What theories or research can inform your current practice of distance learning?

Aleta May for 1-16-14 blog.

Essential Question: What theories or research can inform your current practice of distance learning?

According to Raddon (Ross, Gallagher, & Macleoud, 2013), current practice of online distance learning cannot be defined simply being away from institutional space.  Selwyn states that there should be a focus on engagement and participation that is flexible regarding time, place, and how distance learners acquire new skills (Ross, Gallagher, & Macleoud, 2013).  The theory of Transactional Distance is based on John Dewys idea of transaction, transaction between people which is not one-way  (Moore & Kearsley, 2011).  The basis of Raddon and Selwyn’s thinking is Transactional Distance.  It involves dialogue.  Having attended many college courses within a physical campus setting, I think back on my role as absorber of knowledge dispensed by one who actually distracted my notetaking by my awe at their ability to seemingly “read the book” in their mind’s eye as I admired their undeniable intelligence in that area.  Although this goes to teaching strategy and philosophy, it also depicts the “limits” on learning in a space set up for lecture.  Lecture can be transmuted to the online environment, but the educator is faced with the question of whether students are learning and engaged since there is little visual contact.  Then it could be said that distance learning contributes to constructive learning between students (student-student), as well as between the teacher and student.

Massive open online courses(MOOC’s) have provided an place to test the “new learning theory for a digital age,” () connectivism.  Four principles for learning of connectivism are: autonomy, connectedness, diversity, and openness.  As opposed to behaviorism, which is highly structured and controlled by the instructor, the individual not only is valued, but is shared.  Everyone has something to add to the learning experience.  The most important part of this way of networking, combining creativity, and learning from each other is that there is not a “lone genius”  (Ross, Gallagher, & Macleoud, 2013).  During my experience with the online Reading Specialist program, I have met so many people through Elluminate, discussion threads, and then in person.   What have I gained through this that will follow me throughout my career and life is confidence.  Through distance learning, I have connected with educators across the state of Alaska whom would not have had the time to share in the depth we shared.  Our breakout discussions in Elluminate created an atmosphere of meaningful talk; we were brave and others in the class could not hear as they might in a physical room of cacophony.  There was not one person who continually raised their hand to playback for an instructor who sought particular responses that summarized a point in the lecture.  This branches off into learning strategies, yet it is significant that I could be me and explore my learning and adjust my thinking in a safe learning environment.


Moore, M. G. & Kearsley, G. (2011).  Distance education:  A systems view of online

              learning, 3rd Ed.  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Ross, J., Gallagher, M. S., & Macleod, H. (2013).  Making distance visible:  Assembling

nearness in an online distance learning program.  The International Review of

            Research in Open and Distance Learning, 14(4),  52-66.

Tschofen, C., & Mackness, J. (2013).  Connectivism and dimensions of individual

experience.  The International Review of Research in Open and Distance

            Learning, 13(1).

3 thoughts on “What theories or research can inform your current practice of distance learning?

  1. Nicole Fuerst

    I noticed that you focused on “Transactional Distance”, something I was interested in myself because I was so interested in research on dialogue. One thing I would like clarification on would be when you stated, “Lecture can be transmuted to the online environment, but the educator is faced with the question of whether students are learning and engaged since there is little visual contact.” Do you believe this to be true? It seems that in the final portion of your reflection, you found value and engagement at a high level in your virtual courses. Was your instructor able to monitor that or collect data on your engagement level? (I am curious about that) For as we experienced with our Web-ex conference and is possible with VTC, we’ve seen that an instructor can have as much visual contact or little as he/she desires. Furthermore, using chat features in web-conferencing tools or social media for IM backchannels can allow for the teacher to engage students and peers to engage each other in rich content discussion, while the larger presentation continues. This actually can promote building a depth of knowledge that is achieved in face to face classrooms through class discussion. It gives students who are shy the opportunity to “private message” the instructor and engage in discussion of content without fear of disconcerting exposure that he/she isn’t prepared to deal with…a unique feature that doesn’t happen in face to face classrooms without extreme creativity from the instructor, but is natural and easy in the virtual realm. As a virtual instructor, I would totally assert that there is opportunity for plenty of visual contact and would assert that reading nonverbals in the virtual world is just as important as in the face to face classroom as an indicator of engagement. Certainly, this is the case for synchronous meetings. Asynchronous meetings are another matter. I am really looking forward to your response, because the final portion of your reflection was fascinating to me.

    1. aletakmay Post author

      Hi Nicole,

      The instructors knew we were there and focused by using the hand-raising, checks, chat, whole group discussion, and breakout rooms. A teacher in our district once came to our house and set the computer down, walked around the house with the volume turned up, listening to the lecture. An analogy would be the instructor was like a radio talk show host. Interaction with the students was primarily at the beginning and end of the session, and certain students were allowed to speak incessantly. The student in our home was commenting on how bored he was, and that he was not learning much due to boredom and little input. Most of his courses were conducted in that manner, according to him. This was a very important graduate level program in that he could graduate as a leader, and have been further trained that “leaders take control of the conversation in the workplace” through the instructor’s modeling of how he treated his college students.

      I really like what you said about allowing students to engage through chatting. I recall reading about how students often feel safer discussing and expressing their viewpoints on a blog than in person. Also, your point that students may be engaged in a richer discussion when they chat during a webinar is one I agree with. During November and December, I participated in a set of 4 webinars where this occurred. Some instructors are overly distracted by this, and the students need to stay focused on the topic when the presenter is sharing.

      1. Nicole Fuerst

        extensive lecture in the virtual environment can absolutely kill engagement. I could imagine that your student was extremely bored. In speaking with Phil Johnson, last year’s rural schools principal, he stated that the business world is targeting e-learning training modules to focus on 2-5 minute target videos/lectures, or using interactive videos, discussion, and skill practice. However, in education, teachers are still able to lecture for 50-70 minutes and consider that appropriate training/instruction. The business world IS leaving the education world behind when it comes to virtual training/learning. The next step I’d like to experiment with is interactive training/learning videos/modules…I hope it will engage kinesthetic learners more.

        And yes, you are correct. One absolutely has to monitor an backchannel chat for on task conversation. 🙂

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