Re-examining the theory of transactional distance through the narratives of postgraduate online distance learners

Stapleford, K. and Lee, K. (2020) Re-examining the theory of transactional distance through the narratives of postgraduate online distance learners. In: 19th European Conference on e-Learning, 2020-10-29 - 2020-10-30.

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Current research into online distance learning (ODL) has established the importance of interaction to counter the potential isolation of ODL, and subsequent attrition. Consequently, ODL programme designers and instructors seek to maximise opportunities for interaction. However, much of this research focuses on factors relating to the immediate performance and behaviours of learners within an academy-bounded (or institutionalised) learning environment. Given that online learning is situated in learners' life outside the academy (particularly for postgraduates, who are often working professionals), ODL study needs to develop a broader conceptualisation of interaction. One of the most influential theoretical accounts used as a basis for 'testing' the effectiveness of different forms of interaction in ODL is Moore's (1993) theory of transactional distance (TTD). Transactional Distance (TD) refers to the psychological and communicative separation of teacher and learner. Despite its transcendental usefulness, TTD was originally developed at a time when distance learning was of the correspondence variety; thus, it tends to be instruction- and instructor-focused without appropriately reflecting contemporary ODL. Along with the long life-span of the theory, the narratives of distance learning have been dominated by descriptions of learners' immediate performance within the academy, written from the institution's perspective. Therefore, there is a need to re-examine and re-create the dominant narratives of ODL from the learners' perspective. Using narrative inquiry and photo-elicitation, this study investigates the lived experiences of part-time postgraduate online distance learners (ODLS) studying a professionally related Master's degree. It examines multiple forms of learner interactions within and beyond the study environment, and how these impact on their experienced TD. The narrative data suggest that TTD is no longer sufficient for explaining the learner experience. We offer a more nuanced interpretation of the theory, informed by participants' stories and recast from the learners' perspective. This reconceptualisation will be of interest to ODL programme designers, instructors, and learners when seeking to achieve a meaningful ODL experience. © 2020 Academic Conferences Limited. All rights reserved.

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19th European Conference on e-Learning
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23 Jun 2021 18:15
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15 Jul 2024 08:44