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    The first 100 years: Innovation in distance learning

    As high school seniors nationwide contemplate continuing their education in college, it is fascinating to reflect on how education has evolved over the past century. According to a Harvard University Report, fewer than 10 percent of 18-year-olds in 1910 graduated from high school, compared to more than 75 percent in 2009, as reported by a similar study.

    Furthermore, where a college education was once confined to an elite minority, higher education today is attainable for the majority of Americans. Perhaps the most dramatic impact was made by the emergence of distance learning, which allows students to access degree programs targeting their unique educational goals from anywhere in the world.

    According to Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, a 2011 report from the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board, nearly one-third of all students in higher education are taking at least one online course. Enrollments for online courses at the elementary and secondary levels are growing as well. The Sloan Consortium, an advocacy group for online education, reports that an estimated 1.03 million students at the K-12 level nationwide took an online course in 2007-2008, up 47 percent from two years earlier.

    Distance learning hasn’t always been associated with its modern day definition. Early 20th century students were introduced to their version of distance learning technology via the first portable silent movie projector.

    Dr. Herman DeVry, a budding motion picture technology engineer in Chicago, unveiled the prototype of his soon to be famous Model E 35mm portable movie projector in 1912. The innovation, which is part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History collection, allowed students to view images from far off lands flickering across the screen in their classrooms. This concept of “visual distance learning” highlights a timely paradigm shift in the use of technology to facilitate education.

    “For the first time, moving images, whether of foreign societies in motion or step-by-step instructions for complex tasks, could be distributed to audiences regardless of their location. His projector definitely opened the gateway to the concept of distance learning,” explained Michelle Delaney, director, Consortium for Understanding the American Experience at the Smithsonian, of Dr. DeVry’s invention.

    This year marks the 100th anniversary of Dr. DeVry’s portable projector invention. A century later, his legacy continues; DeVry University has grown to become one of the largest private sector universities in North America, with more than 90,000 students enrolled at more than 95 locations in the United States and Canada and through DeVry University’s online classes.

    “Today’s DeVry University – with its technology-entrenched on-site and online offerings of undergraduate and graduate programs – is a shining tribute to the vision Herman DeVry had nearly a century ago,” said David Pauldine, president of DeVry University.

    The education landscape today barely resembles the form it took a century ago. Without the early innovations of great minds, distance learning and education may never have evolved to their modern forms.

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