History of Distance Learning

What is distance learning and how did it come about?
Distance learning is a growing field that has greatly changed over the last 300 years. Today, most people think of online classes when they hear the term ‘distance learning’, but that is not the only form of distance education. That is just the latest technology that is used to deliver education to students who are not physically on-site.

When looking at the origins of distance learning, we should go back to the first facts we have. One of the first mentions of distance learning was a 1728 advertisement in the Boston Gazette by “Caleb Phillips, Teacher of the new method of Short Hand” who was looking for students who wanted lessons sent to them weekly. The creation of the postal service in the 1800’s greatly expanded distance learning as it allowed colleges to form which corresponded solely by mail across the entire United States.

Back in Europe, the University of London was a pioneer in the distance learning field. In 1858, it became the first university to offer specific distance learning degrees. In 1873, The Society to Encourage Studies at Home was created as the first correspondence school in the United States. Around the world, the University of Queensland in Australia established its Department of Correspondence Studies in 1911, and New Zealand began offering university-level distance learning at Massey University in 1960. Currently, the largest distance learning university in the UK is the Open University which was founded in 1969. Germany has the FernUniversitat in Hagen which was founded in 1974 to provide distance higher education to German students at home and abroad. It had about 45,000 students in 2005.

Today, more than 96 percent of large colleges and universities in the U.S. offer online classes. Nearly 3.2 million students took at least 1 online class during the Fall 2005 semester.

Distance learning takes on many forms. Some of the most popular methods include:

online courses
mail correspondence
cd-rom / dvd classes
televised classes
e-mailed lessons
classes by video conference

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