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The Evolution Of Online Degrees

by Kaitlyn Wightman
Marketing Specialist

March 06, 2015

From lessons by mail to degrees entirely online, distance education has evolved over the centuries. Even online degrees have been reshaped and reinvented over the past twenty years as technology continues to rapidly advance. 

Here’s how online degrees have changed over the years—and how these changes impact the ways students can earn a university degree. 

Before Online Degrees

Distance university education has been around a lot longer than you’d think, as early as the 1700s. With correspondence courses, students learned solely from pamphlets and textbooks sent through the mail. Questions were mailed to an assigned instructor at the college that could take months for a reply back. Students studied at their own pace, sending a letter to the college in request of the next lesson after the previous lesson was completed. 

By 1925, over 200 colleges and universities were broadcasting college lectures through the radio broadcast. 

In the 1970s, universities like NAU would send their instructors by car, train and plane to teach in classrooms across the state. Soon, universities established branch campuses like NAU–Yuma and NAU–Yavapai so that students could still earn a respected university degree without leaving their community. 

While television courses started as early as the late 1950s, university education through the television picked up in the 1990s. In fact, NAU broadcasted courses on interactive TV to students across Arizona. 

Online Degrees

It was 1995 when online degrees were first made available. NAU was one of the first universities to offer online degrees. Employers as well as students were still trying to wrap their heads around the concept of earning a respected degree without stepping inside a classroom. 

Remember that this was back in the ’90s when the Internet meant a dial-up connection and personal computers were still a new idea. It was pretty revolutionary to earn your degree through an online platform where lectures, syllabi and assignments were stored. 

Over the years, online degrees were upgraded. Online discussion boards and chat programs allowed students to have class discussions and instructor meetings virtually. Test delivery became easier and more secure, allowing instructors to grade students on more than completing their coursework and writing college papers. eBooks and digital textbooks allow students to access all course reading materials online through their learning platform. 

Online Degrees 2.0: Competency-based Education

Today, students have different ways of earning their degree online. In addition to online degrees, dozens of universities are now offering competency-based education degrees online. 

In an online competency-based education degree program, such as NAU’s Personalized Learning, student focus on developing key skills and knowledge areas called competencies. Students complete lessons by demonstrating their understanding of each competency. This allows students to set their own pace of learning by moving faster in areas they are already familiar with and slower in areas that are more challenging. 

Students can now decide how to earn a degree online that best fits their learning style and lifestyle. Only time will tell where online degrees will go next. 

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Additional Story Info
For more information, contact:
NAU-Extended Campuses
(800)-426-8315
ec.marketing@nau.edu
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