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National Distance Learning Week 2012 kicks off today to celebrate and create greater awareness for distance learning, which is increasingly known as online education. The United States Distance Learning Association sponsors the celebratory week to promote the tremendous growth and accomplishments happening today in distance learning programs offered by schools, businesses, and governmental departments.

At Post University, we are proud to be a part of the history of distance learning as we offer more than 14,000 students the opportunity to learn online from wherever they are.

Here are just a few numbers that show the influence online education now bears on higher education. These come from a report by Babson Survey Research Group and College Board.

  • More than 6.1 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2010 term, an increase of 560,000 students over the previous year.
  • The 10 percent growth rate for online enrollments far exceeds the 2 percent growth in the overall higher education student population.
  • 65 percent of higher education institutions say online learning is a critical part of their long-term strategy.

Infographic of Post historyThese numbers are even more interesting, however, when you look at them in the context of how distance learning and online education have evolved in the American higher education system. Distance learning in the U.S. dates back more than 120 years — a long history of students and teachers exchanging assignments and lessons through the U.S. Postal Service.

Since then, distance learning has been marked by many significant events and developments that have helped shape higher education, and how we teach and learn. The most recent milestone: The advent of MOOCs (massive open online courses) being offered by some of the nation’s most elite colleges and universities, which have made the field of higher education as buzzworthy as Facebook.

To celebrate National Distance Learning Week, we took a closer look at this history, and compiled an interactive infographic that shows the evolution of distance learning in higher education.

Sixteen milestones tell the story of how distance learning has evolved since 1892. (That’s just two years after Post University was founded!) The events are fascinating, and it’s enlightening to see how they have built upon one another to shape the distance learning field and engender the online education paradigm.

But we didn’t stop there when we made our infographic. We asked several higher education experts to weigh in on what they believe will be the next major milestone for distance learning and online education. So keep your eye out for when you get to the part where we feature distance learning and online education predictions from:

I also added my own prediction. More important, we’re asking YOU to tell us what your prediction is for the future of distance learning and online education. What do you think will happen in the next five, 10, 15, or more years? How will we be delivering education? Why?

Submit your prediction now to Post University’s Facebook page. We’ll be taking submissions through Nov. 16. Afterward, we will be randomly giving one entrant a $50 Amazon gift card.

So give our interactive infographic a look, and let us know what you think the future holds for distance learning and online education. We hope you enjoy it. We also issued a press release today with some other details on the infographic, which you can read online.

We’re planning a few more special posts this week to celebrate National Distance Learning Week, so keep your eyes here.