Monday, Sep. 30, 2013 6:28 pm | 2013-09-30 18:28:00 | Washington, D.C., United States

In the words of one prominent expert, the average distance learner "knows more of the subject, and knows it better, than the student who has covered the same ground in the classroom." Indeed, "the day is coming when the work done [via distance learning] will be greater in amount than that done in the class-rooms of our colleges." The future of education was finally here.
2012, right? Think again: 1885. The commentator quoted above was Yale classicist (and future University of Chicago President) William Rainey Harper, evaluating correspondence courses. That's right: you've got (snail) mail. Journalist Nicholas Carr has chronicled the recurrent boosterism about mass mediated education over the last century: the phonograph, instructional radio,televised lectures. All were heralded as transformative educational tools in their day. This should give us pause as we consider the latest iteration of distance learning: massive open online courses (MOOCs).