Last week, we launched our interactive infographic showing the evolution of distance learning and online education over the past 120 years. It was part of our celebration of this year’s National Distance Learning Week.
Although that infographic shows the industry’s development of distance learning and online education, we also wanted to share and reflect on how Post University has made an impact on distance learning and online education over the years — and in particular, how we’ve overcome some of the most common obstacles to embracing online education.
Distance learning has been part of the fabric of Post University since 1976, when we developed our first accelerated degree courses. To give you a sense of what was happening in the U.S. around that time, that was the same year Cray Research released the Cray-1, the first commercially developed supercomputer. Jimmy Carter was elected president, and the Vietnam War had just ended the previous year.
In fact, our first accelerated degree courses were created to help Vietnam veterans return to civilian life. The education was focused on preparing vets for jobs that were relevant to the modern marketplace. This established Post University (or Post College at the time) as a first mover in accelerated adult education.
Then the early ’90s brought us the Internet, which changed everything. At first, the Internet was a means for colleges and universities to share research they were conducting for the government with federal agencies. Some say the government funded the development of the Internet to prevent the loss of archived material in case of nuclear war. Others say it was to promote the sharing of knowledge by distributing research and talents. Either way, online learning was not in the picture until the late ’90s, when the world began to commercialize the Internet.
We took our foundation in accelerated adult education to the next level in 1997, when we developed our first online education course. I was part of Post University’s online education efforts from the beginning. Judith Slisz, then Dean of Post University’s Accelerated Degree Program, approached me to teach my first online course. Judith was a visionary and the driving force behind online education at Post University. Judith came to me, an adjunct instructor, because she knew of my work at Ingersoll Rand to produce the company’s first digital product catalog, marketing material, and website.
The technology of the Internet was much different then. We connected to the Internet through phone dial-up modems operating at 9600 baud. This is equivalent to 72 kilobytes of information transferred per minute, or 4.32 megabytes per hour. A typical photograph is about one megabyte, so it would have taken over 20 minutes to transfer it over the phone lines, if you could keep your connection open that long.
Today, most ISPs offer Internet transmission rates to their customers much greater than two megabytes per second (Mbps). So these pictures load in under a second. Needless to say, in the “old days” we could not use pictures — only words.
Still, this was not the real roadblock to making online education what it is today. Many people feared change, and those teaching college were no different. They could not conceive of sharing their lecture notes with students, let alone referee a discussion board. Many professors were up in arms and ready to stop this online heresy.
This is where my colleague, Peter Chepya, Academic Program Manager for Post University’s Legal Studies program, came in and helped hold off the barbarians at the gate. Peter helped keep the naysayers and fear mongers at bay while the industry adapted to this media.
He also became our first professor of instructional design. He worked with Post University’s Patrice Farquharson, Ed.D., Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education, who helped with the external state reviewers to lend credibility to online education by building trust at the state level to get our first fully online degree program in 1999 — an Online Associate of Science in Early Childhood Education.
We entered the new century far ahead of many other colleges offering online degree programs. From the very beginning, we knew that much of the power of online learning was through the online discussion threads. We utilized the discussions to help educate, interact, and share knowledge.
Post University has increasingly attracted adult learners to our Accelerated Degree Programs. These adults are sharing their experiences, helping place complex material in context, and supporting their fellow learners in their quest for knowledge.
Today, Post University is the largest provider of fully online degree programs in Connecticut, and our online MBA degree program offered though The Malcolm Baldrige School of Business is now the second largest MBA program in the state. Some 14,000 students now learn anytime, anywhere through our accelerated online degree programs. That includes four online graduate degree programs, seven online graduate certificates, 17 online undergraduate degree programs, and 14 online certificate programs.
Most important, we’re continuing to ensure all our programs provide the high-quality education, academic rigor, instructor interaction, peer engagement, and real-world experiences students need to meet their personal and career goals. This academic quality is supported by our academic support systems, which combine the capabilities of the Internet with personalized attention to advising and enrollment management.
Our efforts have not gone unnoticed. There’s growing recognition of our innovation in online education. For example, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) told us in a recent meeting that we are a leader in online education. They also asked us what we were doing to help other schools enter the online education space.
This raises two great points, because we hope to continue to be a leader in online education for decades to come, serving as a model for the industry in how to provide high-quality online education to meet student and employer needs.
But we also believe higher education innovation cannot happen in a vacuum. It’s crucial for educational institutions to collaborate more, and combine our knowledge, experience, and resources to create positive strides in advancing the country’s online educational system.
A lot has happened at Post University in the past 36 years since we launched our first accelerated course, and a lot has happened in the online higher education industry in this time as well. Let’s continue this rich progress we’re making for our nation’s future generations.