National Distance Learning Week (November 7-11) presents an opportunity to reflect upon the tremendous surge in popularity and acceptance distance learning has enjoyed over the past decade. According to the most recent report published by the highly respected Sloan Consortium (an individual leadership organization committed to integrating distance learning into the educational mainstream), more than 5.6 million students now take at least one course online—that’s almost one-third of all higher education students. The growth rate for online enrollments continues to dramatically outpace that of the overall growth of the post-secondary student population.
More and more studies are being published that establish the efficacy of online learning. A great example is the recent U.S. Department of Education report (“Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies”) which states that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction.
The research also indicates that online learning methodology continues to gain acceptance and that employers, in particular, value online education. Just last year, the Distance Education and Accrediting Commission (DEAC) conducted a survey of DEAC graduates’ work supervisors. It found that 85 percent of the supervisors believed that the graduate performed better on the job as a result of earning their DEAC-accredited online degree. Ninety-two percent said they were favorably inclined toward hiring or supervising other employees who earned degrees via distance education, while 94 percent stated that they would encourage others—subordinates or colleagues—to enroll in accredited distance-education degree programs in order to enhance their competence on the job. Another 93 percent of the supervisors found that the DEAC-school graduate compared favorably in terms of knowledge, skills, and attitude with other individuals they know or supervised who have earned comparable degrees from an “on-the-ground” college.
But while we take this moment to reflect on the advances of distance education in the digital age, we must recognize that distance education has a long and impressive—albeit little-known—history that dates back to 1873, when the first distance learning institution, the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, was founded in Boston by Anna Eliot Ticknor, the wife of a Harvard professor. Shortly thereafter, traditional institutions such as the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin founded distance learning programs. A thriving industry of private distance learning schools soon emerged.
Distance learning rapidly grew in popularity. In fact, from 1890 through World War II, some 60 million people benefited from distance learning, more than all other forms of post-secondary education combined. Some noteworthy distance-learning graduates of the time include Captain Eddie Rickenbacker—World War I ace, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, and president of Eastern Airlines—radio and television icon Arthur Godfrey, and auto industry pioneer Walter Chrysler, among many others. It was heavily relied upon in rural areas, as well. In fact, just prior to World War II, it’s estimated that more than half of the attorneys and accountants west of the Mississippi received their training via distance learning.
In World War II, distance learning served an important role in the education and training of U.S. service members. Also, although it’s not well known, many American prisoners of war in Europe and in the Pacific Theater were permitted to further their education through distance learning. Distance learning has remained an important educational platform for the U.S. military ever since.
It’s truly a storied history and a fascinating study. If you’re interested in learning more about the topic, check out The American Way to Learn, a CalSouthern-produced documentary that chronicles distance learning’s colorful past and celebrates the 85-year-history of the DEAC, CalSouthern’s accrediting body.
To further commemorate National Distance Learning Week, CalSouthern is helping to dispel a myth about distance learning—and giving away an iPod Shuffle. Just visit CalSouthern’s Facebook page and tell us how a relationship with a fellow online learner or faculty mentor has had a positive impact on your life. All participants will be entered into a drawing—held on November 16th—to win the iPod.
So please, share your story!