History of Remote Learning

history of remote learning

There isn’t a school is the world that hasn’t been affected by the pandemic. Many have had to close for at least some time, and some schools haven’t reopened even now, more than a year into it. Most teachers I know are working in some weird hybrid situation – some students in person and some at home. It feels surreal – surely we’re the first people to have to endure this sort of transition, right? Wrong. Remote learning is not new to this generation. In fact, remote learning in the past wasn’t as different from today as you might imagine. The history of remote learning might even hold some lessons for us today.

Correspondence Courses

In 1728, the Boston Gazette ran an advertisement for the first known correspondence course. Learning remotely was implemented via the postal service in the 1840s, Sir Isaac Pitman ran correspondence courses teaching short hand. In 1858, the University of London was the first university to provide a distance learning program. The number of people who could benefit from education expanded dramatically. In 1906, the University of Wisconsin began recording lectures on phonographs and sending them to students.

1918-1919 Influenza Outbreak

One-third of the world’s population was infected with influenza between 1918 and 1919 and 50 million people died. Most schools closed completely. Chicago, New York and New Haven never closed schools, believing that students were safer and better off at school. Those cities were among the hardest hit by the virus and students weren’t allowed to gather outside of school. Students were checked for symptoms every day and isolated if they had any signs of the flu. Many parents were afraid that their children would be infected at school and kept their children home. Schools were overheated during the day and windows were left open to allow for airflow. In hindsight, researchers show that cities who closed schools and enforced quarantines and isolation had fewer cases of influenza, however.**

1937 Polio Outbreak

In 1937, there was a polio outbreak in Chicago which delayed the opening of school for three weeks. Teachers used radio to broadcast their lessons and children had to listen to the radio to complete their lessons.

1995 Internet Learning Begins

The first class offered via the internet was an art course offered in 1995 by Penn State University. By 1999, the term “elearning” was coined.

2020-2021 Coronavirus Pandemic history of remote learning

94% of the world’s schools incorporated some type of remote learning during the COVID19 pandemic.* Some schools closed completely, while many continued to offer classes via the internet, boosting Zoom and Google Meets platforms to the common vernacular. Distance learning and hybrid classrooms became the norm in the United States while 75% of the world relied on television and 50% relied on radio learning.* There is no definitive “best practices” to depend on, and school teachers worldwide struggled through trial and error to find the best ways to help their students. The history of remote learning provides scant evidence of what works to engage and educate children. One could make the argument that educational and political leaders failed to carve clear pathways or even establish guidelines.

What have we learned?

Not being in school is detrimental to the social and emotional health of students, and probably teachers as well. Schools exist not only to provide an education but also to provide an opportunity for human interaction and the provision of support services. At a time when schools can’t do those things, the support structure of the individual child is left responsible for the child’s well being. And, unfortunately, that isn’t enough sometimes. But at its core purpose, the history of remote learning shows us that education can continue in a myriad of delivery systems and students can learn. What we’ve come to think of as the “traditional school” might not be the only way for children to learn, and, through the trial and error of the past 12 months, maybe we’ve learned how to improve on an imperfect system. When things return to “normal,” if that’s even a thing any more, will they return to better?



*Source:  https://theconversation.com/remote-learning-isnt-new-radio-instruction-in-the-1937-polio-epidemic-143797

**Source: https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/19/us/schools-flu-pandemic-1918-trnd/index.html

Photo of child doing school work with computer – Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

Photo of computer – Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

Published by JustAddH2OTeacher

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