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Distance Learning: Bridge to the Future from Snail Mail to the World Wide Web

Updated on January 20, 2018
A Bridge to the Future
A Bridge to the Future

What is Distance Learning?

Distance learning began in the 19th century when Isaac Pitman taught shorthand in Great Britain via correspondence. The development of the postal service made timely correspondence feasible and correspondence courses have taken a stance ever since.

The invention of the radio in the 1920s and the advent of television in the 1940s opened up important new forms of communication for use in distance learning. Educators used these new technologies to broadcast educational programs to millions of learners, thus extending learning opportunities beyond the walls of conventional teaching institutions.

While distance learning can refer to either formal or informal learning experiences, distance education refers specifically to formal instruction conducted at a distance by a teacher who plans, guides, and evaluates the learning process. Increasing numbers of elementary schools, secondary schools, universities, and businesses offer distance education programs.

Correspondence Courses

While in the Air Force I attended a correspondence course in home electronics offered by Bell and Howell Schools. Similar programs were also offered at the time by ITT Tech. The course used a simple delivery model. Chapters of text were mailed to the student who then read the text and took a quiz on the material. The completed quiz was then mailed the completed quiz back to the institution. Quizzes were reviewed and graded.

Along with the textual material were lab modules to complete. The modules consisted of circuits and assemblies that the student would build. Initially the components were used for simple experimentation with electronics. As the student progressed these labs would lead to building actual test equipment and finally a color TV set. These training programs were very popular in the 1970's and some are still around today.

There are many fields that a student may pursue using distance learning programs. These programs are actual work at your own pace modules.

Distance Education programs are more formal than the simple correspondence courses. These programs are often offered to students seeking high school diplomas or college degrees. Because these programs are more formal, there are time constraints involved. Individual classes may run from one month to a whole quarter or semester. The credit offered for participants of these programs rivals that of traditional brick-and -mortar institutions as long as the institution is acceptably accredited. Many online educational opportunities are Distance Education programs.

Online programs have the distinct advantage of permitting students to control when they attend class. Many Online Learning Systems (OLS) are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which means that students can attend class when ever they have the time.

Students may also complete their programs of study early by earning college credit for taking CLEP tests or completing a petition for credit to the institution for experience gained from their personal or professional lives.

These methods of education can be especially valuable in developing countries. By reaching a large number of students using relatively few teachers a cost effective method of using limited academic resources can be maintained.


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    • cmellon86 profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks for the hub! It's definitely great for those without normal access to learning.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I really enjoyed this article. I truly believe that online education is the wave of the future. I recently graduated from Saint Leo University with an online degree in business admin. It was a great experience and it was flexible and convenient. I would highly recommend online learning to anyone who believes they don't have the time to go back to school and but is determined to earn a degree.

    • profile image

      College Directory 

      11 years ago

      This is a great hubpage, thanks for the useful info!

    • Dereck Cowell profile image

      Dereck Cowell 

      12 years ago

      Great hubpage


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