If you thought that distance learning was a product of today, then you would be mistaken. In fact, the first distance learning program on record took place in 1728, when a local teacher by the name of Caleb Phillips advertised shorthand correspondence lessons offered by mail! By 1800, the growth of the U.S. Postal Service brought about an increase in the number of distance learning correspondence courses in the country. Remember, mail back then was like email is today – “fast”, convenient, and nearly everyone had access. Heck, by 1873, the University of the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) founded a distance learning facility.
Times sure have changed, in particular because of accessible and advanced technology. But it never hurts to take a look back in time to see how distance learning has evolved. As expected, once technology started to become more developed in the last century, we have seen a rapid growth in the number of distance learning offerings. Starting with radio and television, and naturally with the computer, when BlackBoard entered the market (1999) to help lead the charge into the new millennium. Today, roughly 60% of four-year U.S. private colleges and universities offer online classes.
While the facts on this infographic (developed by DistanceLearning.com) are quite fascinating, what I believe is most telling is that from 1998 to 2008 there was a 150% increase in the number of students opting for distance learning courses as part of their regular curriculum. Naturally this is only going to increase within the next 10 years, especially as we see MOOCs enter the scene.
As long as I am speculating, I think that we will see that by the year 2023, Universities will offer two types of curriculums: one in the traditional sense and one that is “off campus” (virtual) at a lower price-point. Perhaps one avenue would be to allow students to attend the first two years of their degree virtually in the effort to help subsidize costs but still attract enrollment. This way the students can commit to the degree early and more than likely finish it out without having to take as many loans. Not a bad idea actually – in fact the ones who do this now will sweep up some extra profits by getting in early 😉