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.
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:
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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