Georgia Tech Begins Yearlong Celebration Marking 40 Years of Achievements in Distance Learning

Georgia Tech has come a long way since 1977

November 04, 2016 | By Danielle Goss

The Institute’s first distance learning students, a group of field engineers from Georgia Power, relied on courses delivered via satellite and videotape to update their skills. Today, more than 1.5 million learners worldwide benefit from massive open online courses (MOOCs) and traditional online programs offered through Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE).  

Celebrations to highlight the achievements of the last 40 years kick off during National Distance Learning Week, November 7 to 11, 2016. They include several events to mark the Institute’s four-decade journey of serving learners far beyond campus. The webinar, Alternative, Stackable, and Microcredentials: Where are we headed? is open to attendees worldwide. It features experts’ views about the future of innovations in credentialing. The New Tools Showcase, open to Georgia Tech faculty and staff, demonstrates some of the tools that enable the Institute to provide world-class learning experiences online. The celebrations continue next spring with additional events, to be announced in early 2017.  

GTPE is the lifelong learning arm of Georgia Tech that facilitates online learning for the Institute and meets the professional education needs of “nontraditional” or adult learners, a rapidly growing market. “This year, more than 18,000 working professionals sought non-degree educational credentials through GTPE. In addition, GTPE served 5,390 online credit learners,” said Dean Nelson Baker. “We have the in-house expertise and eLearning technologies to deliver exceptional programs and educational content to learners all over the world.”

How it all began

Learning at a Distance at Georgia Tech originated with the Association of Media-Based Continuing Education for Engineers (AMCEE), which was founded on campus in 1976. The Institute was one of the 12 founding member organizations. In mid 1977, Georgia Tech formed the Center for Media-Based Instruction (CMBI) and began offering a limited number of electrical engineering graduate courses delivered synchronously via satellite. Later on, to accommodate learners who could not attend classes in real time, videotaped content was introduced. Most of the course delivery activity during this time originated from Classrooms 210 and 212 in the Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM) building.

The first graduate

The first documented graduate of Georgia Tech’s distance program is Bowman Trice of Columbus, Georgia, who received his Master of Electrical Engineering (MSEE) degree in 1987. The following year, additional master’s degrees were announced in mechanical engineering, environmental engineering, health physics, and computer integrated manufacturing systems. By this time, 58 paid students were enrolled in the programs.

Distance learning thrives in the 1990s and 2000s

In the decades that followed, enrollments and program offerings surged, technologies evolved, and Georgia Tech’s reach expanded worldwide. In 2013, following approval from the University System of Georgia (USG), Georgia Tech teamed up with Udacity and AT&T to offer the Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS CS) – the first graduate degree program from an accredited university that students can earn exclusively through the MOOC format for a fraction of the cost of traditional, on-campus programs. During this year, the Institute also began offering MOOCs on Udacity and Coursera platforms.

See a detailed timeline of Learning at a Distance at Georgia Tech.

Learning at a Distance Today

Georgia Tech continues to be a leader in high quality, affordable and accessible online education. In the 2016 financial year, total enrollment for traditional online programs reached 5,390 and includes students from eight online Master of Science programs, two Professional Masters programs, the Summer Online Undergraduate Program (SOUP), and the High School Math program. To date, Georgia Tech’s total MOOC enrollments have exceeded 1,5 million. Currently, 26 MOOCs are offered, and several others are in development. 

Four decades of accomplishments in distance learning are just the beginning. Georgia Tech has much more in store for its online learners. Visit to stay up to date on the latest news in online education at GTPE.