Who really knows what E-LEARNING is and where is it from?

Quite simply, E-LEARNING stands for “electronic learning”, namely using a digital device  to teach, train and learn. Literally, according to The Economic Times, E-LEARNING is «a learning system based on formalised teaching but with the help of electronic resources».

On the basis of this, it would seem E-LEARNING is something really new and novel…but it is not true!

So, who really knows where is E-LEARNING from?

It all started a long time ago in Great Britain when, in 1837, Isaac Pitman created the first shorthand course by correspondence where teachers and students were establishing communications through the postal service. Maria Grazia Roberto – author of several articles on e-learning systems – in her post “E-Learning: History and Evolution” offers a chronicle of e-learning evolution which is worth to be mentioned:


Isaac Pitman creates the first shorthand course by correspondence in Great Britain.


Anna Ticknor establishes “Society to encourage studies at Home” in Boston, an education chance for any women of different social class.


New York State approves degrees by correspondence at Chautauqua Institute.


William Harper offers first university courses by postal service at Chicago University, creating de facto the first “distance university”.


US Marine Corps starts to enlist and train by correspondence.


Salt Lake City, Wisconsin and Minnesota Universities realise education courses via radio.


Iowa State University offers courses through television.


The Instructional Television Fixed Service (ITFS) is established to guarantee transmission frequencies to institutes willing to offer courses through television. University  of California is the first.


  1. Wedmeyer founds the Articulated Instructional Media project, to gather several medias in a single educational path through correspondence, TV, radio, tapes, books and audio conferences via telephone.


  1. Luskin’s task force at the Californian Coast Community College, defines a “tele-course as a complete course of study in a given subject, not adjunct curricula like a single movie, filmstrip, slide show, audiotape, or vinyl record. Students are separated from the teacher, standing or sitting before a camera in a classroom or studio somewhere else, in real time or not. Provisions must be made for such teaching functions as answering student questions, giving and grading tests, reporting student progress to the school. All curricula must meet established academic standards.”


National University Teleconferencing Network sends information to 40 universities via satellite system.


New Jersey Institute of Tech establishes first online degree programme.


The Mind Extension University was founded to offer complete degree courses and programmes through cable.


The California Virtual University (more than 100 institutions) starts with 1500 online courses.


US Department of Education establishes the Distance Learning Education Demonstration Program.

So, we can identify three relevant generations of “distance learning” on the basis  of technology – or better, means – used: the first generation, XIX century, during which distance learning was only through correspondence; the second one, at the beginning of the XX century, the era of audio-visual technologies and the last generation which can be further split into 2:

  • Offline phase (1990-1999) also known as CTB (Computer Based Training) era during which e-learning is offered through courses plenty of videos, tapes, images thanks  to PCs and CD-ROM;
  • Online phase characterized by the widespread use of networks (especially internet): in 1997 CSM (Course Management System) allows online tests for users so to offer them a specific training course; in 1999 the latter gives way to LMS (Learning Management System) where WEB gains a prominent role for the whole e-learning system.