Well, it is not. Distance learning has been around for a long time; and although it has been through significant changes in these past two decades, its main role continues the same: to make education and training available to a higher number of students, in a standardized way, no matter where they are.
I graduated in educational psychology in 2005, but I was already working as an instructional designer for over a year. My first job was to culturally adapt university specialization e-learning courses for executives, originally created by foreign universities that already offered 100% distance learning courses with more than 200 hours of training. These specialization courses were based on an LMS (Leaning Management System), through which the content was distributed and communicated between students and trainers. This was distance learning in the 2000’s decade.
Having to explain to my grandfather what my first job was about, I described what a LMS was, and the concept of instructional design as the task of creating learning environments and learning content effectively adapted to learning processes, where teacher and learners were apart and students had to, mainly, study by themselves. I must have ended my explanation saying that all of this is possible due to technology and internet.
At this point my grandfather gave me my first lecture on the first generation of distance learning, and that distance learning has been around way before my job, that I thought was super avant-garde. He told me about his experience when he was a college student, in the beginning of the 1950’s: youngsters that were abroad, living in Portuguese colonies, for instance, and couldn’t attend university in person, received lectures and exams by post and replied the same way.
That was the first generation of distance learning and it was characterized by the use of traditional mail and handwritten materials such as written exams and letters, as the means of communication between students and teachers. Yep, no internet. Can you imagine? Sending an exam by post and having to wait for weeks for a feedback, without any other information rather than a written one? These correspondence courses became popular during the second world war, with the need for training recruits, but it opened the doors to many other realities, such as the one my grandfather witnessed.
Around the 1970’s, when most homes had a radio and a TV, the so called second generation of distance learning appears. This generation was characterized by the mixed use of means of communication, from printed materials that could be purchased in specialized bookstores, to classes broadcasted through radio and television, that covered different levels of education. The most known model of that time are the open universities, which allowed students that were far from big cities and central universities to have access to the same materials and classes as those that had the opportunity to attend classes in person.
The third generation is the one that we are experiencing now and that is possible due to the availability of personal computers and internet, what we call e-learning! Ever since the internet became a household amenity, distance learning has become popular among adults for several reasons and for different needs. Some of them are exactly the same as in the past, such as being away from big centres and, therefore, from universities and other lifelong training providers. The common reason behind this choice is flexibility and easy access. Flexibility in training schedule, access to training content 24/7 and with the massification of e-learning, it became possible for anyone to attend courses from the most prestigious universities around the world. Knowledge evolves in such a quick pace that lifelong learning has to be in every professional agenda. E-learning allows to combine work, learning and family.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, internet and digital platforms for education became the safety net for teenagers and small children. Despite the obvious constraints of online learning for youngsters, distance learning allowed students of all ages to access learning experiences even though schools were closed.
Despite the massive changes between each generation of distance learning in terms of the means, there is one thing in common: distance learning is inclusive and democratic, as it is available for MORE people than a face to face model, whether because of time, distance, or budget constraints. This is, and has been, the distance learning main sociological goal throughout generations: to democratize the access to education.
Availability, readiness, inclusiveness are words that characterize distance learning ever since its first generation and that make it a unique and indispensable means of learning in a global, and constantly changing world.
In the spirit of distance learning, check out our free certification course on "Creating an Effective Online Course", at the bugle Academy.
You may also find interesting:
What is instructional design and why you should care about it (article)
How to encourage lifelong learning among your employees (article)
How to make knowledge sharing effective and scalable in your company (article)
How to identify knowledge gaps in your team (article)
Why Thought Leadership matters (article)
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