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1960s - Early Audio-Visual Education

By Peter Avis October 2nd 2014

In the 1960s new equipment, notably projectors and tape recorders designed for home entertainment, were being used in schools and colleges as well as broadcast radio and TV. The Brynmor Jones Committee reported in 1965 on the use of audio-visual devices in higher education but also made recommendations about secondary education and vocational training. The report brought together audio visual education, programmed learning, distance learning and early work with computers - under one name - Educational Technology - for the first time. The use of audio visual devices in primary schools was given educational blessing in the Plowden report of 1967 spelling out their use not only for whole class teaching but also for individual and small group work.

A wide range of differing audio-visual devices

Early use of tape recorder in classroom

Early use of tape recorder in classroom

In the 1960s new equipment, notably projectors and tape recorders (see picture) designed for home entertainment, were being used in schools and colleges. Broadcast radio and television were both used to provide a range of educational programmes, information and educational materials. The BBC began broadcasting schools programmes in the Autumn of 1957 whilst radio prorammes for schools had begun in 1923. The sixties and seventies were a golden age for school's radio and by the early 1970s around 90% of schools were using the School Radio service, with the BBC producing around 80 series per year for School Radio, which amounted to around 16 hours per week (Wikipedia)

However a wide range of other devices were opening up the possibility that small group and individual learning could be tailored to meet learner's needs. In a talk to the RSA, Robert Williams (1969) outlined through demonstrations what they consisted of at that time. He covered:

Aural technologies - gramaphones and records for language learning, tape recorders, language laboratories.

Visual aids - overhead projectors, overlaying transparencies to teach about maps

Audio-visual aids - Slide projector, tape recorder combinations for language teaching and training

Film - 35mm, 16mm and 8mm films used in science to show slow-motion effects

Television -  used to provide distance viewing and a camera show the output from a microscope

Electronic video recorder - he demonstrated one of the first video recorders showing half-hour pre-recorded programmes

Teaching Machines - he illustrated video display machines which take a press button input to on screen questions.

Computer aided instruction - he described a central computer holds individual student programmes connected to online terminals

Programmed Books - where the book isn't sequential but directs the learner as they complete different parts.

The Brynmor Jones Committee and Educational Technology

Brynmor Jones

Dr. Brynmor Jones

These different devices and approaches enabled different approaches to teaching and learning than the traditional model of a teacher/lecturer addressing a large class at the same time using blackboards and standard textbooks. The difficulty was to evaluate them effectively. When in doubt set up an expert committee, and the Ministry of Education (soon to become the Department for Education and Science) set up the Brynmor Jones Committee in 1963 to investigate the use of audio-visual devices in higher education (Mackenzie, 2005). Dr. Brynmor Jones was Vice Chancellor at Hull University and in his report he not only made recommendations for Higher Education but also for schools and colleges.

A significant part of the Brynmor Jones report (1965) reflected a study trip where they went to see new developments in the USA, particularly new initiatives on programmed learning, early work on computers, and open and distance learning initiatives. (See "A Broad Church")

Another US initiative they investigated, the Chicago College of the Air became one of the inspirations for the future Open University. The report was perhaps most significant in bringing together all these areas, audio visual education, programmed learning, distance learning and early work with computers - under one name - Educational Technology - for the first time.

The Brynmor Jones report was titled 'Audio-Visual Aids in Higher Scientific Education' and its publication in October 1965 marked the effective beginning of educational technology in Britain. (MacKenzie 2005).

Plowden Reportprojector

The Plowden Report published in 1967 said some very sensible and prophetic things about audio-visual education that would be echoed in the debate regarding computer education. It supported their use in schools enabling the teacher to bring richer materials and different voices into the classroom. It went on to say:

Paragraph 724. There is a further reason for introducing more aids into school. Television is now, as films and sound broadcasting have long been, a part of ordinary life to which children are accustomed. It has even been described as 'a rival system of education'. Children must be taught to use it profitably and to associate it with learning as well as with entertainment. This point of view has to be balanced with another: for the youngest children in particular, who spend more time in front of the television screen than any other age group, there is a particular need for the school to provide direct experiences when all the senses come into play. In this way precision, associations and meaning can be added to what is seen and heard on television.


Children must be taught to use it profitably and to associate it with learning as well as with entertainment."

Plowden (1967)

Para 726. Another important development, perhaps potentially the most important of all those so far noted, is that it is no longer necessary for these aids to involve class teaching. Hand viewers and slide projectors are increasingly used by individuals and by groups. Earphones enable children to listen to speech recorded by themselves or teachers, or to the spoken word accompanying a written text. The more flexible school buildings become, the more they are provided with small group rooms, the easier it is for children to use aids without disturbing others..

732. One final word should be added on these aids for teachers. It is often a matter for mild amusement at educational conferences that nothing is more certain than that, at a session in audio-visual aids, the aids will in some way fail: the films break, the record player is so sensitive that it exaggerates extraneous noise, and, at the very least, the plug is of the wrong size. There is here certainly a moral for the schools. Children are used to high standards in commercial film projection and in television. Not only must the standard of educational films, broadcasts and television be high but the machines themselves must be in good order. Local authorities might well employ technicians to service the mechanical aids which we hope will be found in most primary schools. It is, however, doubtful whether authorities should provide all this equipment automatically for schools. The automatic supply of equipment does not ensure good use. But the allowance made to primary schools should be sufficient for them to buy and use such of this equipment as they are prepared to use to the full.

733. This is an age of increasing mechanisation. Inevitably, more and cheaper mechanical aids will find their way into the primary schools. Teachers must, therefore, consider how they can use them best to enrich the ways in which children can learn.

Commentary - technology and teaching and learning inextricably linked
As the quotes from the Plowden report make clear, new devices made new approaches to learning - individual and group work - easier. Over the next fifty years this continued to be the case, but educators often seem to want to take the moral high ground on one side or the other. Derek Rowntree(1974, p1) saying: "Educational Technology is not to be confused with electronic gadgetry. MESU staff describing the rival 'Flexible Learning Project' as FOFO ( f*** off and find out). Of course Technology and Education are inextricably linked and Educational Technology seems to me to be the best way to describe this fusion. A later article describes in more detail this approach.


Brynmor Jones,1965. 'Report on Audio-Visual Aids in Higher Scientific Education', London: HMSO

Rowntree D. (1974) Educational Technology in Curriculum Development, Harper and Row, London

The Plowden Report (1967) Children and their Primary Schools - A Report of the Central Advisory Council for Education, London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office


Williams, R. C. G., 1969 Educational and Training Technology , Royal Society for the
Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, Journal, 117:5155 (1969:June) p.478