Tag Archives: Xerox PARC

Profile of an HCLE Pioneer – Ted Kahn

Ted Kahn’s work starts back with the names familiar to EdTech historians: Vivarium, Smalltalk, Bob Albrecht, Atari, and Xerox PARC.

Ted was fortunate to be a student in one of the first programming classes, something that was enabled by Bob Albrecht. Soon after, he was involved in research and development of Smalltalk for educational simulation and game design systems (ala the Vivarium Program), and worked at Atari developing innovative computers and products for lifelong learning. He also did research at Xerox PARC developing and marketing multimedia for education and training systems at a time when multimedia was new.

Education and training isn’t confined to the classroom. Ted Kahn developed educational multimedia products with the National Geographic Society (three products won national awards), an educational technology policy study for the U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment, and a training system for a Fortune 500 pharmaceuticals firm.

Ted’s work continues in an organic fashion. He’s also been involved in the design of PicoNet, a telecommunications network as well as one of the first home-school computer networks. Currently, he and his wife, Frona, have founded and operate DesignWorlds.com where they help students make better decisions about colleges and careers. There’s always more work to be done.

HCLE Pioneers are frequently known for more than one contribution. In the continual drive to improve education, learning, and training there are always opportunities. One accomplishment leads to another. The organic nature of the evolution of the way we teach and learn means paths inevitably cross, which is why we are developing a virtual museum for the history of computing in learning and education. Each person leads to another. We’re connecting those links on our wiki.

Additional information is available on our wiki.
Several of his videos have also been added to our HCLE Pioneers playlist on YouTube.

Profile of an HCLE Pioneer – Alan Kay

Alan Kay’s accomplishments created the foundations for so many of today’s tech advances that advocates of his work have dedicated a wiki to him, yet the foundations are so fundamental that the billions of people benefiting from his contributions probably aren’t aware of his influence. HCLE’s focus is on the history of computing in learning and education which is why we are collecting information about his work with the Vivarium Program (See our post about Ann Marion for another perspective), Smalltalk, and Dynabook.


The Vivarium Program created an innovative learning environment that was one of the earliest attempts to shift the school environment from a teacher educating passive students from a set curriculum, to students actively learning in ways that they inspired which were facilitated by teachers. Instead of reading about biology, students created simulations of biological systems that they could modify to better understand cause and effect as well as interconnectivity. It was the precursor to the personalized learning that is becoming more familiar


While there were programming languages available for the Vivarium Program, Alan Kay saw a need for a different architecture. Some students may prefer text-based programming languages, but he saw the need for a language based on objects. Our world is built from objects, and programming based on objects allowed the computer to operate on things that had a variety of characteristics. The result was Smalltalk. The concept gained wider acceptance after the user community shifted the definition slightly, and modern object-oriented programming languages were born. Though it strayed from his original intent, object-oriented programming languages have become the basis of much of today’s computing.

Dynabook Learning Today

A natural extension of Alan Kay’s desire to transform learning was the Dynabook, a device that didn’t exist at the time. He saw a need for a thin and portable computer that would fit in a child’s hands and that the child could operate. Such a device would work well in the environment that was part of the Vivarium Program, as well as outside the school. A logical choice for the programming was Smalltalk. The three could be combined to dramatically expand learning opportunities, especially with advances such as the PLATO network and other innovations he worked on at Xerox PARC.

Learning Today

The Dynabook wasn’t created, Smalltalk became something different, and the Vivarium Program was eventually cancelled by Apple; but their influences have come together for children who learn while pursuing their curiosity when they use and play with tablet computers. A child learning to read at their own pace from an app downloaded to an iPad is remarkably similar to at least some of Alan Kay’s original intentions. Maybe the rest of the vision merely requires a bit more patience.


Additional information and pertinent links are available on our wiki.
Several of his videos have also been added to our HCLE Pioneers playlist on YouTube.