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Transactional distance

Explained by Chris


1 Literature

2 The theory of Moore

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Transactional distance: the psychological and communications space (between learners and teachers).

The concept of transaction is derived from Dewey and Bentley 1949.

Transactional distance replaces the older term 'distance education'.

Distance education means a pedagogical concept - and not only geographic separation of learners and teachers.

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1 Literature
Moore 1993

Michael G. Moore: Theory of transactional distance.
In: Desmond Keegan (Ed.): Theoretical principles of distance education. London, New York: Routledge 1993, p.22-38.
ISBN . . .

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2 The theory of Moore
  • Definition and content
  • Moore uses the term 'transactional distance' instead of the earlier notion of 'distance education'.

    In his theory of transactional distance, he describes "the universe of teacher-learner relationships that exist when learners and instructors are separated by space and/or by time" (p.22):
    - the interaction between learners and teachers,
    - the structure of instructional programmes,
    - the self-directedness of the learner.

    The separation leads to
    - special patterns of learner and teacher behaviours,
    - a psychological and communications space between the two,
    - potential misunderstanding.

    Even in face-to-face education is some transactional distance.

    Transactional distance is relative and different for each person.
    And in same time, it is a relative variable that is different from each distance education programme to the next.

    The extent of transactional distance in a educational programme is a function of these three sets of variables (clusters):
    - dialogue,
    - structure,
    - learner autonomy.

    The two clusters dialogue and structure are both qualitative variables and are determined by
    - the nature of the communications media being employed,
    - the philosophy and emotional characteristics of teachers,
    - the personalities of learners,
    - the constraints imposed by educational institutions.

    The relationship between dialogue, structure and learner autonomy can be described like this:
    the greater the structure and the lower the dialogue in a programme the more autonomy the learner has to exercise.

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  • The first set of variables that determine transactional distance
  • The instructional dialogue is more than an interaction:
    - It is purposeful, constructive and valued by each party.
    - Hence, it is positive and of synergistic nature.
    - Both partners are respectful and active listeners and contributors in same time.
    - It is directed towards an improved understanding of the student.

    Extend and nature of dialogue is determined by . . .
    - the educational philosophy behind the course,
    - the design of the course,
    - the personalities of teacher and learner (learning styles),
    - selection and training of instructors,
    - the subject-matter of the course, the content area, the academic level,
    - the medium of communication,
    - number of students each distant teacher is responsible for,
    - the emotional environment of teachers and learners,
    - the regard/disregard given to their activities,
    - and other factors.

    Communications media
    The nature of the communications medium has a direct impact on the extent and quality of dialogue between instructors and learners.
    Learning in a one-way television programme, for example, students can make internal (silent) responses only.
    Correspondence by mail allows two-way interaction - even slow and less spontaneous, but perhaps more thoughtful and reflective.
    The interactive nature of the medium is the major determinant of dialogue in the teaching-learning environment.
    By manipulating the communications media dialogue can be increased, and thus transactional distance reduced.
    Each communications medium is supported by a kind of 'virtual dialogue', implemented by the person who in some distant place and time organized a set of informations for transmission.

    up - Abstract - 1 Literature - 2 Moore - Links

  • The second set of variables that determine transactional distance
  • Programme structure
    Structure expresses the rigidity or flexibility of
    - the programme's educational objectives,
    - teaching strategies,
    - evaluation methods,
    - the ability to accomodate to each learner's individual needs.

    Highly structured medium means no or little dialogue and inputs from learners. Example: recorded television programme.
    Less structured medium allows more dialogue and a wide range of alternative responses to students' questions. Example: teleconference courses.

    But even using an interactive medium the programme can be overstructured. Therefore it cuts the dialogue and sets a high transactional distance.
    Low transactional distance can be achieved by much dialogue and little predetermined structure.
    The variation of dialogue and structure gives a programme more or less transactional distance than another.

    The greater the transactional distance, the more autonomy the learner will exercise: making judgements, taking decisions about study strategies, to what extent using the instructions.

    Successful distance teaching depends on:
    - the appropriate opportunities for dialogue,
    - appropriately structured learning materials.

    In distance education teaching is a collaborative process of a course team of content experts, instructional designers, and media specialists.

    Each distance education programme must structure these teaching processes:
    Presentation of information, skills, models of attitudes and values.
    The presentation will be delivred by the recorded media.
    Support of motivation: stimulate and maintain the learner's interest including self-motivation.
    Various techniques of stimulation, feedback and dialogue help to reach this goal.
    Stimulate analysis and critic: learners are expected to develop these higher order cognitive skills, but must be assisted on their way. Example: organizing discussions.
    Counsel the learning process: how to provide guidance on the use of learning materials, on study techniques. How to deal with study problems.
    How to arrange practice and evaluation: how to give opportunity to apply new knowledge, to practice the skills.
    Even highly self-directed learners are vulnerable in the process of application. They do not know enough about the subject to be sure they are applying it correctly.
    For this reality testing the course must provide opportunity for dialogue.
    Arrange for student creation of knowledge: how providing opportunity for learners to share in the process of creating knowledge.

    Selection and integration of communications media
    To deliver effective teaching programmes means to select the appropriate medium provide each teaching process - appropriate to the learner characteristics and to the content characteristics.

    Moore suggests a sort of rating of the communications media (p.30).
    He locates the strength of each medium for the following teaching processes:
    - self-study guide: not very useful for any process (I disagree in that point!);
    - audio recording/broadcast: not to bad for presentation (1) and motivation (2);
    - video recording/broadcast: excellent for presentation (1) and motivation (2);
    - correspondence: excellent for both analytic and critical development (3) and application and evaluation (5), fair for all other processes (1, 2, 4);
    - video conference: fair for presentation (1), motivation (2), analytic and critical development (3), application and evaluation (5);
    - audio conference: excellent for learner support (4);
    - PC conference: excellent for analytic and critical development (3), application and evaluation (5), and learner support (4).

    So, the best overall rating receive:
    - PC conference and
    - correspondence.

    up - Abstract - 1 Literature - 2 Moore - Links

  • The third set of variables that determine transactional distance
  • The autonomy of the learner
    The theory of transactional distance is backed up by two pedagogical traditions:
    - the humanistic tradition: emphasizes the interpersonal, generally open-ended and unstructured dialogue;
    - the behaviourist tradition: emphasizes the systematic design of instruction (behavioural objectives, maximum teacher control).
    In the early 1970s distance education was dominated by the behaviourists.
    Moore 1972 (Learner autonomy - the second dimension of independent learning) challenged this hegemony and argued that the ability of students to share responsibility for their own learning process was being neglected.

    Learner autonomy means the extent to which in the teaching/learning relationship it is the learner rather than the teacher who determines the goals, the learning experiences, and the evaluation decisions of the learning programme.

    The ideal of a fully autonomous learner: emotionally independent of an instructor, "can approach subject matter directly" (Boyd 1966), has a self-concept of being self-directed.
    Not all adults are at a state of readiness for fully self-directed learning, because learner are trained to be dependent in the school system. Hence, "adults are typically not prepared for self directed learning" (Knowles 1970).

    Teachers have to assist learners to acquire the skills of fully autononous learning.

    Moore examined distance education programmes to see to which extent whether the teacher or the learner controls the main teaching-learning processes.
    Then, he classified them according to the degree of learner autonomy permitted by each programme.
    Finally, he hypothesized a relationship between transactional distance an learner autonomy:
    - students with advanced competence as autonomous learners appeared to be quite comfortable with less dialogic programmes with little structure;
    - more dependent learners preferred programmes with more dialogue - some wanted a lot of structure, others relied on a close relationship with an instructor.

    up - Abstract - 1 Literature - 2 Moore - Links

    Teleconference instruction Dialogue, structure, and autonomy in teleconference instruction
    Teleconference media is Moore's notion for the highly interactive telecommunications media. Interactive computer networks permit not only a faster dialogue, but also a more individual dialogue.

    Inter-learner dialogue
    occurs between learners and other learners, alone or in groups, with or without the real-time presence of an instructor.
    Today, this form of dialogue makes it possible for distance learner to share in the creation of knowledge.

    Kowitz and Smith 1987 define three forms of instruction:
    1 teaching basic knowledge,
    2 teaching technical abilities,
    3 teaching collective intelligence.

    The personal computer made possible what was not available before in either distance education or conventional education:

  • Groups and virtual groups provide opportunities for exercises.
  • Each individual student can interact with the ideas of others - choosing the own time and the suitable pace.
  • The slow and reflective student is able to contribute as well as the quicker and more extrovert.
  • Learner can exercise and develop autonomy by making presentations to classes, they act as resources for their peers. This reinforces motivation and self-direction.
  • The distance teacher has access to a greater variety of activity than can be accomplished by the teacher alone.
  • A more friendly and supportive atmosphere thanks to the dialogic form.
  • Students report pleasure at the interdependence they develop in teleconferencing.
  • The media permit participation by everyone - if the instructors do not overstructure.

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  • Revised theory The place of teleconferencing in distance education theory
    Moore works over the theory and integrates the teleconference technologies. What was before a bilateral relationship between a teacher and a distant learner is now a multilateral relationship that brings an enormous number of dialogues between and among participants.

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    Revised typology The place of teleconferencing in the typology
    The typology of distance education, as developed in Moore 1983, shows now a learner-instructor interaction by teleconferencing that is more dialogic and less structured - result:
  • less distant,
  • higher degree of student participation,
  • relatively autonomous learning,
  • greater potential for instructors to consult the learner group,
  • greater potential for individual self-directed implementation,
  • more self-evaluation,
  • great potential for peer support,
  • great potential for peer generation of knowledge.

    That's it - thanks folks!

    up - Abstract - 1 Literature - 2 Moore - Links

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