The History of Distance Learning

History of Distance Learning

While online courses may be a fairly recent trend when it comes to higher education, distance learning programs have had a long and rich history in America. From the start of correspondence instruction in 1870 to the birth of the World Wide Web and online education in 1989, the timeline below charts the growth of distance learning in the US leading up to 2011.

GI Bills Mark Key Turning Points

Although distance learning has always had a presence, with over 60 million people in America enrolled in correspondence courses through 1945, key turning points in post-secondary education and distance learning stemmed from government legislation during and after WWII.

The passing of the GI Bill of rights in 1944 made post-secondary education more accessible than ever before, and the passing of the Korean GI Bill in 1950 led to not only the start of accreditation, but the first time that distance learning became eligible for federal aid—reinforcing its growing credibility.

Distance Learning Goes Online

However, perhaps, the most influential year in the history of distance learning is its transformation from correspondence courses into online education with the advent of the Internet. From 1989 when University of Phoenix firsts began offering online courses up until the present, distance learning has experienced rapid growth.

In 2002, one million students had taken an online course, and by 2011 that number reached over 140 million, causing online learning to be the fastest growing segment of education—with over 85% of schools offering online classes.

As online education continues to gain further acceptance, distance learning—with its deep-seated roots—is expected to become increasingly mainstream in the coming years.

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