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The History of Distance Learning

written by: Linda Hinkle•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 11/29/2009

The history of distance learning spans three major periods of development, beginning in the mid-1800s. This series of articles chronicles that history from its origin to present day and beyond and answers the question, when did it all begin?

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    When Did Distance Learning Begin?

    The history of distance learning had its beginning in the mid-1800s during the agrarian era. Born out of a need for educational opportunities to reach a geographically dispersed population, the first distance learning was in the form of correspondence courses. Other, more advanced forms did not emerge until the onset of the industrialization age in the 1920s. Developments in new technology during that period—from the late 1920s to 1970—saw distance learning opportunities grow through the use of radio and television. By 1970, the world had begun to focus on the power of the computer and distance learning entered the virtual age.

    This series of articles chronicles the history of distance learning from its origin to present day and beyond. In this introductory article, we discuss the three major eras of development and the influencing factors in each era. The remainder of the series consists of three articles which discuss specific developments in each period.

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    The first article is titled “A Distance Education Historical Perspective: The Early Years of Distance Learning." It discusses the origin of distance learning, factors that prompted its creation, and some of the early pioneers responsible for its implementation.

    The second article is a discussion of the developments in distance learning through the age of industrialization into the digital era. Its title is “The History of Technology in Education and Its Effect on Distance Learning From 1960 to 1990." During this time, demand for easier access to higher education increased and the education community looked to new technological tools to deliver instruction.

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    The Internet and the Onset of Distance Learning

    The last article in the series is titled “The Future of Distance Learning" and discusses how the power of the Internet and the World Wide Web created yet another chapter in the history of distance education. During this period, the face of distance learning changed drastically once again as online learning (e-learning) experienced rapid growth.

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    More Information About the History of Distance Learning

    The following Internet resources were used as sources of information for this series of articles:

    Baker's Guide: Christian Distance Education

    United States Distance Learning Association

    California Distance Learning Project