Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Distance Education and the Evolution of Online Learning in the United States

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Distance Education and the Evolution of Online Learning in the United States

Article excerpt

Distance education is defined as a method of teaching where the student and teacher are physically separated. It can utilize a combination of technologies, including correspondence, audio, video, computer, and the Internet (Roffe, 2004). Today's version of distance education is online education, which uses computers and the Internet as the delivery mechanism with at least 80% of the course content delivered online (Allen & Seaman, 2011; Shelton & Saltsman, 2005).

Online education is no longer a trend, but mainstream. Of the 18.2 million students enrolled in higher education in the fall of 2007, 3.9 million (21.4%) were enrolled in at least one online course (Allen & Seaman, 2008; United States Department of Education, 2013). By fall 2010, the number of higher education students had risen to 21 million, and 6.1 million of those (29.0%) were enrolled in an online course (Allen & Seaman, 2011; United States Department of Education, 2013). This represents an 18.8% average increase in the number of students enrolled in online education during that time period. Between 2010 and 2012, the growth rate leveled out somewhat, showing an average annual growth of roughly 4.9%. Still, as of fall 2012, of 20.6 million higher education students, 6.7 million (32.5%) enrolled in online courses (Allen & Seaman, 2013; United States Department of Education, 2013). That represents a staggering one-third of higher education students enrolled in online courses. With enrollments in online courses still growing and the realization that they are here to stay, educational institutions are challenged to meet the demand while continuing to provide quality education. Indeed, more than two-thirds (69.1%) of chief academic leaders indicate that online learning is critical to an academic institution's long-term strategy (Allen & Seaman, 2013).

However, distance education is not a new way of teaching. It can be traced back to as early as the 18th century. Its evolution and progression over the last 300 years run parallel with innovations in communications technology, and distance learning continues to grow in popularity. Distance education was common beginning in the late 1800s, but its rapid growth began in the late 1990s with the advance of the online technical revolution. It is far from a new phenomenon, but it continues to reach new heights as the developments in technology advance. This article details the evolution of distance education beginning with correspondence and the use of parcel post, to radio, then to television, and finally to online education. While there is a growing body of research on online education, the field's evolution has unsettled earlier findings and posed new areas of investigation. It is necessary to investigate and understand the progression and advancements in educational technology and the variety of methods used to deliver knowledge in order to improve the quality of education we provide today.

CORRESPONDENCE: PARCEL POST

Correspondence education is a form of distance education given that the teacher and students are physically separated. It is defined as "a method of providing education for nonresident students, primarily adults, who receive lessons and exercises through the mail, or some other device, and, upon completion, return them for analysis, criticism, and grading" (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2012). The primary objective of distance education is to create educational opportunities for the under-represented and for those without access to a traditional educational institution (Jonasson, 2001). The earliest known reference to correspondence education was on March 20, 1728, when Caleb Phillips placed an advertisement in the Boston Gazette offering shorthand lessons for any "Person in the Country desirous to Learn this Art, may be having several Lessons sent Weekly to them, be as perfectly as those that live in Boston" (Philipps, 1728). Many argue that since there is no record of two-way communication, this cannot be formally recognized as distance education (Verduin & Clark, 1991). …

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