History of Online Education

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By Ann Smarty

Online education has created possibilities that previous generations couldn’t even fathom.

Literally, students can earn their entire degree at home, by working when it’s convenient for them, while wearing their pajamas. This amazing innovation has allowed for greater access to universities and targeted specializations that may not be locally available. It has also been especially beneficial for working adults or stay at home parents who are eager to earn a degree.

So, how did online education programs get started? Here is a brief history of online education.

The history of online education extends back further than you may think, with the very first virtual classroom environments being created in the 1960s. University of Illinois scientists created a classroom system based in linked computer terminals. There, students were able to access informational resources while listening to a professor whose lectures were brought in remotely, via some form of television or audio device.

Certainly not a form of “online learning” that stands up to the web learning of today, but it was the beginning of enhanced distance learning and the utilization of computer resources for educational purposes.

Universities quickly began to take advantage of these new resources by offering distance learning courses, using computer networking for information and resource sharing, and more. By the mid 1980s, college resources frequently included online access to course information and student networking tools.

Online only courses began emerging in the late 1980s, with some moderate success. The concept was further popularized as major corporations began using similar utilities to trim their training budgets. While businesses began with software training programs, the largest corporations started utilizing online tools to minimize software distribution costs.

Another phenomenon that contributed to online learning was the correspondence school. The original correspondence schools worked in a very straightforward way: You registered by mail, received materials by mail, then mailed the course work back for grading upon completion.

As the digital age swept across the nation, the correspondence school became more grounded in the virtual world, and the first online correspondence school, the University of Phoenix, made its way onto the scene in 1989. It was not a fully accredited institution at that time, however, and it wasn’t until 1993 that the first accredited university, the Jones International University, really opened the floodgates.

It was at this same time that a new innovation in the online world made more universities of this kind possible: the Mosaic web interface. This was the first graphic interface that reached out to more common users, allowing for unprecedented access and support. Since that time, hundreds of standard universities have started offering a variety of online courses.

Many institutions, as well as a number of digital correspondence schools, offer full degrees and accelerated degree programs online. As the web continued to open doors, these universities expanded their degree selection. These days, it’s literally possible to graduate with the degree of your choice without ever having to set foot in a classroom.

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Categories: Online Education