The steam engine and a
national network, or infrastructure, of tracks and depots provided an
opportunity for rolling classrooms. Many states had their own "corn
trains," "meat trains," and "dairy trains" to bring
the latest research from the land-grant system out to the rural population.
Most of these trains were sponsored openly by the seed, meat, and dairy
industries. In this photo an instructor and graduate assistant teach
about new hybrid corn seeds. (Has the lecture format changed much since
Henry Ford's inexpensive
Model-Ts and a growing network of paved roads inspired universities to buy
fleets of cars and send them across the open country to teach classes. In
this photo you can see the Model-T in the background, while in the foreground
an instructor or county
Extension Service agent
lectures to a group of adults. Instructors would bring along folding podiums
to teach from and taught how to change tires and clean spark plugs as part of
their training. A 1921 Model-T Touring car cost $355.
Sometimes called the
"University of the Air," higher education quickly adopted radio as
a broadcast means for distance education. This is a photo of three home
economic specialists hosting their weekly radio show "A Word to the
Wives." Today most of these educational radio stations have converted to
Public Radio affiliates but still carry informal informational programming
produced at universities.
Consumers finally begin to buy
home television sets and universities begin to buy Federal Communication
Commission licenses, build transmitters, towers, and studios, and broadcast
televised instruction through the airwaves. Families could watch a course on European
history from their local college, and then change the channel to watch Milton
Commercial TV begins to dominate, and university-owned stations become too
expensive and cumbersome to own, or they switch allegiance over to the
burgeoning Public Broadcast Service. Many of the television teaching
techniques developed during this time would reappear later when satellite,
videotape, videoconferencing, and streaming technology become the bandwagons
With the development of
affordable private airplanes and a growing network of rural airports,
many universities invested in their own fleet of small aircraft to ferry
instructors around the state on a weekly basis. Increasing fuel, maintenance
and insurance costs proved this distance learning technology to be
unsustainable and some instructors thought unsafe.
A worldwide network of
orbiting satellites with cost-effective transponder (or satellite) time,
brought about perhaps the first national network for distance learning. Many
states installed a system of county-based downlink sites for remote students.
Dramatically increasing costs in transponder time and in maintaining and
equipping studios and uplink transmitters, combined with the dawn of the Internet,
made satellite distribution financial unsustainable. Many satellite courses
moved to asynchronous videotape distribution once the VCR became well
established in almost every home.
Today, as satellite dishes get smaller and more affordable, and digital
satellite transponder time comes down in price, this delivery medium is
reappearing again as a viable alternative to delivering video and high-band
Internet access to distance learners.
States and regions begin to
build fiber optic-based or phone line-based two-way interactive video and
audio networks. Instruction moves out of the broadcast studio and into the
teleclassroom. Advances in consumer and professional video and multimedia
technology make it possible for instructors to teach both on- and off-campus
students simultaneously from high-tech classrooms.
Very quickly, less expensive Internet, or compressed videoconferencing technology,
begins to threaten or replace these expensive-to-maintain proprietary
Higher education begins to
move distance learning to the Internet using homegrown or commercial course
or learning management systems. The cost sustainability and learner
effectiveness of these online technologies is still being tested.
technologies continue to evolve and change. It's difficult to see five years
into the future, much less 20 years. But here are some prospects for what the
Virtual instructors? Virtual students?
Will your computer become your TV or your
TV a computer?
No more wires? So where do I take this
Privatized distance education
Is it a PC? Is it a writing tablet? Is it