Envelopes to Emails: The Evolution Of Online Learning

Online learning and homeschooling have emerged as powerful alternatives to traditional classroom education in the United States. While their prominence might seem like a recent phenomenon, the roots of such alternative education systems stretch deep into our nation’s history. From the pioneering days when American settlers educated their children at home using whatever resources they had, to today’s technologically advanced online learning platforms, there’s a rich tapestry of evolution and change. In this blog post, we will journey through time to look at the various shifts, challenges, and advancements that have shaped the way students learn today.

Early American Homeschooling

Before the formal establishment of public schooling in the 19th century, education often occurred at home or in community settings.

  • Early Beginnings (1600s – 1800s): Parents, tutors, or community elders were the primary educators.
  • Late 19th Century: With the rise of public schools, homeschooling began to wane but didn’t disappear entirely.

Correspondence Schools: Distance Learning Before The Internet

Before the ubiquity of the internet and online learning platforms, correspondence schools stood as a beacon for those seeking alternative education. These institutions, functioning mainly through postal mail, opened doors to education for many who were geographically isolated or couldn’t attend traditional schools for various reasons.

  • Origins in the 19th Century:
    The concept of correspondence education traces its roots back to the 19th century. The University of London was one of the first institutions to offer distance learning degrees, starting in 1858.
  • The Boom of Correspondence Schools:
    By the early 20th century, the U.S. saw a proliferation of correspondence schools. They offered a myriad of courses ranging from basic literacy skills to specialized vocational training.
  • Role in Expanding Access:
    Correspondence schools played a crucial role in democratizing education. They catered to adults seeking further education, those with disabilities, and people living in remote areas far from educational institutions.
  • The Transition to Modern Day:
    As technology evolved, many correspondence schools shifted towards online delivery methods, leveraging the internet to reach even wider audiences. However, in regions where internet access remains limited or non-existent, correspondence methods, albeit modernized, continue to play a pivotal role. Radio schooling, for example, has seen a resurgence in remote areas, providing lessons and educational content over the airwaves.

Modern Homeschooling: A Rebirth (1960s – 1980s)

By the mid-20th century, homeschooling was reborn, not just as an educational method, but also as a cultural and political movement.


The educational landscape of America during this decade experienced significant upheavals. Parents began to seek more control over their children’s education, largely due to a growing disillusionment with institutionalized education systems. Many believed the schools were either academically lax or were not aligning with the family’s moral or religious values. For these reasons, families across the country began to view homeschooling as a viable option to ensure their children received the tailored and value-based education they deemed necessary.


Criticism of public education increased. Concerns about academic standards, safety, and the overall school environment were rampant. Homeschooling, previously seen as a fringe choice, became an appealing alternative for a more diverse range of families. Whether driven by dissatisfaction with local schools, specific educational philosophies, or the desire for a more family-centric learning environment, more parents started turning to homeschooling as a solution.

Enter the Digital Age: The Dawn of Online Learning (1990s)

As the 20th century neared its close, the rapid growth of the internet began transforming countless aspects of daily life, including education.

Early Internet (Early to Mid-1990s)

In the dawn of the digital age, the first online courses emerged. These were predominantly text-based and often resembled correspondence courses in an electronic format. They primarily catered to higher education and adult learners, offering flexibility to those who might not be able to attend traditional classes due to work, family, or location constraints.

Late 1990s

The digital landscape saw vast technological improvements during this period. Faster internet speeds, better software platforms, and the advent of multimedia tools allowed for the creation of more interactive courses. Graphics, videos, and real-time discussions became integral parts of online curricula. This richer content transformed online learning from a mere reading exercise to an engaging, multi-sensory educational experience, expanding its appeal to a broader audience, including K-12 students.

21st Century: Homeschooling Meets Online Learning

The dawn of the 21st century marked a significant shift in the educational landscape, with the boundaries between traditional homeschooling and online learning becoming increasingly indistinct.

Rapid Growth (Early 2000s)

As internet accessibility and speeds improved, virtual schools began cropping up, offering a comprehensive curriculum akin to brick-and-mortar schools but in a digital environment. These virtual platforms democratized education, removing geographical barriers and making quality learning experiences accessible to many who might have been isolated or underserved by traditional schooling methods.

Integration & Evolution (2010s)

With an array of digital tools at their disposal, homeschooling parents and guardians started to integrate online courses into their lesson plans. Interactive platforms offered simulations, virtual labs, and real-world problem-solving exercises. Virtual tutoring provided expert guidance in specialized subjects, ensuring that students received holistic support.

Shared Resources

This era saw a convergence of resources. Homeschoolers no longer had to rely solely on printed materials or local co-ops. Online libraries, educational apps, e-books, and video lessons became invaluable assets. They could cherry-pick from the best resources worldwide, ensuring a tailored and enriched learning experience for their students.

Today: A Convergence of Methods

In the contemporary educational landscape, the lines distinguishing homeschooling from online learning are becoming increasingly blurred, as students from both avenues frequently access the same rich tapestry of digital resources.

Boundless Learning Opportunities

With the plethora of online platforms available today, students can venture beyond traditional subjects and delve into niche areas of interest. Websites like Khan Academy provide foundational knowledge in sciences and mathematics, while platforms like Coursera and edX collaborate with top universities to offer specialized courses, from art history to quantum mechanics.

Engaging, Immersive Experiences

As technology continues to evolve, the methods of delivery for online education are transforming. Virtual Reality (VR) offers students the chance to take virtual field trips, explore historical events in real-time settings, or even dive deep into the structures of a cell. Augmented Reality (AR), on the other hand, overlays digital information onto the real world, turning any environment into a potential learning space. For instance, AR can turn a living room into a vibrant ecosystem, where students can interact with virtual plants and animals.

Bridging the Learning Styles

These advancements not only cater to auditory and visual learners but also kinesthetic ones. They bridge the perceived gap between hands-on, traditional learning and digital education, ensuring every student finds a method that resonates with their unique learning style.

Excel High School – Putting It All Together

Tracing the evolution from traditional homeschooling to the dynamic realm of online education is nothing short of inspiring. It tells a tale of how education, much like its students, learns, grows, and adapts to the changing demands and opportunities of the times. This progression underscores the resilience of learners and educators alike, continually seeking to improve and evolve.

At Excel High School, we don’t just witness this evolution; we’re active participants. By seamlessly blending the time-tested virtues of homeschooling with the cutting-edge tools of online education, we provide our students with a robust, flexible, and future-forward learning experience. In doing so, we’re not just preparing students for exams, but for life in a rapidly changing world, ensuring they’re equipped with the skills and knowledge to thrive in whatever the future holds.

If you’re interested in becoming a part of the Excel High School family, feel free to explore our online courses. If you have any questions or need more information, you can reach out to us by text at 952-465-3700 or call us at 800-620-3844. We’re here to help you on your educational journey!

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