The History of Distance Education

Casey, D. (2008)  A Journey to Legitimacy: The Historical Development of Distance Education through Technology.   TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning, 52(2), 45-51.

This article by Denise M. Casey clearly articulates the history of distance education in the United States.  Beginning in the 1850’s, the United States postal system was instrumental in the first distance education courses.  These were the correspondence courses, primarily vocational-type courses designed to teach skill sets for employment.  Course offerings included shorthand and mine safety.  In the late 1800’s, the University of Chicago created the first post-secondary distance learning program. 

 It was in the 1920’s that technology became associated with distance education.  The catalyst for this event was the invention of the radio.  Radio technology allowed for the expansion of the classroom beyond the boundaries of an institution.  Students could hear their instructors from a distance!  At this time, distance education evolved to include both radio and the traditional exchange of assignments and lessons between students and instructor through the postal service.

 The next step in the sequence involved use of the television as an instructional tool.  In 1934, the University of Iowa became the first institution to broadcast courses by television.  In the 1960’s, the FCC created the Instructional Television Fixed Service, some twenty television stations available to educational institutions to support distance learning courses.  The late 1960’s saw the advent of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) to promote non-commercial, vis-a-vis educational, programming.

The radical changes in distance education that are seen currently began in 1971 with the development of the microprocessor by Intel.  Although it would be another 20 years before the World Wide Web came into being, the microprocessor and the computer provided the starting point.  The technological revolution gained momentum when satellite relay of information became affordable in the 1980’s.

 Today, technological changes occur at an astonishing rate.  The internet has become the superhighway of information dissemination.  “Podcasts”, “wikis”, “blogs”, “apps” are terms infused into the everyday language of our time.  Distance education, with its origins in vocational courses, has evolved into a multi-headed giant that serves all areas of academia and career training.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The History of Distance Education

  1. kyank16

    Nice work, Jane. I think the importance of the microprocessor is huge.

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