension divisions offered on-site and correspondence courses and in-service training, sponsored conferences, and published texts and materials in audiovisual education.

The advent of film with sound in the late 1920s introduced a critical period in instructional film history from another perspective: Just as educators were becoming convinced of the educational merits of the silent film, the advocates of film with sound realized that they would have to fight the old battle all over again to gain acceptance for this new technology, especially since they believed many educators feared that film with sound would make their silent film equipment obsolete. Aside from this battle, the commercial education film enterprise was failing at an alarming rate during the late 1920s and early 1930s due to the Great Depression.

Audiovisual Education During War

World War II gave a big boost to the emerging field of instructional design and to the audiovisual era, and the need to rapidly train tens of thousands of new military personnel created a heightened interest in applying educational research in a systematic way.

Many educational researchers participated in the war training effort, and this helped to propel forward systematic efforts to design instruction. During the war, the benefits of this effort to audiovisual media were seen primarily in increased use of educational media to train military personnel and to satisfy the demand for training millions of industrial workers as rapidly and effectively as possible. This spurred an unprecedented production of educational films for training purposes.

The army and navy introduced training films and began to establish procedures for the instructional uses of such media as slides, filmstrips, and models. Instructional media and materials used by the military included projected motion pictures, graphics (illustrations and cartoons), posters, sound, and charts— supplemented by manuals, self-instructional devices and materials, handbooks, bulletins, and other training-related literature. Educational films, in particular, became an integral part of the military training effort during the war and a part of the official training policy of the War Department.

One training device that was especially popular was the filmstrip projector—the filmstrip was a medium that answered the demand for a fast, efficient, mass training of mechanics to serve in industry and the military. Another useful device was the microfilm reader, used by the U.S. military and industries for storing and duplicating data for research and testing purposes during and after the war.

Peacetime Applications

The numerous training aids that were developed during the war were used in the civilian sector following the war. These include the Link trainer, which provided a cadet pilot with a moving view of the earth, accompanied by realistic sounds of aircraft on recordings; mockups, exhibit rooms, and “breadboards” of simulated maps, equipment, battle-front layouts, and equipment operation. Audio-recording and playback devices developed during the war were especially prominent in foreign language training after the war. Microfilm and microfilm readers were used to preserve important records and duplicate library materials in such a way as to save valuable storage space.

World War II provided impetus for audiovisual instruction and was instrumental in the evolution and development of visual aids as instructional media. The widespread use of these media to accelerate military and industry training during the war was an influential endorsement of the instructional value of visual aids. The audiovisual era reinforced a principle that developed during the preceding visual instruction movement: Visual aids can teach more people more things in less time.


  1. Cuban, L. (1986). Teachers and machines: The classroom use of technology since 1920. New York: Teachers College Press.
  2. Dent, D. (1969). Landmarks in learning: The story of SVE. Chicago: Society for Visual Education.
  3. Newby, T. J., Stepich, D. A., Lehman, J., & Russell, J. D. (2000). Instructional technology for teaching and learning (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Merrill.
  4. Saettler, P. (1990). The evolution of American educational technology. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.

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