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Atlantic International University Blog

Science has yet to discover the precise mechanism by which the individual learns.

Discover Distance Learning Education of the Past and Today

Do you think distance learning is new in education? Think again and find out what was and what is distance education tracing back to the 1800s until today

The History of Distance Learning Education

Are you interested in getting an education but find yourself limited by time and financial constraints? Would you like a system of learning where you do not need to be physically present in school? Do you want to acquire an education in a flexible, cost-effective way? Then you should consider trying out a distance learning education.

A distance learning education entails you learning without the need to be present, physically in a learning institution. Recent technological advances like the internet have revolutionized distance learning education. You can now make use of massive open online courses (MOOC) over the internet to acquire an education. However, distance learning has really come a long way. Distance education is not a new concept, however, due to technology learning has evolved. Take a look at the beginning stages and you will see similarities from today and the past:

History of Distance Education 


Distance learning has come a long way. Would you believe that in the past, when women could not go to school, distance learning offered them a means of acquiring knowledge? You can now begin to appreciate how far distance learning has come.

The beginnings of distance learning as a form of education can be traced to the US and Europe in the middle of the 19th century. During these times, postal systems were used to present opportunities for education to people who wanted to learn but were unable to attend conventional learning institutions.

In 1728, Caleb Philips’s attempts set the stage for distance learning education. Mr. Philips placed advertisements in the Boston Globe detailing how he could teach new shorthand techniques. He wanted students who were interested in learning shorthand through lessons sent through the mail. The lessons would be sent on a weekly basis.

The father of distance learning education as we know it is Sir Isaac Pitman. He introduced the learning fraternity to the first wave of distance learning in 1840. He began by teaching a system of shorthand by using the postal system. Students were instructed to copy short passages from the Bible in Pitman’s innovative system. They would then return the passages for correction using a new penny postal system in the U.K. In 1840, uniform postage rates were introduced by the postal service all over England. This encouraged Pitman’s revolutionary correspondence learning system.

Sir Pitman’s initial attempts at setting up a distance learning model were not in vain. His attempts bore fruit and the model turned out to be quite successful. In order to establish Pitman’s correspondence courses on a more formal basis, the Phonographic Correspondence Society was formed in 1843. Later on, a number of Sir Isaac Pitman colleges were formed across the country.

In 1873, In the United States of America, the Society to Encourage Studies At Home was the first correspondence institution in America.
The first university in the world to offer a distance education was the University of Chicago in 1892. The first president of the university, William Rainey Harper, toyed with the idea of distance learning and saw its fruition to reality. In 1892, he encouraged the formation and implementation of correspondence school courses. Then, Columbia University took up the idea and put it into practice.

The International Correspondence Schools, the largest for-profit private based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, saw a large increase in its enrollment numbers. The institution had been set up to initially cater for training immigrant coal miners to become foremen or inspectors. 

Does any of this sound familiar? Distance education seems to have a great increase in interest from either marginalized groups or people who lacked the resources to study. In many ways, in today’s world people who are unable to attend a physical school tend to study through distance learning methods, a very similar approach to the past, with of course the underlying factors being prevalent – people who want to study and finding a way to make it happen.

The Early 1900s

In 1911 in Australia, the University of Queensland broke with tradition and established the Department of External Studies. This department was directly involved with providing distance learning facilities and programs.
The University of London established the External Program in 1828 and became the first institution to offer distance learning degree programs. The University of London was non-denominational. However, at the time, there was a lot of interdenominational rivalry in the general populous. In fact, certain sections of the population labeled the university as a “godless society”. It became a matter of which universities had the power to award degrees and which ones did not.

In 1858, Queen Victoria chartered the Universities’ external Program. Currently, the distance Education facility is known as the University of London International Program.

In the United States of America, the federal government issued radio licenses for educational content during the 1920s. This allowed stakeholders in the education sector to transmit educational content to millions of listeners.

In 1933, the University of Iowa was the first tertiary institution in the world to transmit television program broadcast with educational content. The Iowa State University followed suit in 1950 by broadcasting educational TV programs to a global viewing audience. Of course, at that time TV programs was the latest technology, another similarity to distance education. The use of technology has been evolving with distance education learning.

In 1938, the newly formed International Conference for Correspondence Education held its first meeting.
In the United Kingdom, the Open University was established. The Open University combined many broadcasting techniques and adopted what was known as a mixed media approach to distance education. The Open University was formed under the Labor Party government with Harold Wilson at the helm as the Prime Minister.
The use of satellites in outer space to further the distance learning cause was initiated by PeaceNet which was founded in 1971.


Telecommunications and computer networks featured as mediums of distance learning during the 1980s and 1990s. Currently, getting an education online has been embraced as a modern, convenient way of distance learning. The internet has proved to be an effective way of dispensing an education remotely. Online discussion groups, internet forums, and the diverse online learning communities have made a significant contribution to the distance learning experience.



In Closing…


As you can see, distance learning education has certainly come a long way. A distance education allows you to have an expanded access to training and education in a cost effective way. It is a relatively cheaper way that allows you to acquire an education in a flexible manner.

With the advent of the World Wide Web, you can now acquire an education online through the internet. As more and more tertiary institutions are embracing the concept of distance learning, this could be the next frontier. With many people in the modern world trying to get a good education, resources for traditional learning methods are becoming more strained. This is increasingly making distance learning as an appealing, cost-effective way for you to secure an education.


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