History of Online Learning

Online learning has become a hot topic of conversation particularly after being thrown into it with full force due to a global pandemic. As the power of the internet grows, it makes sense that we should utilize its power to enhance learning experiences. The internet is the obvious driving force behind the idea. However, prior to the internet, remote and asynchronous learning had always been present. Whether it be through learning independently at a library, or learning by experience, people have always had to learn in environments that were not always a simple classroom.

Universities in Great Britain began adopting out of classroom/asynchronous learning when professors would use the postal service in order to send and receive assignments. Later on, in 1960, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign developed a pre-internet system where students could connect with content which included recordings of classes. Essentially, this was the first use of a class hub similar to what we see now with Blackboard or Moodle.

This was U. Illinois PLATO system. PLATO stands for Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations. Students could use the computer to support their learning which was a novel strategy at the time. This grew to implement multiple “terminals” which would house course content around the world. This was the pioneering venture before the internet that would lay the groundwork for computer-based learning, virtual networking, and the internet! (Illinoise Distributed Museum)

In 1973, the Lemonade Stand game was developed by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium. This game was a simulation that eventually used Apple computers in 1979. The idea was to simulate a business experience that many young kids experienced in their childhood. However, it allowed for “business owners” to situations that required decision making.

The original Lemonade Stand game
The game has developed over time and is still used today!

In 1997, California Virtual University became one of the first institutions designed to allow online courses. The concept was picked up by MIT which grew this idea into a larger empire of educational offerings. The convenience as well as advantage in many cases of taking online classes grew over time and eventually became large enough platforms to support full degree programs. While online programs are not intended to replace in person programs, they are powerful alternatives that can be used to meet the needs of learners who either live far away or learn better online (Petersons).

Masterclass is just one of the many ways that people can continue to learn online. The only difference with this history is that it is not for any degree or certification but it just a supplementary resource for people seeking to enhance their knowledgebase and skills. We now see multiple tools for people looking for support without earning a degree. These platforms include Coursera, Udemy, LinkedIN Learning, TED Talks, etc. I have used these platforms to help work on specific defiiciencies I may identify in my education. Alternatively, I have used it to help satisfy requirements for a degree seeking program. The flexibility online learning provides has changed how people access education. I believe that this will continue to change and may even help to make education more affordable as options continue to increase. I see a future where employers will no longer weigh a college degree as much as they will weigh an individuals desire to learn about things that interest them and that make them a more well rounded individual.

3 thoughts on “History of Online Learning

  1. Kevin,
    Thank you for providing us with some information about online learning and its history. I am shocked by how far back this type of learning went. I remember the Lemonade Stand game, but I never really referred to it as “online learning” but as just an online game. Who knows what awaits us in this field of learning as we continue to develop technology to an even greater extent than what it is now.

    1. Isn’t it crazy that lemonade stand was the beginning of it?! I remember playing this game in school as well kind of as an elementary level business introduction. My friends and I loved it! Did you ever play freerice? That was another game but this one actually donated rice to combat world hunger just for playing!

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