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Online distance education seems like a new phenomenon since it emerged in the late 1990s, but it is in many ways an outgrowth of well-established program that were offered for many years by institutions in the United States and the United Kingdom.
It will show that online distance education – in this case in Business and Labor Studies – is not simply corporate Computer Based Training.
It is appropriate to compare how Empire State College approaches business and labor education with the methods used by Ruskin College, the University of London, and the Open University because there are important similarities.
Distance education on business and labor issues is part of a broader historical pattern of providing access to education for a diverse range of learners.
(Photo of skilled women workers building the SS George Washington. New York Public Library Collection)
Empire State College and the Origins of Distance Learning
Empire State College (ESC) drew direct inspiration from the Open University in the United Kingdom (OU). The OU was not the UK’s first university to offer distance learning programs. The University of London originally opened in 1836. Charles Dickens called it the “people’s university” because it provided access to education for students with modest economic means.
(Photo of Charles Dickens)
Empire State College and the Origins of Worker Education
Empire State College’s pedagogical approach is also quite similar to teaching theories developed by a person named Albert Mansbridge who founded the adult education movement in the UK in the early twentieth-century. He founded the Workers’ Education Association (WEA) in 1903. The WEA was founded, and still operates, on the principal of worker-centered education. This is another term for student-centered learning, which is what is pursued at ESC.
ESC’s Labor Studies programs,particularly those offered by the Harry J. Van Arsdale Jr Center for Labor Studies, share much in common with those offered by Ruskin College in the UK. Ruskin was founded in 1899 by two Americans – Walter and Anne Vrooman - to provide learning opportunities to working-class men who could not enter other universities. It became a model for, and inspiration to, labor colleges and programs around the world.
Labor Studies and worker education programs offered through schools like ESC and Ruskin have been substantive as they have focused on both practice and theory. Courses have often focused on policy issues like employment standards and technological change.
(Photo of a fifteen year old boy operating a boring machine in 1913. New York Public Library Collection)
Labor Studies and worker education programs are increasingly using new learning technologies, but are not simply using them as computer based training. Instead, efforts are made to use technology to understand work and labor issues.
Work and employment issues will continue to be at the forefront of public discourse. This is because most people will eventually seek paid employment at some point. Work and employment issues also attract very distinct opinions and policy positions.
(Photo of Ohio workers protesting. Associated Press Image)
Ongoing issues include how to handle workplace diversity, demographic change, part-time and casual employment, and new technology. Education programs, including those at Empire State College, will have to respond to these emerging issues.
(Photo of former Target employee Sheena Dixon. Associated Press Image)
Today’s environment is rapidly changing and highly competitive. The business program at ESC delivers graduates as leaders who understand themselves, and their organization, in the context such a rapidly changing business climate.
The business programs at ESC further develop leadership and personal impact skills as students not only learn theories in business but also explore how to enhance their own practice.