History of Distance Education

QuillCorrespondence education, the earliest version of distance education, developed in the mid-nineteenth century in Europe (Great Britain, France, Germany), and the United States, and spread swiftly. In 1840, an English educator, Sir Isaac Pitman, taught shorthand by mail (Encarta). In the United States during the nineteenth century, there were several opportunities in adult education prior to the advent of university extension beyond campuses. In 1873, Anna Ticknow established a society that presented educational opportunities to women of all classes to study at home (Nasseh). Ticknow's Boston-based, volunteer endeavor provided correspondence instruction to more than 10,000 students over the course of 24 years (Nasseh). Communication, teaching and learning all took place through printed materials sent through the mail.
    Cornell University attempted to establish a Correspondence University based out of its campus in 1883. It did not succeed. It wasn't until 1883 that the first official recognition of correspondence education took place (Nasseh). Chautauqua College of Liberal Arts in the state of New York granted degrees to students who successfully completed academic work through correspondence education and summer workshops (Encarta). Thomas J. Foster started home-study courses in mine safety in the 1880s, as well. These courses grew to become the International Correspondence School.
    In 1915, following a call by academicians to research the effectiveness of correspondence education vs. tradtional education, the National University Extension Association (NUEA) was formed (Nasseh). The NUEA set out to establish new national level guidelines for credit transferal, for acceptance of credit from correspondence courses, and for quality standards for correspondence educators (Nasseh).
Lantern SlideUntil 1910, the medium of mail was the dominant delivery system, but new technologies, such as the lantern slide and motion picture, emerged to provide additional, visually-based options for correspondence study (Nasseh). The most promising new technology that emerged between 1910 and 1920 was instructional radio. The federal government granted over 202 radio broadcasting licenses between 1918 and 1946 to educational institutions; however, the technology failed to attract a large audience, and by 1940, only one college-level credit course was still offered through instructional radio (Nasseh). Perhaps instructional radio's greatest contribution to correspondence education was its natural evolvement to educational television in the mid-20th century.
    The field of correspondence education continued to struggle for acceptance into the early 1950's (Nasseh). Fortunately, a flurry of research conducted on correspondence study during this period and, later in the decade, facilitated growth of this medium's knowledge base (Nasseh). The success of the University of Wisconsin's Correspondence Study Unit (UWCU) also fostered acceptance of correspondence education (Gooch). In 1958, a UWCU report stated that the correspondence unit:
  • "Offers nearly 450 courses in nearly 150 areas of learning
  • Teaches 12,000 active students annually
  • Gives personal instruction on more than 80,000 written assignments
  • Cooperates with the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State to teach Immigration Law & Visa Operation to foreign service officers
  • And contracts with the U.S. Armed Forces Institute to develop and teach 200 correspondence courses on the high school and university level (Gooch)."
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, cable and satellite television came into use. The advent of the Internet and digital applications in the 1990s, combined with the changing demographics of the distance education learner, added a whole new dimension to distance education. These new technologies bring educational opportunity to the non-traditional student, and the lure of economic prosperity to higher educational institutions.
Bottom Bar
DE Technology | DE at UF | Sources | Main | Contact