Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

The Cyber-Revolution in Its Historical Context

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

The Cyber-Revolution in Its Historical Context

Article excerpt


The current educational revolution, or cyber-revolution, is best understood in the context of previous educational revolutions and related historical transitions. The purpose of this article is to provide a historical and theoretical context for examining the impact of cyber-learning on students and higher education institutions. The historical context provided includes an examination of previous educational revolutions and a brief history of distance education, specifically. Also included is a discussion of the role of virtual learning in the current educational transition into the Knowledge Age. The article concludes with a discussion of the possible impacts of the cyber-revolution on students and implications for future research.


Education is in the midst of a dramatic revolution, challenging many of the assumptions long held about learning and teaching. Various sources have predicted dramatic changes in the delivery of higher education services because of the impact of computer mediated forms of distance education (Agre, 1999; Marchese, 1998), a shift in educational focus from classroom-centered to learner-centered (DuBois, 1998; and Peinovich, 1997), movement into the Knowledge Age (Duderstadt, 1997; Norris, 1998), and the increased emphasis on collaborative forms of learning (Wegerif, 1998; Norris, 1998). Predictions vary from a growth in the nontraditional student population taking courses at a distance in some form (Cantelon, 1995; Norris, 1998) to predictions that higher education as we currently know it will be increasingly replaced by virtual colleges and computer mediated training provided by joint ventures with industry (Duderstadt, 1997; Marchese, 1998).

The purpose of this article is to provide a better understanding of the current educational revolution, or cyber-revolution, and its potential impacts on learning, by examining its historical context. Given the history of distance education and the transition into the Knowledge Age, this discussion concludes by describing potential impacts of virtual learning on students and higher education.

Historical Context for the Cyber-Revolution

The history of distance education encompasses various methods of instruction including correspondence, home study, televised courses, extension classes, video conferencing, and online learning (Richards, 1992). The distance education frontier currently being developed has been described as the third transformation of education, or "cyber-revolution" (Ehrmann, 1999, p. 42), best understood within the history of previous revolutions in education and the history of distance education in general.

Educational Revolutions

The use of computers as a significant mediator in education is the current, and third, transformation in education (Ehrmann, 1999). The first transformation was set in motion when learners and scholars began to rely more on reading and writing and less on oral exchange. The earliest form of education, the oral exchange, had allowed the student the opportunity to question the teacher, obtaining clarification, and vice versa, the teacher could question the student, assuring complete understanding of the information presented. By writing information down, the teacher could reach a wider range of students, and the student could access a wider array of teachers. The advent of the printed word has been described as the "most obvious and dominant medium used to transmit information whatever the context" (Stewart, 1995, p. 11) and served as the basis for the first educational revolution wherein the oral tradition was gradually replaced with larger amounts of reading and writing.

The focus on written communication as the foundation for education was followed by the second educational revolution when students and scholars gathered together to share facilities and resources. This "campus revolution" (Ehrmann, 1999, p. …

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