A Brief History of Distance Learning

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It is common knowledge in higher education that distance learning is nothing new.   The phenomenon of students learning in an asynchronous manner through formal institutions goes back to the 1800s, which is a really long time ago, especially in educational technology terms.   It might as well be a millennium. In reality, it is a short history of three centuries, inspired by a mission of access, not unlike the mission of many community colleges (Carey, 2008).

History has an important place in our understanding of most educational topics, and is indeed particularly important in the field of eLearning, where dated references and research are a decade old, and new models of eLearning emerge to disrupt the higher education marketplace on a seemingly monthly basis.   Every time the moon waxes and wanes, a new learning model emerges wrapped in a snazzy acronym which has the ability to push innovation, improve education, and whip educational Luddites into a frenzy of animated furor.

Even if you, or high ranking members of your institution, are of the belief that distance education is muddying and diluting educational quality tweet by tweet, you cannot afford (literally) to ignore eLearning, unless the world is subject to an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack, in which case we’d all have anarchy to worry about instead of education.