Online Learning: An Historical Overview





Online Learning: An Historical Overview


Almost everyone is familiar with online learning now, of course, but it’s interesting to look back and see how it began, to examine how it developed from a little-known novelty to a powerful force in our society.

The main predecessor of online learning would have to be the correspondence course, a system by which people would take lessons through the mail. Let’s say a person was learning Spanish via correspondence class. He or she would periodically receive instructions and assignments from a (hopefully licensed) educator, complete those instructions at home, and mail completed work back to the teacher. Perhaps this student would occasionally speak Spanish to the teacher over the phone as well. As you can imagine, it was a lengthy process, and occasionally pricey as well.

Computers naturally changed everything. An early example of classes taught via computers is the “virtual class” system that the University of Illinois experimented with during the 1960’s. Researchers at that school linked up a group of computer terminals so students could listen to and sometimes even watch lectures being given elsewhere. Years later, in the 1980’s, many colleges began posting educational materials on their computer networks, and professors would assign students to read this info.Also during the 1980’s many companies, especially high-tech corporations, began training employees at home through online networks.

The University of Phoenix made history in 1989 by becoming the first “online correspondence school,” as it was originally referred to, offering classes in a number of subjects to students at home. (Today, of course, the University of Phoenix is probably the most famous institution of online learning.) Then, in 1993 – two years after the debut of the World Wide Web – the online school Jones International University surprised many in the academic world when it became the first e-learning institution to officially earn accreditation. A year later, a Rhode Island organization called CALCampus – ‘CAL’ being short for “Computer Assisted Learning”— began offering a popular series of online courses. These online classes complemented the computer-based classes CALCampus had been offering to adult students since 1982.

Slowly but surely, and then rapidly, the idea of online learning spread, and more and more universities began offering educational materials over the Internet. Still, the 1990’s and early 2000’s was a primitive time for online learning. Lessons were delivered almost exclusively through text, and more often than not homework assignments still had to be delivered to teachers through the post office.

Virtually every new invention for the Internet has led to improvements in online education. For instance, the introduction of the Mosaic graphic web interface helped make online learning available to millions of homes that didn’t have access to this kind of learning before. Computer microphones and Voice over Internet Protocol communication systems began allowing teachers and students to speak to one another in real time. The proliferation of webcams and the viral video age that flourished after YouTube’s introduction in 2005 led to online video classes. And today, live feed webcams let groups of students and their teacher all see one another, almost as though they were sharing a physical classroom space.




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