What Is the History of Online Education?

Online education is a booming industry – the internet has completely reshaped most of the way we do things in our modern world, and online education is a natural online innovation. A couple of things have seemingly conspired together to give us this incredible gift: the increasing popularity and availability of the internet in general, increasing levels of bandwidth, and even the current crippled economic climate has given a boost to the popularity of online education. But even though it’s just now taking off, online schools and learning has been around almost as long as the internet and it has developed a bit of its own history. Here’s a quick guide outlining what the history of online education is.

What is the history of online education? – The early years

Online education really began in the early 80’s – the golden age of “classic” rock, bad haircuts, and even worse clothing. The internet had yet to really catch on as a consumer item (let alone the powerhouse platform it would explode into), but big businesses, schools, and governments were using it to better streamline communication and share data. They were the first ones to really conceive of the idea of online learning because at the time all of their teaching and trainings were held in person and conducted by live people. This of course represented a huge cost, and isn’t the most efficient way to train or develop new skills. So they set about creating a new system of teaching and learning that would let them leverage the power of these new machines, the personal computers.

Like almost everything else that came out of the 80s technology wise the concept was a lot better than the implementation. This is because computers themselves were still pretty new (and hugely expensive), and while the ideas were fantastic they just didn’t have the frame of reference or the foundation to build off of. As computers began to mature and more and more people were able to figure out how to use a personal computer, online education began to build up a new head of steam.

What is the history of online education – Getting their legs under them

As the PC evolved, and networking was no longer the incredible miracle that it once was, the rise of the internet led to a boom time for online education. For the first time in human history you could connect your computer to a phone line and access knowledge from anyone around the world. While the first couple of pages were nothing more than text on a white background, innovative people began to build and populate the internet with powerful and attractive new websites – multimedia was all the rage in the early 1990’s, and you couldn’t go to 10 different pages on the internet without running into motion gifs, midi files, and tons and tons of horrible pictures. But it was the 90’s man – we didn’t know any better!

More and more companies were turning to the internet to communicate, and online learning really got a shot in the arm. People began developing websites and software for the sole purpose of sharing and collaborating on new ideas and projects, and some of the most popular sites of the time period were all about learning. This period also saw rise of the first ever real online trainings commercially, and almost all of them were geared towards serving businesses with custom trainings for their employees.

But there was a major problem – back then bandwidth was crazy slow (if you were using a computer back then, you’ll remember the sound your machine used to make when connecting – especially if you ever picked up a phone on accident). This caused pages to load super slowly, and the more material your web page had the less likely anyone was going to stick around long enough for it to load. While you can transmit and train a lot of people just with text, audio and visual elements are necessary for some of the most important things you’d want to convey.

What is the history of online education – Some stumbles, and then off to the races

The 90’s ended and in was ushered in a new era for online learning. Bandwidth prices were coming down and more and more people were being connected with high speed access, allowing for the first time the smooth transfer of video and audio. People began to really understand just what the internet could be used for, and once they understood that it wasn’t going to be a passing fad they began to invest a lot of money into tools and technology.

Online education took a bit of a hit just as it was taking off however, as many mainstream or traditional colleges and course began to launch an attack. They developed and controlled public opinion against online education, branding it as something to be looked upon unfavorably – certainly not as a real education. And this held sway for a long time, until people began to understand that not only is the level of education on par with the world’s best and oldest institutions but that the advantages (anywhere access, set your own schedule, more cost effective) made it a much more attractive solution to those wanting to increase their education in the best way.