One of the most ancient examples of distance education might be the one found in the Boston Gazette of March 20th, 1728, quoting an offer for "self-instructional materials in shorthand and correspondence education". Correspondence education, the earliest version of distance education, was developed in the mid-nineteenth century in Europe and the United States.
Other variant of distance education began in Great Britain, in 1836, when the University of London added external examination application in its system. The main aim was to offer a credible examination service to people studying in small colleges. However, the proportion of candidates preparing themselves for the exams by private study grew steadily. By the end of the century over 60 % of those graduating in Arts through the external examination system had studied with the (private) Correspondence College. Seven years later, in 1840, England's newly established penny post allowed Sir Isaac Pitman to offer instruction via correspondence. This English educator taught shorthand by mail. In the United States during the nineteenth century, there were several opportunities in adult education prior to the advent of university extension beyond campuses.
In 1873, Anna Ticknor established a society that presented educational opportunities to women to study at home. Communication, teaching and learning all took place using printed materials sent through the mail. In 1833, an advertisement in a Swedish Newspaper opened to study "Composition Through The Medium of Post". In the same year, the first official recognition of correspondence education took place in the United States. Chautauqua College of Liberal Arts in New York granted degrees to students who successfully completed academic work through correspondence education and summer workshops.
In France, the Ecole Universelle par Correspondence established in Paris in 1907. And In 1939, France's Centre National d'Enseignement par Correspondence started in Paris to educate people who had lost education opportunities due to World War I. Also, the National Centre for Correspondence looked after the education of children who got displaced due to war. This institution still exists today and looks after the education of handicapped children and children in hospital who cannot get to school.
The correspondence system in Canada and Australia was started due to the "Tyranny of Distance". In 1914, Australia founded a correspondence education system because the country is huge and people live far from each other. Institutions in these countries catered to the educational needs of learners in sparsely populated rural and bush areas.
In 1915, following a call by academicians to research the effectiveness of correspondence education vs. traditional education, the National University Extension Association was formed. Until 1910, the medium of mail was the dominant delivery system, but new technologies, such as the lantern slide and motion picture, emerged to provide additional, visually-based options for correspondence study.
The most promising new technology that emerged between 1918 and 1946 was instructional radio. The U.S. federal government granted over 202 radio broadcasting licenses to colleges, universities and school boards. The technology failed to attract a large audience.