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)
978-1-944079-99-4 (jacketed hardcover)

Pub Date: November 10, 2016

Price: $29.95 paperback
$49.95 jacketed hardcover
$29.95 e-book

450 pages

Category: Higher Education/ Alternative

Foreign rights available: World


…you can do this over the wires, you can enroll in the class and take it on your time. Let’s give this a try.”
—Frank Mayadas, founding President, Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C)

Learning at the Speed of Light is the first book to offer an in-depth look at the evolution of online learning. It traces this form of instruction from its roots in the early 1980s and brings together pioneers and pathfinders who, with the support of Ralph Gomory, Frank Mayadas, and the Sloan Foundation, helped engineer its moving parts.

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 Sloan Foundation funding, and how it fostered a paradigm shift that continues to influence the way we think about and deliver higher education in America.

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 is president of Excelsior College in Albany, New York. 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 has been writing books and teaching at the college Patrick_croplevel for forty years. He is currently a co-director of, and serves as a faculty member for, the Fairfield University MFA Program in Creative Writing.





“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