Distance Learning Has Been Around Since 1892, You Big MOOC

As noted in my pieces on MITx, edX, Udacity and other Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms,  online education is driving today’s higher education revolution. Though the flurry of attention around MOOCs may lead one to conclude that distance learning is a recent phenomenon, it actually dates back over 120 years.

According to a team of Ph.D’s and NASA scientists assembled by Post University, distance learning began in 1892 when the University of Chicago created the first college-level distance learning program. Expanding from this initial use of the U.S. Postal Service for course correspondence, distance education moved towards live radio shows in 1921 and then televised broadcasts in 1963.

In 1970, Coastline Community College became the first college without a physical campus, offering exclusively televised college courses. Many other schools followed Coastline’s lead with televised courses of their own. And, in 1985,  National Technological University became the first school to offer online degree courses via satellite transmission.

In the 1990s and 2000s, distance learning over the Internet became the dominant distance learning craze. As more schools embraced online education, smaller, less well-known colleges and for-profit universities drove further innovation in the online education space.  For instance, in 1993, Jones International University became the first fully online university accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. And, in 2002, MIT launched its popular OpenCourseWare initiative.

Babson Research Survey Group and College Board estimate that in the fall of 2010 6.1 million students took at least one online education course. In addition, according to Babson and College Board, 65 percent of higher education institutions say online education is now a critical part of their long-term strategy.

However, what really blew the virtual lid of online education numbers was the 2011 introduction of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). As noted in a previous Crotty on Education column, in the fall of 2011  Stanford University Professor, Sebastian Thrun, launched a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on artificial intelligence that attracted more than 160,000 students. Thrun’s success inspired other universities — such as Princeton, UPenn and University of Michigan — to join the Stanford MOOC fiesta.

Now a full-blown race to become the dominant MOOC is well underway, with Coursera, World Education University, Udacity, edX and many others competing for critical mass and first-mover advantage.

With the tremendous increase of students participating in MOOCs and sundry online courses, distance learners are forced to become even more self-directed, engaged, and collaborative than ever before. As educational technology and students inevitably evolve, distance learning design will need to evolve as well.

I have no doubt that  it will, since it’s been doing so since 1892.


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