How Has Technology Enabled Online Learning?

Advancement in communication and technology has resulted in various changes to the human lifestyle. It has made every aspect of life inhabit itself in a continuous process of modifications. 

For a human being to stay updated regarding the various prevailing trends and to stimulate his or her appropriate growth, it is a basic necessity to keep an ongoing educational process. As once a Greek philosopher rightly said:

“The only constant in life is change.”

Many inventions have changed the standards of living, but this fact cannot alter either denied that each person does not possess equal access to luxuries or resources. Variation in economic status and financial constraints define how people react and use strategies to achieve their desired outcomes.

Despite the advancements in technology, there are still places in the world deprived of basic opportunities. Lessons and training are an essential fragment of life, but what can happen when learners do not attain appropriate and adequate learning material as per their requirements? 

In some scenarios, some countries face deliberate restrictions due to their cultural and societal values. Women are not allowed to pursue an education in an institute. Similarly, people with physical disabilities are also unable to avail themselves of chances as any other healthy person. 

Another factor to consider is when one does not have sufficient money to build his or her dream career in a college and is unable to afford costly educational programs. The majority of people face problems of living far away from educational institutes. If there is no training institution in one’s area to reduce transportation costs (especially in a developing country), provided that one cannot leave family or have enough money to move to another place and study there. So, it is essentially realized that,

“Need is the mother of invention,” and “Education is the basic right of every human being.”

Permanent solutions have been formulated to maintain the flow of learning at every social and economic level. This promise laid the primary basis or foundation of distance/online learning.

Distance Education: First Term for Online Learning

To understand fundamentally what distance education is, general definitions of various prospects are considered. Different scholars have presented several definitions of altering perceptions. It has been explained diversely to varying points in its evolutionary history.

In his book, Roffe (2004) defined a technique of teaching in which the learner and instructor seemed to be physically disconnected. 

This is known as distance education. It can consume a blend of technologies, including correspondence, audio, video, computer, and the Internet. Today’s version of distance education is an online education, in which technological machines and the internet acts as the conveyance instrument.

Rebecca (2002) indicated distance education as “A structure of learning in which there is usually a teacher and learner partition and accordingly in which the published and transcribed term, the cellular phone, computer meetings or virtual discussions act as the instructor tools to construct a connection to diminish the space and time limitations existing substantially.”

Researchers Schlosser & Simonson (2011) wrote that distance education is an “academy-based, recognized learning in which the educational consortium is parted, and where collaborative telecommunications systems are utilized to associate students, assets, and trainers.”

Desmond Keegan (1980) divided the definition to focus more accurately:

  • The perpetual separation of teacher and learner all through the interval of the learning process.
  • The authority of an educational organization both in the development and formulating groundwork of learning resources and in the delivery of student support services.
  • The usage of technical media.
  • The establishment of mutual communication.
  • The pseudo-perpetual unattainability of the learning group during the tenure of the learning practice.

On the other hand, Garrison and Baynton’s research in 1987 proposed that distance education comprises of three crucial principles:

  • Distance education is an expression incriminated in most of the pedagogical communication appearing distantly amongst the teacher and the student.
  • It should essentially comprise collaborative communication between educators and learners for the fulfillment of the objective of assisting and simplifying educational progression.
  • Two- way communication is transmitted by the consumption of technology as mainstream.

Distance education has evolved its education over the years; still, these fundamental components have remained constant, and as Simonson (2011) states, “advancement in technology is the major contributor of change in distance education.” 

Distance education is a standard method of learning in today’s world, but its historical patterns can be traced back to as early as the 18th century. So, let’s study and investigate the whole virtual world of learning from the beginning until now. We will discuss below the previous generations of learning based on technological advancements to provide in-depth insight.

Generations of Online Learning

First Generation: Correspondence Education

The definition of the first generation of distance education reflects by print technology. Many illustrations of first-generation distance learning have existed for almost centuries. The blend of printing press technology and parcel post services formulated Correspondence Education, which is universally known and also is available worldwide. 

Correspondence education is a structure of distance education in which a necessary foundation substantially separates the teacher and students. If defined through words, it is “a technique of imparting knowledge for students not residing in that area, mainly adults, who obtain lectures and training through the postal mailing service, or some other digital instrument. 

Upon finalization, they give them back for examination, depreciation, and ranking.” Initiated by a resilient sense of establishing social justice, a variety of educational systems have delivered correspondence education, from which only some of them focused on imparting credentials.

The earliest identified evidence for correspondence education was on March 20, 1728 (Battenberg 1971, p.44). Caleb Phillips issued a flyer in the Boston Gazette proposing shorthand lessons for any “Person in the State eager to learn this Art, perhaps having numerous instructions issued to them weekly, being as ideal as those that reside in Boston.” Many arguments were made that since there has been no affirmative proof of cooperative communication, it cannot be undertaken officially as the start of distance education. 

But the advertisement’s idea and objective are very apparent, to guide in brief through Postal Service.

Extracted from a 1991 research study of Verduin & Clark, Isaac Pitman is acknowledged as the innovator of distance education. He originated the continuation of education as shorthand through correspondence in 1840 in Bath, England. Pitman communicated the instructions and guidelines by dispatching postcards to students. They were directed to translate passages from the Bible into shorthand and respond to him via post for rectification. 

After this, in just three years, in 1843, the Phonographic Correspondence Society was established, an antecedent to Sir Isaac Pitman’s Correspondence College. Reaching the Atlantic in 1873, Anna Eliot Ticknor founded the Society to Encourage Studies at Home in Boston, Massachusetts, created on the correspondence school model. 

This Society succeeded in enticing more than 10,000 students in 24 years. And after that, in less than a year, Illinois Wesleyan College became the first academic institution to offer bachelor’s and master’s degree programs “in absentia.”

In the 1870s, The Chautauqua Movement became responsible for the commencement and recognition of correspondence education for adults. Lewis Miller and John Heyl Vincent initiated this movement in New York State as a drill program for Sunday school teachers through the summer of 1874. Slowly but surely, the program stretched out to take in general education and the arts, with additional readings and lessons to be completed by correspondence and at home. Some “Chautauquas” settled as congresses and sessions of learning across the country. These have been accepted for their summer assemblies, and they progressed their system by offering four-year programs of reading through correspondence. Applicants were able to receive credentials of learning. As perceived by the Cincinnati Daily Gazette, in 1878, John Heyl is considered the founder of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle in Chautauqua, New

York (Kentnor, 2015). This became the first adult education program and correspondence school in the country.

Although the start did not seem promising, scholars kept on trying to make it possible to shift education beyond the restricting boundaries of time and space. Initially, people had to face more difficulties through post than they would have faced otherwise. Scholars knew that they have to find better, more feasible mediums and platforms to convey their message far and wide. So, they shifted towards the radio.

Second Generation: Radio

The facility to transmit educational lessons using technologies such as radio and television defines the second generation of distance education. These broadcast technologies were amended and added to distance education significantly. The teacher and the learner collaboration, or among learners, kept on to be nominal. The provision of access is necessary, which persisted in being a strong impact on distance education dissemination. 

A study by Ashish Pant in November 2014 states the fact that The International Correspondence Schools exploded in registered students in the first two decades of the 20th century, from 225,000 in 1900 to more than 2 million in 1920. It was not much far in time when in the 1920s, the secondary school curriculum began to enhance through the distance education mode. In 1923, Students in Benton Harbor, Michigan, were provided access to vocational courses. The University of Nebraska began trials with its correspondence courses in high schools.

In 1906, the Extension of the University of Wisconsin transformed into a distance-teaching unit. Later on, in 1919, professors of the University of Wisconsin created an amateur wireless station known as WHA. In educational broadcasting, it became the first federally authorized radio station. 

Reaching the year 1922, about seventy-three other educational organizations received regular broadcast licenses. But only half of those license holders had stations on the air. Almost 176 educational institutions received their broadcast licenses by the end of the 1920s. Out of which, thirty-five managed to survive until the end of the decade.

Deduced from the 1991 research dissertation of Buckland and Dye, in the early 1920s, it came in the observation that educational broadcasting was initiated. In a matter of no time, colleges and universities went far beyond the transmission of educational materials and entered the social broadcasting of college lectures, sporting events, dramas, and concerts. To keep the system in function, some institutes began a “school of the air” program. This simulation offered history, daily science, music programming, and literature. 

The Ohio State Department of Education became the first to be ranked amongst the inventor of such programs in the fall of 1928, by the name of “The Ohio School of the Air program.” In the same year, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) started the “The Music Appreciation Hour” in the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) Educational Hour. It started familiarizing children with opus orchestra and music. While in 1930, The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) aired comparable creative hours with the American School of the Air.

The historical evidence from the New York Library reveals that in the early 1930s, the University of Iowa produced experimental television teaching programs and Kansas State College and Purdue University. 

The year 1930 also witnessed the launch of the Institute for Education by Radio (IER) in Columbus, Ohio. In classrooms of this institute, radio broadcasts were extensively used. The IER focused on practices utilized in educational broadcasting. It was not until the 1950s that, with the assistance of broadcast television, college credit courses were made accessible. From the beginning of 1951, Western Reserve University ranked as the first to provide similar courses in continuous patterns.

According to Balke (1985) Greville Rumble observed that “Radio broadcasting organizations stood amongst the creators of distance education in Latin America. It revealed the organization of many existing structures where an emphasis on individual correspondence tuition and on print is minor and majorly on locally systematized attending assemblies”.

Radio education was a breakthrough in the academic world as people were startled to listen to the instructor actively. People intend to join the system as they found it more convenient and feasible than the previous one. 

Education became a bit easy for the visually impaired. Educational broadcasts through communication received priority where the literacy rates were lower and more reliable than postal services. When the people started receiving education through hearing lessons, those days were not far away when they wished to see the instructor.

Third Generation: Television

As the demand for visual education elevated, scholars set to devise a system that could enable people to visualize the educator actively. Knowing the importance of body language in conveying an impactful message, people set out to come up with a new medium of education.

Back in those days, television was newly invented, so it was thought to put it to good use.

In 1913, when Frederick Smith interviewed Thomas Edison (Kentnor, 2015), he quoted:

“Books will be obsolete in the public schools. Scholars will be instructed through the eye. It is possible to teach every branch of human knowledge with the motion picture. Our school system will be completely changed within ten years. We have been studying and reproducing the life of the fly, mosquito, silk weaving moth, brown moth, gypsy moth, butterflies, scale, and other various insects, as well as chemical crystallization. 

It proves the worth of motion pictures in chemistry, physics, and other branches of study, making scientific truths difficult to understand through textbooks, plain and clear to children.”

These statements were quite evident to tell how the transformation of visual media implements its impacts on the education system in no time. Science has developed as early as the late 19th century; commercial television still did not get the opportunity to be available on public terms until April 9, 1927. It was recognized when the first long-distance live voice and video broadcast was transmitted by the Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover and Bell Laboratories. Hoover said, “Today, we have, in a sense, the transmission of sight for the first time in the world’s history. Human genius has now destroyed the impediment of distance in a new respect, and a manner hitherto unknown”.

Due to Koenig and Hill’s research of 1967, we came across evidence of television broadcasts. It was between 1932 and 1937 when experiments were conducted on Educational Television (ETV) by the University of Iowa. ETV states, “Dissemination of programs devoted to providing instruction, information, public affairs, cultural info and entertainment by a recognized forum.” 

Amongst the ETV innovators were Iowa State University, the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, American University, and Kansas State University. When the use of technology and video began to be accepted as a teaching transmitter, distanced education continued to advance. Still, in the context of television, the obstacles persisted. 

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the educational systems continued to grow through the use of radio and television, but not for distance education. Educators were using the TV in the classroom to exhibit and clarify perceptions. Families tuned educational broadcasts at home, such as Public Broadcasting Service, National Public Radio, and cable television. The use of video for distance education diminished the asynchronous interaction between the educator and learner. Study materials dropped in quality and number of views. 

But still, this scenario finally changed in the late 1970s, when the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) began to set a standard for American television course developers to follow. It was when the human species entered the late 20th century and the beginning of the technological era when computers and the internet started to renovate the institutional structure once more to which educators were reluctant to approve at first.

Fourth Generation: Online Learning Era

With the rapid advancements in science and technology in the late ’90s, academics also saw some drastic changes. Registrations in online courses and programs saw a dramatic rise in the late ’90s. Hence, scholars decide to shift education to a more robust and reliable platform to reach a much larger audience.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the development of a fiber-optic communication system led to the expansion of distance education to a significant extend. Thousands of networks got linked to the internet, with millions of internet users globally. 

A distance education system that uses computers and the internet as the conveyor medium, with almost 80% of the content delivered online, is known as Online Education. Firstly, the usage of computers helped to educate employees in the corporate arena during the 1980s. Companies used computer-based training programs for recruits. Shortly after this, in 1989, the University of Phoenix started “CompuServe” as their first consumer-based

online service. In 1991, when the World Wide Web (WWW) was made public, the University of Phoenix was acknowledged among the first to offer online education programs. The University of Phoenix’s having a rank of a non-profit organization, moved towards the online educational marketplace, encouraged many reputable institutions and not-for-profit colleges and universities to engage in distance education. 

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a non-profit grant-making institution and a respectable philanthropic, claimed to invent the Asynchronous Learning Networks (ALN) in 1992. Views established to investigate and drive solutions for educational substitutes for students who are unable to ensure their presence in traditional classrooms.

Universities and colleges initiated experimentation on online courses in the early to mid-90s. The rapid progress of online education in traditional non-profit institutions did not commence until 1998. In the present time, New York University (NYU), functioning as one of the largest ongoing education schools in the country, was also the first sizeable non-profit university to create a for-profit online education subsidiary, NYU Online, in late 1998. 

A college established by nineteen state governors as Western Governors University was brought in working in the same fall to make education more accessible. The California Virtual University was built by the association of almost 100 universities and colleges in California. It started to provide 1600 online courses by November 1998.

Initially, online education was a luxury and was only conducted in developed countries. Compared with other countries globally, the United States had the Nova Southeastern University, the University of Phoenix, and American Open University, as prominent front-runners in providing distance education. 

These institutions, along with many other universities, have offered hundreds of courses online. Whereas in Europe, the Fern University of Germany and The British Open University are some of the prominent benefactors of online classes. Online education is a diverse and different medium for teaching and learning. It requires a different pedagogical structure. 

Faculty members are the critical element in this structure. Their acknowledgment and training to develop valuable course content is a significant factor in enhancing online education quality, to which concerns have always persisted. As most educators are from the traditional brick-and-mortar school background, they become unable to apprehend these virtual courses appropriately. Any traditional institute, when entering the virtual marketplace, requires the prominent support of its faculty members. Realizing this fact, in 2000, Bates quoted:

“Presidents may dream visions and vice presidents may design plans, and deans and department heads may try to implement them, but without the support of the faculty members, nothing will change.”

Online education is the most integral part of the learning and education system nowadays. As time is passing by, new methods are continually developing, but majorly students and teachers have always gone through Synchronous and Asynchronous learning procedures. 

In earlier times of learning, before the advent of the technological era, synchronous mode of learning was not easily possible because synchronous learning can only occur in the real-time presence of students and teachers, which happens through video-conferencing or audio chats. In contrast, asynchronous learning has always persisted through time in different forms. As generations discussed above, in first-generation, postal service was the method of asynchronous learning when students learned at their convenience.

Similarly, the second generation was of radio and television in the third generation. It was in the fourth generation that the blend of both types got the consideration of a restorative procedure of delivering online education with ample supply of technological equipment. This delivered no compromise on quality.

Distance education was founded on a promise to provide access to education equally to every human being. The journey started from the Posting Facility to formulating communicating instruments, to television propagation, and finally to the Internet and the Web. Evolutionary innovations in communication technology have steered to the altering theme of education and the proliferation of distance education. 

In today’s world, online training is the most rapidly growing scheme of distance education, treasured at traditional and non-traditional colleges and universities. In 2011, 65% of institutions informed that online learning was critical to their long-term strategic plans. 

Nowadays, higher education is under the major influence of online lessons and training programs. Deliverance of education has persisted in brick-and-mortar traditional systems for decades. Living in current times, it is insufficient to stick to older methods. In 2012, researcher John Sener discussed online education, and according to his statement, “education has been, is being, and will continue to be cyberized.” Through the phrase of being 

“Cyberized,” he conveys the concept of adopting new technologies and related trends. 

He further quotes,

“The first era of online education has been devoted to providing access, while the second era has the potential to improve the quality of education as a whole, not just online education. It is not about changing the conveyed knowledge, but merely shifting the way it is transmitted, preserved, and generated”.

The development in technology-led many companies to join the advancement parade and develop many platforms to enable convenient and accessible education for students. Coursera is one of the leading online education portals worldwide through which millions of students facilitate themselves with thousands of courses, degrees, and specializations. 

Coursera’s Chief Executive Officer, Richard Lewis, quoted his statement in 2014, “In 10 or 20 years when we judge the great universities, it will not just be on their research but the reach of their teaching”.

As human beings, we resist change and find it a bit harder to adapt to changes, especially abrupt changes. 

Advancements in technology did not take very long to revolutionize education entirely. When educational programs are acquired in traditional systems, scholarships and financial aids provide support and benefits. 

In the same context, online education has changed how to attain knowledge with benefits at just one click with ease and entirely on choices that a learner wishes to make. 

It is known that numerous people hesitate their identity to be revealed as distance educators these days. Perhaps the term carries an undertone of being old-fashioned or being linked with an outdated method of learning. Such students and instructors should be encouraged and facilitated as they are the most vital elements on which this whole system has designed and prevailed through historical patterns of time.

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