By Frans Du Plessis
For generations, distance education has afforded students the opportunity to pursue dreams that take them outside the confines of their local educational institutions. It meant that ambition was no longer limited by something as trivial as one’s geographical location. Students could now enjoy the privilege of furthering their education, while also maintaining their work and family obligations. It is true that distance education, with its more stringent demands on self-discipline, is not the right answer for everyone. It is also true, however, that distance education has stood the test of time, and only a fool would predict anything but prosperity in its future.
A Timeline of the Evolution of Distance Education:
- 1840 – Shorthand is taught through correspondence by Isaac Pitman in the UK.
- 1858 – The University of London creates its External Program.
- 1883 – New York State authorizes the Chautauqua Institute to award degrees earned via correspondence.
- 1891 – The Colliery Engineer School of Mines renames itself International Correspondence Schools.
- 1892 – The University of Chicago starts administering the first university courses by mail.
- 1906 – The Calvert School of Baltimore becomes the first primary school in the United States to offer correspondence courses.
- 1916 – The National University Continuing Education Association is created in the United States.
- 1921 – Pennsylvania State College begins broadcasting courses on the radio.
- 1933 – The University of Iowa begins broadcasting courses on television.
- 1950 – The Ford Foundation begins offering grants to create and develop educational programs for television broadcasting.
- 1967 – The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is created.
- 1970 – Walden University is established.
- 1974 – California State University offers a Masters degree via correspondence.
- 1982 – The National University Teleconferencing Network is established.
- 1984 – The personal computer is named “man of the year” by Time Magazine.
The birth of the personal computer and the dawn of the Internet Age, marked an epoch in the evolution of distance education into what is now today an integral part of modern education. Universities around the world offer online courses and, in fact, an entire industry has been built upon this foundation of online education. One does not have to search far to find online courses on a range of topics so diverse, that no man could be left unsatisfied.
The true beauty of online education, however, lies in its ability to nullify all time and space. It breaks down borders, literally and metaphorically, and it ensures that all students receive equal opportunities, regardless of where they might happen to live in the world. Education brings with it an ability to change the world., and online education serves as an amplifier of this ability. People often say that online education will change the world. I say it already has.