Throughout the development of distance learning programs – both formal and informal learning – a tension has existed between the limitations of the technology and the corresponding impact on the individual learner. “Though the original intent of distance education was to improve educational opportunities for those unable to engage in more traditional forms of education, the quality and interaction of distance learning was limited by the available technologies” (Prewitt, 1998).
With each new development in technology, improvements in distance education followed. As first radio and then TV reached out and touched America, so too it reached out and touched students learning at a distance. With broadcast radio reaching the masses in the 1920’s, educational opportunities continued to expand, with lectures from storied academics reaching an audience of thousands, including those lectures through the Wisconsin School of the Air (Prewitt, 1998). One might call these radio lectures the beginning of the MOOC – massive learning free for all in a technology-leveraged format.
A Mission of Access and Expanded Opportunities
And enabling the huddled masses to participate in formal education was a hallmark of distance education from the beginning. The mission of “access” – what later became the rallying call of the community college – was core to the expansion of distance learning. Women, who are now the majority of college graduates, at the time were rarities in higher education, and the “first participants in correspondence courses were mostly female” (Casey, 2008, p. 46).
Correspondence courses for secretaries giving way to formal college programs through distance education developing to lectures delivered by radio led to TV education. “In 1970, the first fully televised college courses were created, licensed, and implemented by Coastline Community College and broadcast by KOCE-TV to other educational institutions in Orange County, CA. Coastline Community College was the college without an actual campus” (Casey, 2008, p.47). Known as Educational Television (ETV), these opportunities expanded to a wider audience access to education.