Educational Experiments and Change
Alternatives to traditional higher education emerged in the U.S. in the 1960s and 1970s. Trends such as escalating college costs, a renewed interest in nontraditional education by a more mobile population, and success of Britain's Open University paved the way for numerous experiments in higher education (Gerrity, 1976).
Programs such as the University Without Walls, external degree programs, and imitations of the British Open University were encouraged by large grants from the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.
The instructional technology movement was defining its purpose during the late 1960s and moving further away from equating instructional technology with audio-visual devices (Reiser, 1987). In 1970, the Department of Audiovisual Instructional changed its name to the Association for Educational Communication and Technology, and defined educational technology as "a field involved in the facilitation of human learning through the systematic identification, development, organization, and utilization of a full range of learning resources ....(AECT, 1972, pp. 36-37). The same period saw an increased attention to instructional technology and "systems" approaches to the design of instruction based on theories of cognitive psychology and individualized instruction (Reiser, 1987).
Distance education programs which exist today have a wide range of approaches. The CALS program offers independent study courses through computer networking and relies heavily on computer-based student contact and feedback. Nova University offers computer-delivered instruction; and the students communicate with instructors through electronic mail, attend some concentrated centralized class sessions, and meet in weekend cluster groups. The Mind Extension University offers undergraduate and graduate degrees through cable networks, and it supplements video courses with texts and other collateral materials.
In summary, the history of distance education shows a field that appears to be in a constant state of evolution, that is supported by theory, but in need of research which can fill many unanswered questions. The historical view of distance education shows a stream of new ideas and technologies balanced against a steady resistance to change, and it often places technology in the light of promising more than it has delivered. History shows nontraditional education trying to blend with traditional education while striving to meet the challenge of constantly changing learning theories and evolving technologies.