The Birth of Distance Learning

Distance Learning iversity and Langenscheidt

Believe it or not: The roots of online learning actually date back almost 160 years in Germany. Of course there was no internet, there were no computers and university professors wore black bow-ties to class. Their teaching materials were usually nothing more than a piece of chalk and a blackboard. And yet there were a few outstanding individuals who made it possible to study anywhere – even back in the mid-19th-century.

The German book publisher Gustav Langenscheidt and French language teacher Charles Toussaint made the best of the scarce media resources that the time provided: In 1856 they invented the “Teaching Letters for the French Language”, probably the first method of distance learning. The programme was intended to help people learn language skills they could use in their professional life.

Langenscheidt Toussaint Diploma -

Langenscheidt Toussaint Diploma

Anyone interested could order a series of letters for 27 to 36 Deutsche Mark. If you were one of the learners, you received a new envelope in your mailbox every two weeks. Every letter contained texts in the language you wanted to learn with line-by-line translations and exercises that were supposed to make learners speak as much as possible. This way the letters’ recipients could learn a foreign language in an efficient way that was easy to incorporate in their daily schedule. When the learners had completed a set of Teaching Letters, which usually took about a year and a half, they could complete a final exam. If they succeeded, they were rewarded with a colourful certificate drawn by an artist.

No doubt distance learning has come a long way since those first steps. Think video lectures, interactive quizzes and learning journals! But who knows, if all this had evolved without the first courageous steps that Gustav Langenscheidt and Charles Toussaint took into the direction of a self-paced, innovative way of learning from wherever you want?

Florian Langenscheidt - iversity

Florian Langenscheidt

As Florian Langenscheidt, Gustav Langenscheidt’s great-grandson, said recently: “In the Founder Epoch of the 19th century my great-grandfather invented a first method of distance learning – by letter. In the Founder Epoch of the 21st century iversity invented a new method of interactive distance learning – by internet.”

We are glad your great-grandfather started this, Florian Langenscheidt. And we promise to keep the wheel of innovation spinning. So that anyone can enjoy to study anywhere in the most modern and effective way.