The history of e-learning and starts with an understanding of how instructional design, instructional technology, and educational technology evolved in the last century. This also includes having a basic understanding of distance education history.E-learning is a broad term that encompasses various types of media, and this including the use of distance learning modalities.
While e-learning and distance learning are the same thing, they do have some similarities in the way they evolved. One thing that distinguishes distance education from e-learning is the physical separation of the learners from educators. However, e-learning is a part of the classroom environment. Continuous research and development in E-learning technology and the ability to develop virtual classrooms and a virtual learning environment (VLE) are also an important part of the history of e-learning and it has evolved.
Distance Learning Timeline
Pre 1920s: Shift from phrenology (stuffing the mind with knowledge as a mental exercise) to an empirical knowledge base for education based on Thorndike’s Laws of Learning and the introduction of educational measurement.
1920s: Matching of society needs to education and connecting outcomes and instruction. Individualized Instruction (II) plans were developed that allowed learners to progress at their own pace with minimum teacher direction. Contract learning and mastery learning emerged, and the roots of job analysis and task analysis.
1930s: Even though the great depression affected education in terms of funding and other respects, the 8 year study plan (Tyler) was a major milestone in specifying general objectives for education and behavioral objectives were being shaped. Also formative evaluation was recognized.
1940s: With WWII and the military, mediated strategies such as the use of films for instruction and AV technology was dominant and the term for instructional technologist was coined by Finn. The idea of an instructional development team was also initiated.
1950s: With the baby boom after WWII, the Trumpet Plan that recognized small group, large group independent study instruction was a milestone and Sputnik which initiated federal funds to education was another milestone. The period also marked the birth of Programmed Instruction (PI) from behaviorism. Bloom’s mastery learning theory and task analysis was first used by the Air Force personnel.
1960s: Cognitive psychology was dominant in this decade (Gagne, Glaser), and the systems approach to designing instruction was introduced (Finn). A shift from norm-referenced testing to criterion-based testing was noted. The focus was on the development of instructional materials. The first types of teaching machines were developed, while instructional film became more creative and broadened its reach to children in schools. Programmed text and instructional films were some learning technologies used in the 1960s.The advent of large scale television availability brought on a new learning delivery method. The expenses were high and the delivery of the information challenging. The use of videos emerged and were used in corporate training and school classrooms for example educational shows such as Sesame Street and broadcasting university lectures.
1970s: Cognitive approach was still dominant. In the history of e-learning, the work of Ausubel, Bruner, Merrill, Gagne and others on instructional strategies dominated this decade. The birth of AECT and the proliferation of models of instructional design was noted as well as the development of needs assessment procedures by Kauffman and others.
1980s: Performance technology (Gilbert) and the focus on needs assessment (identifying the gaps between actuals and optimals) (Rossett) and whether the discrepancy was due to lack of incentive, lack of knowledge or skills, or lack of environmental support. Microcomputer instruction (CBI/CBT) flourished in this decade with the emphasis on design for interactivity and learner control.
1990s: Focus on designing learning environments based on a constructivist approach to learning and multimedia development. Hypertext and hypermedia influence the field and cross-cultural issues are bridged using the Internet. In the 1990s, interactive learning via computer-based training (CBT) and Technology-Based Training (TBT) use of touch screens and interactive videodisks increased with the availability of home computers and more reliance on technology in the workplace. The technology has since been advancing very fast, leading to concerns of digital and knowledge divides, incompatibilities between hardware and software, slow system performance, and memory and disk space issue, In the 1990s and not enough memory space. This was a technological learning curve for both the learning industry who made the products and the learners who used them. Web-Based Instruction (WBI) also became more common in use, based on the growing access to the Internet
2000s: In the new millennium, Internet technologies are more and more integrated with personal, academic, and professional lives, making Electronic Learning (eLearning) and online learning more accessible. Learners, educators, and instructional designers have a variety of tools and resources to chose from in the courses, seminars, and training, for example using e-learning tools, Web 2.0 tools, web conferencing, etc. To get there we have to have some history of e-learning in order to understand the future.
Understanding the history of e-learning and how it has evolved helps to make connection about possible future directions and options for keeping up with current research and technological innovations. Also remember that history of e-learning is not separate from the history of instructional design.