Online education has come a long way since its inception in the late 1900s. However, the concept of distance learning actually dates back to the mid-19th century when the U.S. Postal Service was established. This led to the development of correspondence colleges, where students and professors would exchange instructional materials through the mail. Today, online education has become a popular and legitimate form of learning, thanks to advancements in technology and the internet.
Several significant milestones have shaped and propelled distance learning forward over the years. In 1873, the “Society to Encourage Home Studies” was established in Boston, Massachusetts, marking the first official correspondence education program. Australia’s University of Queensland also founded its Department of Correspondence Studies in 1911, utilizing the country’s postal system. The University of South Africa, now known as one of the world’s open distance learning mega colleges, championed distance learning when it redefined its mission and focus in 1946.
In 1953, the University of Houston made distance learning history by offering the first televised college classes on KUHT, the first public television station in the United States. KUHT dedicated a significant portion of its broadcast time to educational content, making learning accessible to viewers who worked during the day.
The advent of personal computers and the internet brought about another revolutionary change in distance education. In 1989, the University of Phoenix became the first fully online collegiate institution offering both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Seven years later, Jones International University became the first accredited and fully web-based university, founded by entrepreneurs Glen Jones and Bernand Luskin. Since then, distance learning has continued to evolve, with platforms like Blackboard facilitating online courses for millions of students worldwide.
Today, online education is a major part of higher education, with approximately 1 in 4 college students enrolled in at least one online course. In 2009, there were over 4.5 million students taking online classes, with a Master of Science in Business Administration (MBA) being the most popular degree. The trend is expected to continue, with 83% of U.S. institutions offering online courses projecting an increase in online enrollment in the coming decade.
The growth of distance learning programs has had significant effects on higher education. The profile of an average undergraduate student has changed, with the average age of students at the University of Phoenix being around 33. Additionally, more than 50% of all online students are female. Traditional colleges have also adapted to the rise of online education, with 93% of brick and mortar institutions now offering online courses. Elite universities like UC Berkeley, Harvard, and MIT have even started providing free online classes known as open courseware.
As technology continues to improve and online programs gain more recognition, experts predict that distance education will expand and become more complex in the future. Some leaders in the field anticipate that the number of online students will reach almost 19 million by 2024. To support this growth, former President Barack Obama pledged over $500 million for the development of new online course materials.
If you’re interested in playing a role in the growing field of online education, there are several areas of study you can pursue. A degree in computer science will provide you with a strong foundation in the technical and theoretical aspects of computer technology, equipping you with the skills to create innovative tools for distance learners. On the other hand, if you’re interested in the business side of running an online college, a degree in business administration will teach you about various aspects of running a successful company, from marketing and management to finance and accounting. Lastly, if you’re passionate about improving distance learning programs, you can explore education or instructional psychology programs to learn about theories and methods for creating quality instructional content.