I must admit that I succumbed to the optional reading this week (which I hardly do) to better understand transactional distance theory. I couldn’t quite grasp the theory with the two required readings this week. I needed more context to understand Moore’s argument about the communication gap and what proactive measures should be taken to improve instructor-learner dialogue. In Moore’s theory, he provides helpful analysis to the graphs. He states, “By contrast, highly interactive electronic teleconference media, especially personal computers and audioconference media, permit a more intensive, more personal, more individual, more dynamic dialogue than can be achieved in using a recorded medium.” (Moore, 1997). I gathered the goal for transactional learning is highly interactive electronic communication between teacher and learner. When instructors use interactive computer technology, they reduce transactional distance and help distance learners plan, develop, and evaluate their own learning goals.
I find it funny that there is such a structured theory on being unstructured in transactional learning. I can relate to his critics that providing such detailed graphs about appropriate dialogue or appropriate mediums to communicate to learners can seem too limiting when we are dealing with complex human beings. Many factors, such as personality & rapid advances in technology can’t always lead to concrete results. The theory was written in 1997, almost 20 years ago. During the time of his writing, I can imagine what others may have thought about the wonderful possibilities of connecting with virtual groups to collectively learn and interact. Now, there is a new tech tool every 5 minutes. If I was an eLearning instructor, I’d be overwhelmed with what are the most effective tools to choose from. The bottom line, however, is that regardless of the medium you choose, an instructor must be present and using the digital technology that he or she promotes in order to connect with his or her learners. For this reason, I think the theory is important to understand.
If I were to design a virtual learning experience, I think I would keep the technology simple (mainly because my lack of knowledge using complex digital media tools like avatar, etc). I like the idea of implementing an online gmail chat/former AOL instant messenger type experience so we could create real time conversation about a relevant topic. We couldn’t pick up on body language or tone, but it would be as close to engaging in collective dialogue that could help reduce the transactional distance. I remember doing this for a class in undergrad years ago where we were required to have a real time chat about a book chapter and send a copy of our conversation thread to our professor. I really liked hopping on the internet and discussing with a small group what I learned or pick up on from the readings. I think doing something as simple as facilitating a chat online could mimic the valuable face to face dialogue and instructor feedback in a classroom environment.