Online Learning

The History of Distance Learning

Distance learning can trace its roots back as far as 18th Century Europe, when education-by-correspondence was all the rage among the upper classes, with experts in science, medicine and the arts instructing pupils and apprentices by letter. However, the world of distance learning as we know it today began in 1883, when Chautauqua College of Liberal Arts was granted the right to recognize and award degrees to students who had sent work in by post during the academic year.

Around 1910, companies began to sell instructional films and books across the United States and Europe. During the 1930’s instructional radio broadcasts were played to students in schools across the country, but they were poorly received and the transmissions were soon faded out.

However, around the same time television was announced at the 1937 World’s Fair, and many universities immediately leapt on the prospect of using the new technology for lectures and courses. However, it would not be until 1952 that television would feature strongly on university syllabi, and even then the technology was restricted to a chosen few by budgetary restraints, accessibility to the technology, and suspicion towards the use of the medium as an educational tool.

During the late ‘50’s and early ‘60’s the number of ‘instructional television’ channels grew, and many universities began to consider plans to bring distance learning to people outside of the university campus. A breakthrough came in 1969 with the creation of the Open University in Britain, which allowed anybody, regardless of previous academic record or experience, to apply and take part in courses. All materials were sent out to students by post, with either a letter or a telephone call from their tutor on a regular basis. To date the Open University is one of the largest distance learning establishments in the world, with almost 220,000 students on its books.

In the last 20 years, the techniques pioneered by the OU have been enhanced and improved with technology. VHS and Betamax allowed visual tapes to be sent to peoples’ homes for the first time, and the Internet has allowed the creation of online virtual classrooms utilizing message boards, video conferencing and chat rooms to deliver education to just about anyone with the willingness and desire to learn. With such massive leaps and bounds being made almost every year, distance learning has gone from being a fringe movement to something that everyone can partake in, regardless of location, creed or social class.

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Online Learning