Five of the Biggest Innovations in the History of Education

by David Knox



The evolution of technology in education has become vital in the past decade, as institutions strived to make learning accessible to students in the midst of the pandemic. True enough, the Educator Confidence Report highlights the importance of technology, with about 81% of teachers agreeing that innovations provide great student-centric benefits. Educators stated that these innovations are improving engagement, individualizing learning, and making education flexible for students.

Though these advancements may seem recent, innovations have actually been happening for centuries to make education accessible to the population. Thanks to the creation of various products and services, education has been revolutionized throughout history.

1800s: Distance Education

Remote learning may be seen as a recent trend, but this practice was in fact implemented in the 1800s through mail services. In the US, a private institution called the International Correspondence Schools was established in 1888 to reskill immigrant coal miners into mine inspectors or foremen. The school observed a rise in enrollment rates since they mailed complete textbooks instead of just singular lessons. This type of distance education helped boost enrollment rates. Our article on the History of Education even noted that there were only 8.8 million elementary school enrollees in 1876. The accessibility of education also helped triple the number of college students in the century.

1900s: Radio and Television Classes

The invention of the radio and television allowed educational institutions to leverage technology as a learning tool. For instance, the Pennsylvania State College became the first institution to release educational courses through radio networks in 1922. Two decades later, the New York University partnered up with WCBS-TV to create a television series called “Sunrise Semester”. Over the course of 25 years, the show broadcasted lectures from NYU professors during the early morning, allowing viewers to receive college credit for a fee. However, one-way communication proved to be a challenge, since students couldn’t directly ask their professors for clarifications or help.

1990s: Web-Based Schooling

Web-based schooling is popular right now, but it's actually rooted in innovation in the 1990s. The University of Phoenix started this opportunity in America by launching an online college institution that offered bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. Even technology manufacturer Microsoft established an online educational platform in 1995 to allow students to learn how to use Microsoft products at a flexible pace. A year later, The Jones International University was launched as the first accredited and fully web-based university in the US. Thanks to the development of the Internet, educational institutions were able to lay down the foundations of web-based schooling.

2000s: Data-Driven Instruction

Aside from using computers and smart devices for learning, educational institutions now leverage technology to input, organize, and analyze school data to improve existing systems. Information can be gathered and applied to improve the learning outcomes of students, as shown by edtech company New Globe which uses technology-enabled solutions to enhance learning approaches based on data. With the help of data-driven solutions, New Globe has doubled numeracy learning, accelerated reading fluency, and increased student attendance. Schools can even study data about their spending, allowing them to optimize their fund management and make data-based decisions for technological investments.

2020s: Mixed Reality Learning

The rise of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic pushed academic institutions to utilize various innovations in education. In fact, schools are using augmented reality systems to show layers of visual information through 3D models as well as virtual reality to allow students to interact with computer-generated three-dimensional settings. Educational institutions have been using online VR platform Virbela in recent months to hold courses and seminars where a realistic interaction is necessary. Meanwhile, augmented reality is being used through the gamification of educational courses, allowing students to apply their learnings through the social environment or culture of the game.

Though the past year has cemented the importance of technology in education, the history of education proves that various institutions were already ahead of their time by launching innovative learning programs. To learn more about the history of technology in various environments, check out our articles from History Central. Our resources cover enriching topics not just on education, but on the history of the US, the wars, the elections, and more.