Earning a college education is a lifetime investment, so you don’t want to make decisions regarding your education that will someday seem dated, out of touch or unwise. Online college may fit your lifestyle and needs perfectly, but with some calling it a trend, you might wonder if this option is a smart long-term decision. Rest assured that while online college is relatively new and has trendy aspects to it, its origins date back farther than you may think. Online college won’t be a thing of the past anytime soon.

Distance Learning for Modern Students

Online college has only been around since the 1990s, but it has its roots in a much older form of education. Distance learning has existed since 1892, Forbes reported. Over the decades, distance learning technology has evolved from correspondence sent through the mail to radio and even television broadcasts. As the newest and most advanced method of communicating, the Internet has essentially replaced these previous modes of distance learning. Perhaps online college will someday be replaced by a newer, better technology that has not yet been conceived of, but the ability to learn college material from anywhere on any schedule certainly isn’t going anywhere. Distance learning is here to stay, and so is online college, at least for the foreseeable future.

In fact, enrollment in online college degree programs has seen more than a decade of strong growth, according to U.S. News & World Report – even during periods where many traditional college degree programs have suffered declines in enrollment. The advantages of studying online – and through other methods of distance learning in the past – make it likely that online college will continue to grow in popularity. Busy students, especially those balancing multiple responsibilities like families and careers, appreciate the flexibility of an online schedule and the opportunity to study virtually anywhere. The type of students who choose online college often pick online degree programs because they may allow for earlier completion or cost less overall. As long as flexibility, affordability and the time investment remain important priorities for students, neither online college nor distance learning as a whole are likely to become an outdated educational model.

Aspects of Trends

Certainly there are aspects of online education that could be considered trends. For example, The Atlantic identified competency-based credit toward college degrees – a practice that is becoming popular in online college programs especially – as one of the top higher-education trends of 2014. The use of smartphones, tablets and apps in mobile learning – a subdivision of online education – is certainly trendy.

Online college is a technical evolution of previous forms of distance learning. Naturally, trendy inventions like mobile devices and ideas like competency-based curricula have become associated with online college. While these aspects of education may be fads that will soon end, online college has become increasingly recognized as legitimate and valuable. Because it fits students’ and employers’ needs, its popularity is likely to continue.