Technology background

History of Distance Learning By: Leah Ellen Bradley

  • Boston Gazette

    Caleb Phillips begins advertising private (mail) correspondence courses in the Boston Gazette newspaper. Informal “correspondence educations” can be found thereafter, with varying degrees of quality and consistency.
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    History of Distance Learning

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    1728-1900 - Industrial Age and Early Computers

    You might not think of computer technology as emerging in a time when the steam engine was considered modern technology. But the earliest computers were born during the Industrial Era. This time period actually marks the debut of the first semi-automated computing machines. This era also marks the beginning of radios, motion pictures,correspondence courses, laying the groundwork for distance education and online colleges.
  • Postal System

    Establishment of American Postal System.
  • Punch Card Loom

    Weaver and merchant Joseph-Marie Jacquard invents the punch card loom (computer). The punch card method of programming would later be used in early IBM computers.
  • Analytic Engine

    Charles Babbage produces the first prototype of a “modern” style automated computer. He called it an “analytic engine.”
  • External Program

    The Univeristy of London becomes the first univeristy in the world to offer full degrees through distance learning, with its “External Programme.”
  • United States Correspondence

    The first formal correspondence schools in the United States begin. Their collective organization is called “The Society to Encourage Studies at Home,” founded by Ana Eliot Tickner in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Telephone

    Alexander Graham Bell makes the first telephone call on March 10, thus inventing the first working telephone. His message was, “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.
  • Motion Picture

    The first motion–picture photography is achieved by Edward Muybridge on June 19. This short experimental recording shows a galloping horse. Muybridge was settling a dispute about whether running horses lift all four feet off the ground at the same time.
  • Univeristy of Chicago

    The University of Chicago is the first traditional American educational institution (college or K–12) to offer correspondence courses. The term “distance education” is first used in by the University of Wisconsin–Madison in a pamphlet.
  • Radio

    The first radio signal is sent by Guglielmo Marconi. This technology reaches England by 1899.
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    1900-1959 Great Wars and Proto-Internet Era

    The early incentive for innovation in computer technology was often war-related. During and after two world wars, the biggest source of funding and federal support was for military purposes, most notably for competing with the USSR. The launch of Sputnik in 1957 set American forces ablaze with new inspiration. After a decade of robust post-war production and innovation. In this era, distance education begins to evolve through radio and television correspondence.
  • Online Learning

    The Calvert School of Baltimore (Maryland) is the first primary school in the US to offer correspondence courses. The Univeristy of Wisonsin–Madison sends course materials and lectures on phonograph records to distance learners, embracing new technology as a means of distance education and setting the stage for online learning.
  • Department of Correspondence Studies

    The University of Queensland (Australia) opens its Department of Correspondence Studies.
  • Broadcasting Courses

    Pennsylvania State University is the first college or university to broadcast courses over the radio, increasing the speed and efficiency of contact between distance learners and course content.
  • Radio Correspondence Courses

    The University of Iowa begins offering course credit for five different radio correspondence courses.
  • National Home Study

    John Logie Baird invents the first television in England.
    The National Home Study Council forms. They would change their name to the Distance Education and Training Council in 1942, and the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) in 2015.
  • Collegiate Broadcasting

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is formed. Under the influence of the Association of College and University Broadcasting, they help to keep frequencies open for collegiate broadcasting.
  • Codes for Military Instruction

    The Turing machine, a code-breaking computer, is invented by Alan Turing to assist the Allied forces in breaking the code used for German military instructions.
  • First Digital Computer

    First Digital Computer
    Allegedly, the first fully automated electro-mechanical programmable digital computer is created — the Z3 — by German Konrad Zuse.
  • Colossus - British Intelligence

    Colossus - British Intelligence
    “Colossus” is built. This set of computers aids British intelligence code-breakers as part of the war effort. This computer system is thought to be the first electronic fully programmable digital computing device. Some dispute persists over which computer systems were first, because most of the technology served covert military purposes and were subsequently destroyed.
  • Africa Correspondence Courses

    The University of South Africa begins offering correspondence courses.
  • Educational Television

    WOI-TV of Iowa State University goes on the air with the first non-experimental, educationally owned television station.
  • Credited Courses

    The University of Houston begins offering course credit for television correspondence courses.
  • Satellite Communications

    The USSR launches sputnik, the first satellite, igniting a new era of global communications, and ramping up Cold War competition.
  • Groundwork for the Internet

    Bell Laboratories invents the modem (“modulator and demodulator”). This device converts digital signals to analog (electric) signals, enabling wired communication between two or more computers. ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) is created by the US government in response to Russia’s Sputnik program. ARPA would later play a major role in establishing the groundwork for the Internet.
  • Intranet Systems

    The University of Illinois creates Intranet systems for students to access course materials and recorded lectures.
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    1960-1979 Space Age and Early Internet

    This era is marked by many “firsts,” including the invention of packet switching, ASCII coding, the term “internet,” the launch of ARPANET, and of course, and the first internet signal — “LO” (attempting the word “LOGIN”). This would be a period of rapid and remarkable breakthrough, giving first light to the prospect of a worldwide computer network, as well as the first virtual campus, though we were still a few years away from online education.
  • Internet System

    Internet System
    J.C.R. Licklider of MIT envisions a “galactic network” concept where all computers can access data and programs from any other site, effectively describing what came to be known as the internet.
  • Network System

    Leonard Kleinrock, Lawrence Roberts, and Thomas Merrill create the first wide area computer network, using telephone lines. Their work was sponsored by ARPA. The University of Wisconsin begins to implement a statewide telephone correspondence format for their physician training.

    ARPA sponsors the launch of ARPANET research project under the supervision of Robert Taylor. Its aim is to bridge packet-switching technology and computer networks.

    The first four nodes of the preliminary internet, the ARPANET, are linked through a physical Interface Message Processor (IMP) network. The nodes are in UCLA, UC–Santa Barbara, Stanford, and the University of Utah. October 29th, Charley Kline transmitted the first internet signal (data packets) under the supervision of Leonard Kleinrock at UCLA. The receiving end of the signal was at Stanford Research Institute. On the second try they succeeded in sending the complete word “LOGIN.”
  • Microsoft Corporation

    Microsoft Corporation
    Bill Gates and Paul Allen found the Microsoft Corporation.
  • Degree Programs

    The first virtual campus, Coastline Community College, is born, offering its degree program entirely through telecommuting courses, also known as telecourses (using telephone, television, radio, records, and tapes). The virtual campus operates out of Fountain Valley, California.

    Lawrence Landweber establishes the Computer Science Network (CSNET) with the intention of connecting all US universities and industrial computer research groups.

    David Farber, the “Grandfather of the Internet,” helps establish the National Science Foundation’s Computer Science Network (CSNET). CSNET proves instrumental in raising awareness of computer networking technology.
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    1980-1989 Computer Age and Modern Internet

    Before this era, the internet — and online education with it — were just research experiments. The vision for the internet was primarily based in university computer labs. During this era, the internet reaches Europe and Asia. Infrastructure is laid down, providing for faster and more expansive internet operations and effectively opening the door for the total commercial and popular permeation of web use in the decade that would immediately follow.
  • First Portable Computer

    First Portable Computer
    The Osborne 1 is the first commercially successful portable computer. Western Behavioral Sciences Institute offers the first online college program through its School of Management and Strategic Studies.
  • TCP/IP Protocols

    Modern internet is born when ARPANET transitions to TCP/IP protocols, leaving behind the former (weaker, less flexible) protocols of the Network Control Programs (NCP).
  • First Email

    The first email is sent from the US to Germany on August 3. It says, “Willkommen CSNET.” The Electronic University Network is created to promote access to online courses.
  • DOS

    The Electronic University Network offers its first course for use with DOS and Commodore 64 computers.
  • Online Private School

    The University of Phoenix, a private for-profit school, launches its online degree program.
  • Linux

    Linus Torvalds creates Linux, which would become a leading mode of Open Source software, a necessary aspect of many modern online learning platforms.
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    1990-1999 The Information Age and the Internet Boom

    The 1990’s are marked by a tech boom "bubble", as the commercial prospects of the internet are starting to take root. The early pioneers of online learning enter the fray around this time, with the first accredited fully–online college, as well as the development of learning management systems (LMS). But other companies begin utilizing the internet to pioneer brand new avenues of entertainment, learning, exploration, and discovery.
  • First Website

    First Website
    Tim Berners-Lee creates the first website on August 6. The first website address is:
    TheProject.html. The site is still active today. The World Wide Web (WWW) opens to the public, allowing for internet use and online education as we know them today.
  • Computerized Grading

    Western Michigan University develops a system of automatic computerized grading known as “Computer Assisted Personalized Approach” (CAPA). The Electronic University Network offers a Ph.D. program through America Online.
  • Real-Time Instruction

    CALCAMPUS offers the first online college courses with real–time instruction and participation i.e. synchronous learning.
  • LMS Network

    Blackboard Course Management software launches, effectively opening the market to a wide range of online options that were previously considered too unwieldy to handle. The Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks is established to publish and promote academic research on online education.
    The Interactive Learning Network is created and used by multiple schools as an early (LMS).
  • Google

    The Google search engine is developed.
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    2000-Today: The Information Age, Part Two- the Global Community

    Distant villages and households are connecting to the internet. Legislation and policy is increasingly challenged to keep up with the hastened pace of information coursing through the internet. There is a proliferation of online colleges and online degrees, as well as free and open online education options. From 2000 forward, the internet is firmly entrenched as a critical dimension of modern society, as opposed to merely a new technology added onto old society.
  • Creative Commons and Wikipedia

    Computer prodigy Aaron Swartz builds Creative Commons under the supervision of law professor Lawrence Lessig. Swarz was fifteen at the time. Jimmy Wales launches Wikipedia.
  • OpenCourseWare

    MIT offers free educational resources through the OpenCourseWare Project.
  • Facebook

    Mark Zuckerberg and his small team of fellow Harvard Students launch Facebook, originally intended as a collegiate social chat site.
  • Youtube

    Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim register the YouTube domain Valentine’s Day — the online video giant was originally conceived as a matchmaking site. The site launches in December.
  • iTunes and Khan Academy

    iTunes and Khan Academy
    iTunes U launches.
    Salman Khan founds Khan Academy.
  • 5.5 Million Students

    YouTube/EDU launches. More than 5.5 million students around the world enrolled in at least one online college course.
  • Online Regulations

    The Department of Education issues new regulations which require online colleges to satisfy all state–level educational requirements. This mandate places a huge regulatory burden on online colleges. Additionally, the same regulatory measures mandate a strict rubric using credit hours to measure learning, instead of competencies or other measures.
  • MOOC and Online Support

    Udacity launches Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) on behalf of Harvard and MIT. President Barack Obama announces $500 million in grants to community colleges, the bulk of which supports the development of online learning resources and programs.
  • Online University

    University of Florida–Online launches, becoming the first online-only public university
  • 98% Offering Programs

    98% of public universities and colleges offer some form of online program.
  • Online Bachelor's Degree Program

    The University of Pennsylvania becomes the first Ivy League university to offer a totally online bachelor’s degree program.
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    2019 and Beyond

    The Future of Online Learning: With the advent of online learning, more people than ever before are able to connect, learn, and grow on their own terms, without many of the obstacles that are associated with traditional, on-campus education. While online colleges may never totally replace the traditional experience, it is undeniable that online education has had a major impact not only on how we pursue formal education, but on how we teach, learn, and perceive knowledge.