For observers who aren’t familiar with the history of distance education, eLearning may seem like a modern phenomenon entirely unconnected to anything that has gone before. In fact, it is just a recent chapter in an ongoing saga.

Let me trace a progression of events. From time immemorial, the main educational paradigm was the community of learners assembled at a single location in the company of a sage. For all sorts of reasons, most people could not participate in this kind of learning.

When rapid, reliable land transportation and the modern postal service came together in Britain and America in the early 1800s, educators who wanted to reach a wider swath of humanity harnessed those innovations to create correspondence-based distance education (DE). The correspondence approach preserved some of the features of the relationship between an individual student and mentor, but at a geographical and temporal distance from one another. It was not able to preserve the relationship among students and, in some cases, left students to work entirely on their own (mail and forget).

As new technologies have emerged — radio, TV, teleconferencing, stand-alone CBT, wireless telephony, the Internet, mobile devices — educators have explored THEIR potential to reach an ever widening swath of humanity with improving results. Each technology brings new dimensions to the DE experience such as new media, more rapid and direct communication with the mentor, asynchronous and synchronous contact with other students, new modes of production, and so on. Without bumping earlier approaches entirely into oblivion, eLearning and mLearning have recently taken their place in this ongoing evolution. Rest assured that – sooner that we think – we will be welcoming even newer technology-driven DE approaches.