Transactional Distance Theory


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.


4 thoughts on “Transactional Distance Theory

  1. Hi Mary! I also read the optional reading, since I had much the same feelings about the shorter articles as you did. I’m glad I read them first, as they gave a nice overview of the theory, but I appreciated the context that Moore’s writing gave. I would enjoy seeing Moore’s thoughts on the theory now, since as you point out it was published nearly 20 years ago.

    In reference to the technology you would likely use in a class, you mention that using some sort of messenger to have real time conversation would leave out tone and body language. I was speaking earlier today with someone about how nearly everyone has some sort of video capability now, whether it’s through their phone, laptop, or other device. I wonder if something like skype or google hangouts could provide more of a connection that is lacking in text based conversations.

  2. Great read and interesting insight, especially in regards to how the lack of presence relating to body language may affect the interaction. I’ve found that dialogue when using video tends to be most effective when more than two parties are involved. When you have an audio only/phone conversation with more than two people, it is very difficult to determine who may be wishing to add something to the conversation. With applications such as Hangouts and Facetime, the small window at the bottom of each person involved in the conversation can serve as a prompt for when someone wants to add to the conversation. Video is also great when the topic being discussed has reference material, similar to a webinar, that you can plug into the conversation. Hangouts make this especially easy.

  3. I’m glad you all found all of the readings helpful. When first learning of the theory myself I had to read the seminal article, then I found the two we gave you all as required reading and then re-read the article. It is quite daunting at first.

    You make a good point regarding simplicity. Keeping things simple and streamlined is a fight I feel, as an online teachers for 8 years, those of us “in the weeds” will always have. I cannot tell you how many years some computer person with no actual experience in K12 education comes to sell their wares to Virtual Virginia and someone that was elected into their position buys into. The result is always explaining to students how to try to use many pieces of technology that are not all integrated into the LMS, and then explaining to their parents why their children are frustrated. The system we have in place now, finally, addresses most of our needs with the exception of a feature like Gchat/Messenger, as you mention in your post. I agree; that would be very worthwhile.

  4. So it sounds as though you find synchronous, text-only, discussions “better” than asynchronous. What do you think the advantages are of synchronous vs asynch? Is there value in real-time text chat verse asynch? and if so what?

    Great post as always BTW

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