Perhaps in discussing distance education theories in a distance education class we have the tendency to try to see the distance education application. The Holmberg discussion made me wonder, "How many of the proven f2f learning principles can be applied to distance education? Does a different set of principles rule the distance learning world?"
"I assume that if a course consistently represents a communication process that is felt to have the character of a conversation, then the students will be more motivated and more successful than if it has an impersonal textbook character."
This "conversational style" is a major component of the teaching-learning conversations theory. In distance education the materials/interaction(text, phone, internet, assignments and comments) should be designed to create a conversational character and environment.
The Mitchell/Peters argument. The argument against the above is that this is just a principle of good education and/or it does not apply to all contexts and subjects where a strict objectivity is needed, further he states, that rather than a conversation, "intellectual pleasure" can come form picking apart a dense, seemingly inaccessible text.
Who is right? My answer is yes! Here is how I see the merging of these two ideas.
1) Holmberg is talking about distance education, though the principle he is supporting is an important part of effective education in general. Perhaps, he is assuming that the "conversational style" that occurs so readily and naturally in the f2f settings needs to be prescribed in distance courses because it is so hard to get at in the distance learning world whereas it is a natural by-product of most other educational settings.
So if conversational things are built into everything in a course then you will get the same benefits of the learning by collaboration, counseling, and talking, as you would in a f2f setting. Can everything in a course be 100% conversational? I don't think Holmberg thinks so but it is lacking in the distance education so you need to put as much in there as possible to help students deal with the complicated academic components (which in Holmberg's world would be very few). The "conversational style" helps make up for not having your peers and teachers there to discuss things in understandable terms and explain them. While those things that Peters feel are necessary (like objectivity and dense content) in the academic world will exist because you general can't avoid them, even if your goal is to make things conversational, when you are presenting content for most subjects.
So is this a distance learning theory? I would say yes and no. No because it is just a part of good education but yes because it is a specific application of a good educational principle in an educational setting where it is not often seen or easily achieved.