Learning at the Speed of Light: How Online Education Got to Now

Edited by John Ebersole
and William Patrick


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ISBN: 978-0-9898451-2-0 (paperback)

Pub Date: November 20, 2017

Price: $30.00 paperback
$29.95 e-book

434 pages

Category: Higher Education/ Alternative

Foreign rights available: World


…Disruptive change is never easy, especially in higher education. This book is a rich picture of how that disruption has occurred over decades.”
James Applegateformer Vice President, Lumina Foundation

Learning at the Speed of Light is a collection of stories, articles, and interviews by and with pioneers and visionaries across the United States who shared a belief in greater access to higher education.

Over the last half century, online learning (known variously as technology-mediated instruction, distance education, and asynchronous learning) grew from the belief that access to higher education was a right, not a privilege. With essays, anecdotes, and in interviews, contributors discuss their early experimental efforts, and the influence of borrowed technologies such as radio and TV “colleges.” They offer a look at the little-known but game-changing innovations in software and hardware, the LMS (learning management system), online student registration, as well as the rise and influence of tech vendors. They also illustrate the progress of web-based instruction and describe lessons from both failed ideas (such as Fathom) and successful attempts (such as Penn State World Campus).

Underscored is the critical role of The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Asynchronous Learning Network initiative, guided by Dr. Frank Mayadas. The ALN spurred experimentation and created a new community of innovators, now known as the Online Learning Consortium. The initiative also fostered a paradigm shift that continues to bring us closer to fulfilling the democratic mission of education for all.

Contributors include: Stephen J. Andriole, Meg Benke, Richard Bonnabeau, John R. Bourne, Jill Buban, Chris Dede, John F. Ebersole, Eric E. Fredericksen, James W. Hall, Darcy Hardy, Gerald A. Heeger, Chuck Hill, Kathleen Ives, Susan M. Kryczka, Gary Matkin, Gary Miller, Julie Porosky Hamlin, Jeff Seaman, Paul Shiffman, Carole Vallone, and Patricia Wallace.



JE low resJOHN EBERSOLE, LPD, (1944-2016) served as president of Excelsior College in Albany, New York, from 2006 to 2016. His career in adult, online, and continuing education spans more than twenty-five years. In 1985, he oversaw the development of the first regionally-accredited online degree program and, in 2014, was inducted into the U.S. Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame. Ebersole is also the co-author, with William Patrick, of Courageous Learning: Finding a New Path through Higher Education.


WILLIAM PATRICK is a writer whose works have been published or produced in nonfiction, poetry, fiction, screenwriting, and drama. He is a faculty member and co-director of Fairfield University’s MFA Program in Writing, as well as founder and director of the New York State Summer Young Writers Institute.



“This book does an excellent job tracing the complexities of how distance learning (also known as online education and asynchronous learning) developed, as well as the many iterations through which it has gone. Really, a must-read for all educators. Given the large numbers of adult learners who are using it to complete their education or become retooled in a new area, this kind of delivery—and a book explaining how it happened—is ideal.” —Belle Wheelan, President, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

“Disruptive change is never easy, especially in higher education. This book is a rich picture of how that disruption has occurred over decades. And it’s all here: history, heroes, battles, missteps, leaps forward, and politics. But embedded in this comprehensive collection is inspiration for those immersed in the work, as well as lessons for policy makers, institutional leaders, business/vendor partners, and faculty. We can no longer imagine meeting the massive demand for college credentials without innovative use of increasingly rich technologies.”
— James Applegate, PhD, Executive Director, Illinois Board of Higher Education, and former Vice President, Lumina Foundation

“Many of the major figures, without whom online learning may never have become the force it is today in education, are accurately portrayed in its pages. Especially well-documented is the work of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Sloan Consortium (now the Online Learning Consortium), critical catalysts for bringing anytime, anyplace learning to the public.”

— Anthony G. Picciano, Founding Member of the Board of Directors of the Sloan Consortium