America’s Virtual Journey of Discovery
5 min readJul 10, 2020

Part 1: How America learned to learn online

Born at the tail end of Generation X, mine was the last to fully understand education as a face-to-face experience. By the time I started my undergraduate work in the mid-1990s (five years after the official start of the Internet) the concept of ‘distance-learning’ was already advancing exponentially in terms of technology and application. Utilized initially at the high school and vocational level, it used closed-circuit broadcasting to enable individuals to observe traditional classroom environments without having to be there. Its’ value lay in the ability to increase the size of a class/audience regardless of the physical distance between prospective students. Its’ limitations lay primarily in the inability of those distance learners to participate in learning activities fully and in real-time.

But by the beginning of the new millennium, those limitations had been largely overcome and ‘distance learning’ was transformed into ‘online education’. Rather than simply a point of access, “online education is defined as a form of distance education that uses computers and the Internet as the delivery mechanism, with at least 80% of the course content delivered online.” The transformation of education through the integration of online information sources with delivery and instruction took place at lightning speed. Overnight, every major educational institution in the country began experimenting with online education trying to grasp both its economic and educational potential for the future. What is often forgotten about this time is that for every Phoenix University there were dozens of failed online schools, some sponsored by the most prestigious universities in the country.

The advancement of online education in the last three decades has been driven by three primary considerations: technology, pedagogy, and digital socialization. I have been an instructor at every level of education from elementary to grad school over the last 25 years and during the entire time, the advancement of technology has always outpaced its use by educators. The lag has been shortened considerably over the last decade…