Stephen Downes’ overview of e-learning: and a little history lesson

Tony Bates, online learning, distance education resources, Feb 16, 2012
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Tony Bates offers some nice words about my recent talk and mentions some work that took place even before the timeline I offered (which began 20 or so years ago). He writes,
- "In particular I would like to recognize the pioneering work of Murray Turoff and Roxanne Hiltz (who) developed a networked collaborative learning approach that they called computer-mediated communication (CMC), which they used as a blended learning model, using NJIT’s own computer network...
- "In the early 1980s the Open University in the United Kingdom developed an audio-graphics system called Cyclops that worked over the public telephone system for delivery through its regional study centres
- "Staff at the University of Guelph in Ontario... in 1983 developed a text-based online collaborative learning tool called CoSy that worked over telephone systems."

Interestingly, I worked with all three systems he describes here (and have mentioned each in passing over the years). As a student, I took part in John A. Baker's CMC-supported philosophy of mind class in 1986 at the University of Calgary. I actually developed an audio-graphics course for Athabasca University in 1994 (though I considered the use of telephone lines to deliver audio a bit of a hack). And of course Athabasca used CoSy in those years, which I absolutely hated (that was part of the resason I set up my own BBS). Not to downplay these important developments, but none of these is internet learning - they all used private networks or mainframes. So they're all part of 'generation 0', to my mind.

But Bates quite correctly notes the big debate at the time. "The very first article in the then new Journal of Distance Education in 1986 was entitled 'Computer‑assisted learning or communications: which way for information technology in distance education?' (Bates, 1986). This argued that the use of IT for communication between teachers and learners was far more important than trying to use technology to manage learning in a behaviourist way." He also mentions the 'massive online discussions hosted by OU, and similarly, I remember massive email courses ('introduction to the internet' or some such thing) subscribed by thousands of people (I wish I could remember them in more detail, or had a reference).
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