The President of Northwestern University Predicts Online Learning … in 1934!

1934 predictions

One of our most pop­u­lar posts this year cen­tered around a pre­scient set of pre­dic­tions that Isaac Asi­mov made for 2014, way back in 1964. Asi­mov, how­ev­er, wasn’t the only one whose vision of the future seems to have been real­ized.

The web site Pale­o­fu­ture fea­tures a 1934 issue of Every­day Sci­ence and Mechan­ics mag­a­zine, where North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty pres­i­dent Wal­ter Dill Scott made some far­sight­ed pro­nounce­ments of his own. Scott believed that the phys­i­cal col­lege cam­pus would no longer need to be a lynch­pin for edu­ca­tion, and that stu­dents could learn by way of radio and pic­tures. Fax machines and tele­vi­sions would allow stu­dents to access lec­ture mate­ri­als world­wide, and ensure that researchers could con­duct their research remote­ly. He also fig­ured that we’d all end up com­mut­ing by planes. Every­day Sci­ence and Mechan­ics wrote:

The uni­ver­si­ty of twen­ty-five years from now will be a dif­fer­ent look­ing place, says Pres­i­dent Scott of North­west­ern. Instead of con­cen­trat­ing fac­ul­ty and stu­dents around a cam­pus, they will “com­mute” by air, and the uni­ver­si­ty will be sur­round­ed by air­ports and hangars. The course will be car­ried on, to a large extent, by radio and pic­tures. Fac­sim­i­le broad­cast­ing and tele­vi­sion will enlarge great­ly the range of a library; and research may be car­ried on by schol­ars at great dis­tances.

Air­ports and hangars aside, Scott’s con­jec­tures hit pret­ty close to home. While fax machines and radio may have been sup­plant­ed by the Inter­net, the essence of our edu­ca­tion­al advance­ments is the same: uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents can often lis­ten to lec­tures and com­plete assign­ments online, spend­ing only a few short face-to-face hours in the class­room. Oth­er times, class­es may be whol­ly avail­able online, and stu­dents may nev­er step foot on cam­pus alto­geth­er. Schol­ars, too, can trawl through data­bas­es like JSTOR and PsycIN­FO with­out get­ting out of bed, con­duct­ing research as they trav­el.

In fact, today almost any­one can have access to uni­ver­si­ty knowl­edge. Feel like tak­ing a Tech­nol­o­gy Entre­pre­neur­ship class offered by Stan­ford, or learn about Walt Whit­man, cour­tesy of The Uni­ver­si­ty of Iowa? Noth­ing sim­pler! Mas­sive Open Online cours­es (MOOCs) are pro­lif­er­at­ing, and you can down­load audio & video lec­tures from top tier uni­ver­si­ties. Vis­it our col­lec­tion of 825 Free Online Cours­es to see what we mean.

In the end, it’s a good thing Scott was right. Oth­er­wise, there’d be no Open Cul­ture.

via Pale­o­fu­ture

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts in 1964 What the World Will Look Like Today — in 2014

Arthur C. Clarke Pre­dicts the Future in 1964 … And Kind of Nails It

Wal­ter Cronkite Imag­ines the Home of the 21st Cen­tu­ry … Back in 1967

The Inter­net Imag­ined in 1969

Mar­shall McLuhan Announces That The World is a Glob­al Vil­lage

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