Smithsonian Collections

Skinner Teaching Machine

Image for Skinner Teaching Machine
Data Source
National Museum of American History
From the 1920s, psychologists have explored ways to automate teaching. In the 1950s, the psychologist B. F. Skinner of Harvard University suggested that techniques he had developed for training rats and pigeons might be adopted for teaching humans. He used this apparatus teaching a Harvard course in natural sciences.
The machine is a rectangular wooden box with a hinged metal lid with windows. Various paper discs fit inside, with questions and answers written along radii of the discs. One question at a time appears in the window nearer the center. The student writes an answer on a paper tape to the right and advances the mechanism. This reveals the correct answer but covers his answer so that it may not be changed.
Skinner's "programmed learning" was refined and adopted in many classrooms in the 1960s. It underlies techniques still used in instruction for the office, the home and the school.
Currently not on view
Skinner, B. F.
Date made
Credit Line
Gift of B. F. Skinner
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
wood (overall material)
metal (overall material)
overall: 17.5 cm x 48.6 cm x 37 cm; 6 7/8 in x 19 1/8 in x 14 9/16 in
Object Name
teaching machine
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Science & Mathematics
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Place Made
United States: Massachusetts, Cambridge