Online college classes were a revolution in throughout the world of education and many students are quickly taking to its convenient nature and flexibility. Distance learning resources are giving many students a shot at an education they may not have had access to otherwise.

When the University of Phoenix established its online education programs in 1989, most people didn’t have home computers, much less Internet access. More than twenty years later, millions of students from around the world take online classes toward their Bachelors, Masters, or Doctoral degrees.

What if the opportunities that online courses have made available to the people of the 21st Century were open to students of the 1980s? How would the classes look? What subjects would they cover? Who would the instructors be?

Course: Elementary Physics
Instructor: Dr. Emmett Brown (“Back to the Future” trilogy)
Syllabus: Professor Brown will demonstrate the basic principles of Newtonian and non-Newtonian physics. For extra credit, he will allow students to test drive his Delorean time machine, provided they can email him information on a power source that can generate the necessary 1.21 gigawatts to power the flux capacitor by a method that does not involve stealing nuclear materials from Libyan terrorists.

Course: Xenobiology
Instructor: Lt. Ellen Ripley (“Alien” series)
Syllabus: The course will cover the different aspects of the creatures found on the planet LV-246, including “chest-bursters”, “face-huggers”, and “queens”.  Students will be expected to discern the differences between these forms, as well as how to kill them. Since the course will be conducted online, students will not be exposed to the creature’s acidic blood or multiple rows of sharp teeth.

Course: Business Ethics
Instructor: Tess McGill (“Working Girl”)
Syllabus: For students who want to combine a “head for business” with a “bod for sin”, McGill’s instructions will show students how flexible the word “ethics” is in business. Students will learn how to impersonate their bosses, steal colleagues’ ideas, and sleep their way to the top. Online course materials will include ethics papers from Bernie Madoff, Jeffrey Skilling and Gordon Gecko.

Course: Secondary Education
Instructor: Principal Richard Vernon (“The Breakfast Club”)
Syllabus: The course will teach you how to identify, analyze, and punish the five major types of high school students (an athlete, a basket-case, a princess, a brain, and a criminal). Course attendees who do not complete assignments on time will be subject to two months of detention and an additional 1,000-word essay, “Who do you think you are?”

Course: World Music Appreciation
Instructor: David St. Hubbins (“This is Spinal Tap”)
Syllabus: For more than 40 years, David St. Hubbins has been a driving force in the music industry. Students of Mr. St. Hubbins’ class will learn the aspects of various forms of music, from British Skiffle to heavy metal to Icelandic show tunes. Homework and exams will be graded on a scale of 1 to 10, except for the required paper on former bandmate Nigel Tufnel, on which the grade can go to 11.

Would online college courses have been as much of a technological breakthrough in the 1980s as the thousand-dollar VCR and the wood-paneled video game console? Without a doubt.

Would the online classes available at that time be as successful as those of today? While the subject matter may not lead to the success and advancement that today’s students seek out, there can be no doubt that it would be fun to find out.


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