Saturday, January 24, 2009

Making Sense of The Transactional Distance Theory

This week I attempted to truly strive to understand what the transactional theory is all about. I don't know that I have succeeded but here is a summary.

Goal of transactional distance is to define the distance education field in pedagogical terms.
The first thing the theory states is that distance education has its own identity! The character of the identity is the "meat" of the theory and consists of 3 main components:
1) Structure of the teaching-learning program (defines rigidity and flexibility and thus the ability to respond to individual learner's needs and preferences)
2) Dialog (rather than interaction due to positive connotation): communication between teacher and learner (determined by course structure since it exists within that structure
3) Autonomy of learners (role of learner=self-management)
Transaction=interplay of different components therefore in DE it is the interplay of teachers and learners in environments that have special characteristic of their being spatially separate form one another.

Amount of dialog and structure defines learner autonomy and determines the transactional distance. The equation looks like this Structure/Dialog=Transactional Distance. So if structure is high and therefore dialogue low then the transactional distance is high and vice versa.
And to add in autonomy if the transactional distance is lower than learners can get by with less autonomy and the converse is true. Higher transactional distance = learner need to exercise higher autonomy.

The three components also help us understand the "interactive" pieces of distance learning:

Interaction: There are 3 types, learner to content, to instructor or to other learner(s)
Organize courses/learning to have all three types of interaction. One common pitfall is using only one medium of communication and therefore there is a focus on one interaction. Design for all three.

So as of this week I have learned about the industrial theory, the transactional theory and the teaching-learning conversation theory. All of which in my mind define different aspects of the distance education field. As far as the macro/micro-ness of these theories Moore sees it this way:


Peter Rich said...

wow, great summary, Shawn. Now that you've learned these 3 theories, what questions might you have?

Charles Graham said...

Here is a little animation for transactional distance that might be helpful in understanding the relationships:

Shawn said...

Since the transactional stuff is on my mind one of my questions is why can there not be high structure and a high amount of dialog? Has this been tested. I could picture a problem based learning method that has a lot of structure or specific steps you have to get through to solve the problem and lots of dialog with a SME or teacher etc. while making through the steps. Maybe I am missing something. The other question I have is if there are any theories of distance ed that conflict with these three?

Shawn said...

p.s. I loved the little interactive explanation Charles, that is what made me wonder about having both structure and dialog,.

Charles Graham said...

I think that it has to do with how he is defining "dialog." He is defining it as something that can't be completely designed ahead of time because it requires give and take and interaction between two agents - so it is determined in the moment. If a dialog is completely scripted then it ceases to be dialog and becomes structured content.

John Hilton III said...

Shawn--I thought Charles' animation was good, yet I have to give you two thumbs up for creating your own. Way to raise the level of the posts! I'm interested to hear more about how you view transactional theory in terms of your work at the MTC. In some ways it seems to me that you have some challenges with respect to dialogue, but I wasn't sure how structure would come into play.

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