Distance learning: who’s doing it now?

Distance learning is nothing new. In 1938, the International Council for Correspondence Education was founded in Canada, The Guardian reports.

In the same year, they held their first world conference, attended by 87 delegates. Only three of them weren’t from America or Canada.

By 1950, the situation hadn’t improved much – attendees came from just one or two countries – so in a desperate attempt to make sure that the conference lived up to its international title, the organisers invited people to participate by audio presentation. It was a revolution.

Something else was changing correspondence education that would draw it closer to what we now recognise as distance learning. Back then, when Australia was the world’s forerunner – 100,000 people had taken correspondence courses there in the years after the war – most of it had been in primary education. Gradually, the emphasis began to move towards adult and further education. Men and women from the armed services were among those seeking to retrain themselves.

Though the UK’s Open University (OU) wasn’t established until 1969, its history stretches back much further. In fact, as early as 1925, when the BBC was a fledgling broadcaster, JC Stobart was its first director of education. A year later he wrote a memo to colleagues that advocated a “wireless university”.

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