Contrary to the myth that distance learning is the result of the Internet, non-traditional distance education has its beginnings in Biblical times. Distance education first appeared in the early Christian church. “Paul wrote letters to newly formed churches in the hope that they might learn about the way” (Coe, 1999, p. 354). Later, Mongolian educators "taught that Genghis Khan established a national ‘mobile learning’ system” using speedy equestrians as the delivery method (Baggaley, 2008, p. 42).
The correspondence style teaching approach grew through the years until a formal approach to education was developed. In the 19th century, organizations and colleges began providing lessons and instruction using correspondence. As early as 1837, Sir Isaac James Pitman taught correspondence courses in stenographic shorthand and later created the Phonographic Correspondence Society (Casey, 2008; Tracey & Richey, 2005; Wang & Liu, 2003). In 1873, in the United States, Anna Ticknor created a correspondence course society to encourage women of all social classes. The Society to Encourage Studies at Home delivered course materials for study at home (Eliot, 1897; Harting & Erthal, 2005). Baggaley (2008) stated that Lenin sent teachers with educational materials via train through the vast expanses of Russia. With the examples listed above, the educational material was delivered via mobile media (by foot; horses, and trains). Distance education defined its beginnings.
With roots in Sweden as early as 1838, England in 1840, the United States in 1843, and Australia in 1909, curriculum was delivered via correspondence courses (Harting & Erthal, 2005; Stacey & Visser, 2005). In the 20th century, distance learning evolved from correspondence-based to radio-based and later television-based (Harting & Erthal, 2005; Nasseh, 1997; Wang & Liu, 2003). Students no longer received educational materials via mail. Students could view or listen to the information in his or her home, classroom, or work location. Tracey and Richey (2005) stated that distance education, where the educator and student were geographically and physically in different time zones, was the fastest growing form of teaching and learning around the world. Tracey and Richey provided a history of print-based correspondence detailing the strengths and weaknesses of this learning medium.
Pittman (2006) wrote about Helen Williams “directed the University of Iowa’s Bureau of Correspondence Study” (p. 107) from 1920 to 1939. Beginning in the 1920s, several universities tried to broadcast correspondence courses over the radio. The potential for radio broadcasting was appealing to administrators. Williams’ program attempted radio broadcasting and was unsuccessful as were other schools (Pittman, 2006). In 1932, the University of Iowa began broadcasting educational teaching programs via television; however, college courses for credit were not offered until the 1950s (Tracey & Richey, 2005).
From 1957 to 1962, New York University (NYU) broadcast Sunrise Semester for people who wanted to earn college credit in their homes. NYU along with the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) started Sunrise Semester as an experiment; however, the show lasted 24 years (Murphey & Wright, 1958; New York University, n.d.). Mr. Sam Digges, general manager of the New York CBS affiliate, pioneered this first offering of a credit course on television. Despite criticism, the station received more than 7,500 enrollments (Fowler, 1990). With the advent of space technology in the 1960s, satellite-delivered educational systems were implemented (Tracey & Richey, 2005). The National Institute of Education funded the Appalachian Education Satellite Project to supplement local education programs (Appalachian Education Satellite Project, 1976; Bramble & Ausness, 1974; Tracey & Richey, 2005). Later in 1979, the Alaska legislature funded a research study to look at the feasibility of using satellite-delivered television programs for educational purposes. In 1985, the program, Learn/Alaska, reached more than 85 communities and provided 18 hours of education (from pre-kindergarten to adult) (National Technical Information Service [NTIS], 1982; Tracey & Richey, 2005).
Distance education is distinctly different from online learning (Larreamendy-Joerns & Leinhardt, 2006). Larreamendy-Joerns and Leinhardt (2006) defined distance education as “pedagogical oddity, often requiring further justification, such as the extension of educational opportunities or the encouragement of life-long learning” (p. 570). Because the Internet is easily available through free Internet cafes to local fast food restaurants to hospital waiting rooms, online education has moved to a primary position when designing programs and curriculum. Major universities such as Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Yale, evidenced this and have designed key programs and initiatives focusing on the online delivery method (Larreamendy-Joerns & Leinhardt, 2006). These colleges and universities, in addition to other initiatives at other schools, have substantiated the cause for online learning and have aided in legitimizing other online universities. Larreamendy-Joerns and Leinhardt (2006) stated that although a few colleges and universities have not been successful with online programs, distance-learning initiatives are formidable and legitimate.
Distance education further evolved through technological advances and the Internet has become the most common mode of delivery within the United States (Baggaley, 2008). In the Fall 2005 edition of Quarterly Review of Distance Education, the editors devoted the issue to the “international history of distance education” (Visser, 2005, p. viii). Several researchers covered the countries of Mexico, Mauritania, Russia, France, Australia, and Botswana, and the cities of Hong Kong and Quebec. Wheeler (2005) reported on attending the 13th European Distance and E-Learning Network (EDEN). In 2005, EDEN, whose conference focused on the electronic delivery of programs and courses, had “a membership of 110 institutional members and over 500 individual members in 41 countries” (Wheeler, 2005, p. 261).
The destinations reviewed have definite challenges; however, these countries had ambitious and optimistic plans for developing distance education in the future (Castañeda & Visser, 2005; Dhurbarrylall & Visser, 2005; Hope, Butcher, & Visser, 2005; Nage-Sibande & Visser, 2005). Japan delivers through satellite broadcast media. In Mongolia, educators are seeking alternatives to using the Internet because connectivity is very slow (Baggaley, 2008). In the Philippines, educational leaders are developing delivery methods through cell phones and short message services (SMS) (Baggaley, 2008).
Baggaley (2008) stated history of education is over a thousand-years old and that distance education is only a small portion of this history. In the early history of distance education, the media and educators focused on a directly connecting the student to the instructor. As the development of distance education has evolved in the 20th century, asynchronous delivery methods were emphasized. Direct contact between the student and the teacher was removed from the learning process (Baggaley, 2008). The learning medium has evolved from letter writing in Biblical times to 20th century radio-broadcasting, and now onto the use of Internet-based classrooms. As learning management systems evolve, learning styles are also important to review and evaluate in a literature review.
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