The History of Distance Learning and the LMS

What is a Learning Management System? A learning management system is a software-based platform used to administer courses, manage training, track results, and more. Typically with the help of learning management system we can easily create, deliver content, monitor participation, and assess the performance.

Below I explore the history of distance learning and the LMS.

1728 – The First Correspondence Course
Caleb Phillips publishes an advertisement in the Boston Gazette. In the ad, he solicits potential students of a short-hand writing course, delivered by correspondence. Phillips’ clever advertisement stated that students will receive lessons weekly and be ‘perfectly instructed, as those that live in Boston.’

1858 – Online Degrees Available
University of London first to offer distance learning degrees under their ‘External Program’.

1905 – Distance Learning Schools Founded
The University of Wisconsin-Extension, the first distance learning institution, is founded.

1921 – Teaching Enters The Machine Age
Sidney Pressey, a professor at Ohio State University builds a machine that looks like a typewriter but, instead of typing, allows students to drill multiple choice questions in preparation for examinations. Pressey, being perhaps a little self-centred, claims the machine will free up teachers for more ‘inspirational and thought-stimulating activities.’

1929 – Computerized Scoring Invented
Director of the University of Alberta’s School for Education, M.E. LeZerte develops several new instructional device for teaching and learning. One of the devices, a ‘problem cylinder’ is designed to check the multiple choice answers given by a student, inventing modernized test-scoring. As with Pressey in 1921, LeZerte is primarily concerned with saving teachers’ time.

1953 – Televised Learning Goes Mainstream
KUHT, the United States first public television station and the University of Houston pair up to release the first televised college credit classes. KUHT was one of the earliest members stations of National Educational Television, which was to eventually become PBS. The station ran approximately 15 hours of educational material per week and aired courses at night so that those coming home after a long day of work could benefit from the programming.

1956 – Graded Course Progression Invented
Distance education meets commercialization with the production of SAKI, a ‘self adaptive keyboard instructor.’ The software program was designed to continuously monitor student performance and then generate practice exercises for users based on that performance. When students’ performance improved, exercises became more difficult and when performance stalled, testing became easier to accommodate the students personalized learning curve.

1960 – First Automated, Computerized Instruction System Developed
PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations) debuts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. PLATO allowed users to type and interact through a host of networks, assigning lessons, learning independently, an monitoring lesson/student progress. After its creation, PLATO offered University of Illinois coursework for four decades before being purchased as a commercial product. The system pioneered many of the concepts that are ubiquitous nowadays throughout the world of multi-user computing systems.

1969 – Internet Precursors Emerge
ARPANET is created by the U.S. Department of Defence. Arpanet births many of the systems and principles that will serve as the foundation for the Internet. Its users begin to conceive of the instantaneous and worldwide exchange of digital information.

1971 – Desktop Computer Invented
Hewlett Packard releases the H 9810A. By today’s standards, this desktop computer is nothing more than an oversized calculator, but its LED display, chips for RAM/ROM/LOGIC and keystroke programming served as precursors for many of the elements that are still familiar to modern computer users. Early home computers, though expensive, laid the framework that would connect so many through the Internet a decade later, facilitating the growth of an international knowledge economy and a platform for the home use of Learning Management Systems everywhere.

1976 – First Fully Digital Institution of Learning
Coastline Community College launches in 1976, becoming the first institution of learning with no classrooms or building. All student learning, correspondence and evaluation occurs digitally.

1982 – The Internet
Debut of the world wide web, connecting desktops computers and systems all over the world.

1990 – First LMS
FirstClass is released by SoftArc. Still working today, FirstClass has been recognized as the first real Learning Management System. The system runs on personal Macintosh computers, allowing access many home desktop users, not just mainframe users. It also supports private email and public forums, allowing students to ask questions and clarify theory presented in learning modules.

2002 – First Open-Source LMS Released
Moodle is released and remains one of the most popular open-source LMSs available online. Users need only download the software to their home PC to start learning.

2008 – First Cloud Based Open Source LMS
Eucalyptus, the first cloud-based open source Learning Management System, is released. It stores information and runs entirely on the Internet, meaning that companies require no servers or internal networks to make use of it. With this invention, courses can now be run without classrooms, with vastly reduced teaching staff and without the need for a supporting mainframe, requiring only that instructors, students and administrators log in from their home computer.



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