Radio University

In January 1924 the Columbia Spectator reported experiments in broadcasting educational content "wirelessly" to a mass audience, and anticipated that in the future this could see the establishment of a Radio University.

The program quickly expanded to a ten week course on poetry that included a print syllabus and involved "a small charge".

The experiment, which extended the operation of the Home Study Department, began with some doubts as to the capacity and appetite of "the invisible audiences". Thinking to kick off with "something light", a single lecture on "the geographical and historical features of the Ruhr" launched the program, followed by a lecture on how to study at home, and an introduction to psychology.

The program was a partnership with station WEAF and the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, and this positive comment was given by "Professor Thorndike, head of Columbia's English Department".

"No one can prophesy how far education by radio will go; its possibilities are tremendous. The radio like the movies, can carry things of interest to a vast multitude, and it is certain that education can be carried to many and will filter through the masses."

Could this have been E. L. Thorndike, educational psychologist?


Looked into this for a few minutes, and it's harder to figure out than one might think. The weird thing I just realized was that Thorndike was at Columbia at the same time as Dewey. How amazing must that have been. -- Mike Caulfield

Following this up: Edward Thorndike had two brothers, both of whom were professors at Columbia. The likely Prof Thorndike of the English department was his brother Ashley Horace Thorndike, a Shakespearean scholar. His other brother Lynn Thorndike was a historian of medieval Europe, and magic. -- Kate Bowles

And ouija boards, hopefully? -- Mike Caulfield

Interesting to compare this model of broadcasting content in the US and the two-way teaching taking place at the School of the Air in Australia. Wondering if the difference is school vs university - but also the emphasis these two levels put on actual teaching, rather than content dumping. -- Tim Klapdor

So a predecessor to a MOOC? (Massive Open "Over-air" Course...) --Lisa Chamberlin

The predecessor to Educational Film and then Educational Television first. But the proposition and the business model are uncannily MOOC: education carried to the many and filtering through to the masses. -- Kate Bowles