The History of Distance Learning

While distance learning may seem like a relatively new phenomenon, given its increased popularity in the online format, in reality people have been taking courses offered by non-local instructors for Some of the earliest distance learning on record dates back to 1728 and offered to teach students how to write in short hand through lessons sent to their home weekly. These simple, practical lessons were commonly taught through the mail throughout the 1700’s and 1800’s and allowed anyone to gain valuable job skills even if they lived well-away from major centers of education and commerce.

The refinement and expansion of postal systems in the U.S. and abroad brought about the true beginnings of distance learning as we think about it today. Students and instructors could now communicate with one another fairly rapidly and send materials back and forth with little difficulty. One of the first universities to offer a distance learning degree was the University of London which established an External Programme in 1858. It was soon to be followed in 1873 by the programs at the Society to Encourage Studies at Home in Boston and the University of Australia’s Department of Correspondence Studies in 1911.

By the 1960’s, distance learning had grown tremendously and distance learning universities comparable to size to traditional universities had developed. In the United States, the forerunner in distance education was the University of Wisconsin-Madison which funded by the Carnegie Foundation brought together a variety of communications technologies to help provides learning to students who were off-campus. These ideas were later emulated by schools around the world and provided much more rapid and modern way to share information and education with students who could not attend traditional courses.

Today, distance education is offered through a variety of formats. Radio, television, telecommunications, and especially the Internet have come to play an integral role in expanding the minds of students around the world. With the wide distribution and accessibility of computers, distance learning has become faster and more prevalent. Some solely online universities such as Phoenix University have hundreds of thousands of students and numerous institutions both small and large have sprung up in the past decade. Of course, traditional universities are not without online options as well, as it is estimated that almost 96% of them offer some kind of online coursework and that millions of students across the nation are enrolled.

With the ever increasing accessibility of computers and the internet, little in known as to how online learning will evolve in the coming years. Given the growing popularity of this type of learning one thing is for sure, however, that distance learning is a resource for students that will be around for years to come.

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