"The original target groups of distance education efforts were adults with occupational, social, and family commitments" (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p 39).
a brief timeline ...
1833 - ad in Swedish newspaper started correspondence study
> spread across Europe and America (Phonographic Correspondence Society, Society to Encourage Studies at Home)
1883 - 1891 - academic degrees were authorized by state of New York through Chautauqua College of Liberal Arts for blended learning (summer courses and correspondence course)
1922 - 1933 - distance learning courses offered via radio broadcast (Pennsylvania State College, State of Iowa)
1930s - experimental television teaching programs at University of Iowa, Purdue University, and Kansas State College
1950s - college credit courses offered via broadcast television by Western Reserve University and New York University
1975 - distance learning via video (University of Mid-America)
Late 1980s and early 1990s - development of fiber-optic communication systems increased Internet based programs
"The contemporary period is often characterized as one of unpredictable change" (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012, p 36).
my two cents ...
Prior to learning more about the evolution of distance learning, I had, of course, heard of correspondence courses; however, I had not linked that idea with the modern idea of “online learning.” Perhaps it was because I did not realize correspondence courses involved dialogue back and forth. I envisioned it more of self-study than distance education by the standards laid out by Simonson, Smaldino, Albirght, & Zvacek (2012): distance learning is “institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors” (p. 32).
As I weighed getting my masters degree online versus in a traditional classroom, I considered many factors. First being the perception of an online degree. The second being around the learning group. I learn socially and like to talk about things. I was having a difficult time envisioning how communication would be robust in the online environment. What I have found, though, is that the conversation, why asynchronous, is of incredible quality. As learners are not required to respond instantly, there is time to reflect and research before responding. In my experience, this provides a superior conversation opportunity.
Whether that communication is via postal mail, telephone, or the internet, this component is what sets distance education above “self-study” and perhaps even above traditional classroom based programs.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). Distance learning timeline continuum [video]. Retrieved from http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=6493362&Survey=1&47=8984048&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=1&bhcp=1.
Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.