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The History of Online Learning

Graphic: The history of online learning.

As technology has evolved, we’ve found new, effective ways to harness it for one of life’s most important tasks — education. So, when did online school start, and how has it become as popular as it is today? Online learning has been around in some form for over half a century. Educators and learners today benefit from the way online learning has expanded and evolved to become a powerful platform for education. The history of online education demonstrates how much this field has developed since its beginnings.

The Beginning of Online Education

You might think online education is a recent development, but we can actually trace its origins all the way back to the 1960s, before the inception of the internet. During this early era of computers, the University of Illinois made history by introducing an intranet for their students. This intranet evolved into a computer-based learning system called Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations (PLATO). 

PLATO eventually expanded in its functionality, and by the late 1970s, it comprised several thousand terminals across the world. PLATO created an online community of learners, giving an early glimpse into the types of online learning communities that have become commonplace today.

The Introduction of Educational Computer Games

Another development that began around this time was educational computer games. Arcade games had already become fairly popular, and people realized they could harness this technology for educational purposes.

The first educational computer game to gain widespread popularity was called Lemonade Stand. This game, which was first published in 1973 by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC), taught economics concepts through a business simulation. In the late 1970s, the game was ported to the Apple II, which aided in its popularity. 

The game’s success helped open people’s minds to the idea of a virtual learning environment and laid the groundwork for many educational games in the following decades, such as Oregon Trail and Reader Rabbit. Many school children in the 1980s played educational games, which helped them learn about the subject matter of the games and develop digital literacy skills during the advent of the personal computer era.

The Expansion of Computer Courses

In the 1980s, the World Wide Web had yet to appear on the scene, but computer courses were becoming increasingly popular and accessible. In 1983, the former president of Atari, Ron Gordon, started the Electronic University Network (EUN) as part of TeleLearning Systems, Inc. If you had a computer, you could purchase an enrollment package and take courses for real college credit. 

Many prominent universities participated in the EUN and issued degrees to students who had received credits through these online courses. The EUN demonstrated that students could learn through digital formats and helped pave the way for online courses in the future.

Around this same time, the Computer Assisted Learning Center (CALC) began, which came to be known as CALCampus. CALCampus started as an online tutoring center in 1986 and became the first to introduce a completely online curriculum. Everything from administration to real-time classroom instruction and educational resources were housed online, making this a fully online campus. The success of CALCampus paved the way for universities to provide online schooling for years to come. 

The Rise of Online Education

Virtual learning has existed in some form for decades, but when did online school become popular? Over the past few decades, online learning has risen from novelty to a place of prominence within our education system. Today, a majority of higher education institutions offer online classes, and there are many completely online universities. In the Fall 2018 semester, over a third of college students were enrolled in at least one online course.

What’s more, people look favorably on online higher education. Even as far back as 2010, 83% of CEOs and small business owners considered online degrees to be as credible as traditional degrees. Mounting evidence over the years has supported this attitude by showing that online learning is just as valid and, in some cases, even more effective than in-person learning.

Graphic: Online learning is just as valid as in-person learning.

Online higher education is well-known, but many people are unaware that K-12 online learning also has a rich history of growth and success. Florida Virtual Schools (FLVS) pioneered online learning for public school kids as far back as 1997. They paved the way for other states to follow suit. Today, many states, including Pennsylvania, have plenty of quality K-12 online school options through the charter school model with over two decades of successful implementation.

After years of sustained growth, online education got a major boost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which made in-person learning problematic for public health reasons. In a short time, many schools and universities were moving to hybrid or completely online learning models. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 93% of households with school-age children reported that their children engaged in distance learning during the pandemic.

Though this move was out of necessity in many cases, it further revealed the value of distance education and helped students and educators become more familiar with this learning model. While virtual learning had already gained significant traction with higher education, this most recent development led to widespread implementation in the K-12 setting.

Especially because today’s elementary, middle, and high school students are digital natives, they can take full advantage of the benefits an online education has to offer. Online education also helps satisfy different student needs when it comes to ability levels and learning styles. Even students who thrive in a traditional classroom may find they prefer online learning, which can help them reach or exceed traditional educational outcomes. We continue to see how online education is helping students of all ages thrive academically. 

What to Know About CCA’s Online Education Programs

At Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA), we bring the opportunities and benefits of online learning to students throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We are dedicated to providing all our students with a valuable cyber school experience that is tailored to them. Combined with unique extracurricular activities, our academic programs are designed to help students of all backgrounds, ability levels, and learning styles succeed academically and become well-prepared for future education and careers.

As learning trends move toward online, our extensive experience with online education programs makes us well-positioned to help students and families capitalize on the best that virtual learning can provide. We even provide the technology students need to facilitate this learning. More and more families are discovering the way online school can help them achieve the same educational outcomes or excel beyond them while enjoying the greater level of freedom and customization cyber school affords.

Experience Online Education at Commonwealth Charter Academy

The history of online education shows us that one of technology’s most valuable applications is education. From the earliest days of computers and the internet, innovators have found ways to leverage this technology to help people learn. 

Today, online learning has earned its place of prominence and is helping many children and adults get a quality education on their terms. If you’re interested in enrolling your young learner in cyber school, contact us today to learn more about CCA’s online education programs. 

Graphic: Experience online education at CCA.

Author

Commonwealth Charter Academy

Published

March 8th, 2022

Category

Learning Lab

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