Education is constantly evolving, and over the last few decades, some of the biggest innovations in pedagogy have come about due to advances in technology. Such technology is not only being used to improve the classroom experience, where overhead projectors, laptop computers and advanced audio-visual devices are enabling teachers to engage students in exciting ways, but home study programs have been especially transformed through high-tech equipment, such as DVDs, streaming video and Web-based learning modules.

Correspondence learning
Although it might seem like home study courses are a new phenomenon, basic versions of such courses have existed since the middle of the last century. Back then, these programs were known as correspondence courses, and they utilized books, study guides and exams mailed back-and-forth between teachers and students via the postal service. This early form of distance education was very self-paced and self-guided, as there was virtually no interaction with the teacher or other students. However, for those students living in remote areas without easy access to a live classroom, they were extremely valuable. These courses steadily grew in popularity over the next few decades and still exist today.

Phone home
Another version of home study, and one that originated specifically through a technological advance in telecommunications, was telephone-based home study. Although it was mostly used with sick, remotely located or traveling schoolchildren who couldn’t attend live classes, it was an important step, since it allowed homebound students to interact with teachers and each other. The technology involved was basically a form of a conference call, where the students and teacher were all on one line and could speak with one another. As with correspondence courses, the books, exams and other materials were mailed back and forth via the postal service.

The big screen
Television was the next big step in home study. Starting in earnest during the 1980s, many colleges and universities offered broadcasts of live lectures, so working students could catch their classes at home during the evening and weekends. These classes were mostly broadcast on public television stations, and students could view the same lectures at home that their peers were viewing on campus. Some of these courses required students to come to campus for their exams, but others allowed the entire course to be completed at home and mailed in.

Tape it
The invention and widespread use of the home video recorder, or VCR, made TV-based home study even more convenient. No longer did students have to be available to watch a TV class at a specifically scheduled time; they could pop in a taped version of the class whenever they wanted. Like books, many college classes stocked these tapes in their campus library, where they could be checked out and viewed in the library or at home. This technology enhanced the learning experience because students could now pause and/or rewind the tapes, so they could review specific parts of the lecture again and again at their own pace. These taped classes were extremely popular among undergraduates, as many of their required general education classes were becoming horrendously crowded and were being held in large, impersonal lecture halls and auditoriums.

Check back next week for Part Two to see how technological innovations of the 21st-century are transforming distance education.

Chris Towery is the former associate editor of MASSAGE Magazine and is currently a full-time freelance journalist. He has written hundreds of articles for more than 20 different magazines, newspapers and custom publishers. Much of his recent writing has been for the complementary and alternative health-care industry. To contact Towery, e-mail