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Georgia Tech Celebrates 40 Years of Learning at a Distance

Online learning at Georgia Tech is thriving, and the Institute continues to be a leader in high-quality, affordable, and accessible online education. In the 2017 financial year, total enrollment for traditional online programs reached 6,851 and included students from nine 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 2.7 million with more than 70 MOOCs being offered on three platforms.

It all began in 1977 when Georgia Tech first offered courses via satellite and videotape to a group of field engineers from Georgia Power. This year, we celebrate 40 years of Learning at a Distance at Georgia Tech and reflect on the decades-long journey of serving learners beyond campus. See detailed timeline.

Early Beginnings

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 Surges Ahead in the 1990s and 2000s

In the decades that followed, enrollments and program offerings grew rapidly, 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.

Learning at a Distance Today

Georgia Tech Professional Education (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 26,000 working professionals sought non-degree educational credentials through GTPE. In addition, GTPE served more than 6,850 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.”

In January 2017, Georgia Tech announced its second at-scale Master of Science degree, the Online Master of Science in Analytics (OMS Analytics), for which GTPE’s learning design team developed all courses in-house. This program follows the same model as the groundbreaking OMS CS, which made world headlines in 2013 – and won the 2017 University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) Award for Outstanding Program in the credit category.

In early 2017, in partnership with the Georgia Tech College of Design and in collaboration with Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), GTPE launched the fourth professional master’s program, the Professional Masters in Occupational Safety and Health. And as a result of the Institute’s new partnership with edX, learners worldwide gained access to several new MOOCs. In addition, online professional development courses were launched such as VET² 101 (Resume Building and Interview Skills for Service Members) to help veterans transition to civilian life. The innovations continue with new online offerings in the pipeline.   

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

See detailed timeline.