The history of distance learning [Infographic]

How has distance-based learning changed though the ages?
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

The world of snail-mail, shorthand typing and correspondence courses is a far cry from today's range of certified online courses, Skype language lessons and mobile app-based education.

Distance learning once meant completing assignments via post, or homework-based lessons in conjunction with weekly or monthly seminars. Now, exams can be taken online, students can communicate effectively through online platforms, and lab sessions can be attended through live streaming.

MIT is one of the latest course providers to offer online alternatives, and the concept of digital learning has expanded across the globe -- taking root more recently in China. Just how far has distance learning progressed?

  • 1728 : Shorthand correspondence courses become advertised in local newspapers.
  • 1856 : In Europe, language courses become established through post.
  • 1858 : The University of London offers distance-based courses, claiming to be the first of its kind.
  • 1873 : The University of the Cape of Good Hope established as a dedicated distance-learning facility.
  • 1900 : A home-based program targets women in New York, over 20,000 enroll.
  • 1922 : Pennsylvania State College broadcasts courses across radio networks.
  • 1934 : The University of Iowa becomes the first to use television as a learning tool.
  • 1963 : The FCC dedicates 20 television channels for university use and instruction.
  • 1968 : 'Correspondence' is changed to 'Independent study' to divide university and home schooling.
  • 1969 : A 'University without walls' becomes established.
  • 1986 : Pennsylvania State University offers computer-based courses with audio conferencing.
  • 1992 : The Electronic University Network helps to develop university virtual campuses through AOL.
  • 1995 : Regent University offers the first online Ph.D. in communication.
  • 1996 : Duke University offers its Global MBA; combining online classes with campus learning.
  • 1997 : Web CT is released.
  • 2001 : The virtual learning environment, Moodle, is developed.
  • 2005: Almost 3.2 million U.S. students were taking at least one online course at university.
  • 2009 : YouTube EDU introduces thousands of free lectures.
  • 2011 : Distance learning becomes a serious option for UK students hit with a tripled university fee.

For more information, view the infographic below. For a larger version, click here.


Infographic provided by: Greg Coltman


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