To many people at the turn of the millennium, this beautiful sound signalled freedom, the gateway to a whole new world of entertainment and exploration! In the days before connection via broadband became widely available, the sound of a 56k internet dial-up connection using a landline and modem was music to the ears of all who graced a computer.
Well, almost all.
Imran Farooq from Manchester thought he might actually throw the damn thing out of the window if he had to shout ‘get off the phone, I’m trying to use the internet!’ one more time…
Surely he thought, approaching the dawn of the 21st century, it should be possible for households to conduct phonecalls and use the computer at the same time?
He clicked to open a webpage and settled in for the long wait. Browsing the web was painstakingly slow, you were lucky to get speeds of 10mb to 50mb per second.
The website loaded, finally. Bland text, pixelated images and non-existant animations. What did it mean he ‘needed to update his adobe flash player?!’, he could have sworn he’d done that last week!
It can be easy to forget that in the 1990’s, the internet was in its infancy, still learning to walk.
Most websites boasted an extremely simplistic user interface and design and were laid out something like a page from a newspaper, using similar fonts which makes sense when you consider that website builders had little else to base their new creations on at the time.
It hardly seems conceivable now, but in the late 1990’s people were asking ‘what’s a google?’ as the search engine company, formed in 1998 by a couple of Stanford students, had only recently launched its ‘Google Beta’ web browser. Bear in mind that at the time you usually had to acquire a browser via a disk to insert into your computer (as they were too large to download from the web itself) and it’s amazing to think how far we’ve come!
With the 1999 book ‘The Rough Guide to the Internet’, opening with the words “Okay, what’s this Internet good for?” one could at the time, be forgiven for questioning whether this ‘internet business’ would ever take off!
Despite this, there were those who saw the infinite possibilities of the world wide web.
The big questions
Our story starts at the turn of the millennium amongst the desolate landscape of desperately whirring, chunky, box-like home computers. Far from being skeptical, Imran was attempting to utilise this rapidly growing new technology.
Beginning his career as a Business and Marketing graduate at a time when TV and magazine advertising was still the norm, Imran saw the potential of the world wide web. This technology could help educate marketers in their job by providing new avenues of connection with customers and most importantly, could help teach them the skills they needed to succeed in their role and navigate the evolving landscape, by delivering courses from afar.
Young, ambitious and passionate about expanding opportunities for marketers and business entrepreneurs, Imran was asking some big questions. What if you could use the internet to stream top quality content (audio/video) for learners from the comfort of their own home? What if you could deliver learning in a variety of formats? What if you could harness the internet to create a flexible learning alternative for working people that fit around their job?
Seems fairly obvious right? But take a second to re-evalute those ideas spinning round your head! Back then there was no zoom, no microsoft teams, no youtube or vimeo. There was no such thing as a moodle or a student portal.
In order to truely appreciate the enormity of the challenge, let’s take a trip back to the days of brick phones and cargo pants, and re-visit online learning as it was in the late 1990’s
Learning from a distance
The concept of learning at a distance has been around since long before the dawn of the internet. Distance courses used to educate people from a different location have been around since the 1800’s. For example, Issac Pitman, developer of the shorthand system, taught his students via letters way back in the 1840’s.
Technology has always played an important role in delivering distance learning, from the first self-testing machine invented in 1924, to Harvard Professor BF Skinner’s ‘teaching machine’ in the 1950’s which allowed students to work though teaching and testing materials at their own pace.
In the 60s, the first computer-based training programme called Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations (PLATO) was invented which paved the way for future online learning systems.
By the 90’s working professionals were crying out for new and exciting opportunities to improve their knowledge of their fields’ and expand their skill sets. They needed high-quality training solutions which would allow them to study and develop practical skills while maintaining work commitments. The internet seemed to a pioneering few, the obvious direction for providing quality distance learning courses.
However, despite rapid improvements in technology and the opportunities it offered people in being able to attend courses from various locations, in the 1990’s distance learning was far from being able to provide a high-end, equivalent alternative to traditional face to face teaching.
Imran knew from experience trying to find a suitable part-time course to develop his skills, that the convenience of online learning was usually outweihged by the poor quality of the courses. After all, just connecting to the internet could be problematic!
Because of the many limitations of the internet, it was easier for most established institutions to admit defeat and decide that online learning would never truely take off, and most were content to accept that face to face would always come up trumps. Even those education providers ambitious enough to try to offer distance learning usually relied on tried and tested analog methods to deliver teaching such as sending students CD Roms and books in the post.
Imran wanted something better. He didn’t believe online discussion forums were the best you could get in terms of live group interaction! He wanted to find ways to shift the balance of courses away from one-way communication. He truely believed online learning could consist of more than just text on a webpage or poorly scanned documents or information sent via that new-fangled invention, the email!
Imran had a vision to provide what marketers, like himself, were missing. He would create a company offering online-only qualifications for marketers, delivering flexible distance learning that thousands of working professionals in the UK and around the world needed.
But he would need help.
Marketing was one thing, but how did one go about designing and delivering a marketing Qualification using the internet?
Most universities and course providers did not believe the development of online learning technologies to be a priority for their business. Delivering a course entirely over the internet seemed an impossible task. Few were willing to take a chance on a young entrepreneur with grand ideas.
But there was one institution who saw the determination and skill Imran had to offer.
In 2001, Imran headed up a new project in MMC Learning, a venture connected to Manchester Metropolitan Univeristy (MMU) with the aim of delivering innovative, flexible learning.
Their strong partnership with universities meant they were in a place to offer teaching in marketing from the best in the business.
Imran was determined to dig deeper and go beyond the content itself, using the very latest in technology to effectively build and deliver products and services.
But it was easier said than done. Despite the drive and determination, MMC Learning had their work cut out. To Imran’s dismay, for a time it seemed they were back to square one as they had no choice but to start offby sending CD ROMs to customers in the post. For a moment it looked like they had fallen into the same trap as everyone else.
A helping hand
Not to be deterred, Imran consulted the best academics and industry professionals to help guide the creation of courses, getting expert advice on the structure and syllabuses of potential courses and valuable input on material and assessments. He discovered, at the time a new piece of software called Macromedia Flash which was completely changing the way websites could be built with animation and audio. He put his head down for 3 months, burning the midnight oil to get a breakthrough in being able to animate and stream audio lessons.
Eventually persistence paid off. In 2002, as the term ‘e-learning’ first started to be widely used, MMC Learning joined forces with the Chartered Institute of Marketing, the leading awarding body of marketing qualifications in the UK, becoming one of their accredited study centres.
As the new millennium dawned and technology began to improve at an astounding rate, the terms “online learning” and “virtual learning” were becoming more widely known and E-learning had started to truly take off.
As well as recruiting their own team of talented online course developers, MMC worked tirelessly with various qualified trainers and organisations. With the help of the CIM and the latest innovations in tech, Imran began to realise his dream to create state of the art online courses, with the most up to date content.