The Evolution of Distance Education – Part 2

I had an earlier post on the evolution of distance education and I found it so interesting that I decided to pick the select the topic for a Pecha Kecha powerpoint assignment in my PIDP 3240 class.  Below is both the original text I prepared for this assignment and the link Authorstream link to this project.  I hope you find the topic as interesting as I did!

When we think of distance education we tend to think of the plethora of online courses or courses with online components available today.  What most people don’t realize however is that distance education has been taking place in one form or another in various parts of the world for what is likely better than 300 years.  In this presentation I will outline, in chronological order, some of these documented occurrences and the ways in which they were delivered.  This will not be a comprehensive list but it should give you an indication of how this form of education has evolved.  There has been some discussion that the epistles in the New Testament testify to the existence of distance education or that some of this learning originally took place via messenger or messenger bird but I am going to focus today on better known educational focused offerings.  (Uni-oldenburgde, 2016)

It seems it all started in 1728 when a teacher Caleb Phillips, teaching the new method of Short Hand, advertised is the Boston Gazette that ‘Persons in the Country desirous to Learn this Art, may by having the several Lessons sent Weekly to them, be as perfectly instructed as those that live in Boston.’  The presumption here is that the weekly assignments to which he refers are an indication of two way traffic.  The subsequent expansion of the US postal system then began to perpetuate distance learning courses across the US. (Learndashcom, 2016)

One hundred years later we find evidence of distance learning in the Swedish City of Lund.  A weekly published in the old Swedish university there in 1833 advertised opportunities to study ‘Composition through the medium of the Post’ (Uni-oldenburgde, 2016).  This precipitated the offering of correspondence courses throughout Europe and by 1836 the University of London started examining work completed by folks taught by organizations ‘without examination powers’ which enabled them to ultimately acquire academic degrees without being students; a very important development for distance learning indeed. A notable example of these offerings took place in 1840 when a fellow by the name of Isaac Pitman started teaching short hand on postcards in England.  His students were invited to send passages from the bible transcribed in short hand to him for correction.  By 1843 the combined study of short hand and the Scriptures came to be managed by the Phonographic Correspondence Society and shortly thereafter the Sir Isaac Pitman Correspondence College was created.   Similar developments to these began to take place not only in Europe and the US but also as far away as Cape Town, South Africa.

Fast forward to the turn of the century and distance education grows.  Not just in numbers when in 1900 a home based program offered by a lady named Anne Ticknor managed to enroll 20,000 students but also in the methods of delivery.   By 1922 the University of Pennsylvania started delivery of the first college course broadcast on radio networks and by 1932 the University of Iowa started using television as a learning tool in their classrooms.  This was only the beginning for television though and it wasn’t until 1953 that the first televised courses were offered by the University of Houston and it would be 10 years later again before the FCC dedicates 20 television channels to be used solely for university and instructional use.

From this point forward distance education continues to become both more common and accepted and then two things happened in the later part of the 60’s and through the 1970’s; the advent of the personal computer and the early forming of what we now know as the internet or world wide web.  Few at the time could have foreseen the changes that would come as a result of these and it would be a number of years before these changes really started to take hold.  In 1970 the first college without a physical campus, Coastline Community College in California, opens its ‘doors’ and in 1985 the National Technological University becomes the first to offer online degree courses using satellite signals.  Then in 1991, the world wide web, also know at the time as the information super highway, is born.  It would later be renamed the internet, a term everyone is now more than familiar with.    It is impossible to overstate the impact the internet has had on education and the demand it has since driven for distance education.

In the five year period between 1997 and 2002, Web CT 1.0 LMS, an internet based learning management system, is released which inspires the creation of the next generation of this software Blackboard in 1999 and is shortly followed in 2002 by Moodle.  The latter two of these systems are still in common use today.  By 2003 16% of undergraduate students in the US were enrolled in at least one online course and by 2010 it is estimated that 6.1 million students have taken an online course at one time or another; a number that continues to dramatically increase.  To give you an indication of rate of this change, between 1998 and 2008 the number of students opting for distance education courses as part of their regular curriculum increased by 150%.  Today the number of courses offered by distance education is continuing this trend and the courses themselves are constantly becoming more innovative, immersive and rich; a story that is even more impressive once you understand its humble roots.


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