Reducing The “Distance” in Distance Learning

Laptop on table

Online educators know that the “distance” in distance learning is more than just a separation of geography and time. Michael Moore describes transactional distance as a psychological and communication barrier to cross. It’s a “space of potential misunderstanding between the inputs of the instructor and those of the learner that is present in learning environments” (Moore, 1997). It can be challenging to establish the instructor-learner relationship while navigating the virtual environment, but calculating this “distance” through purposeful decisions can help maximize learning outcomes.

Three Variables

Dialogue, structure, and learner autonomy all play a role in the degree of transactional distance in the course.

Dialogue refers to the interaction between the learners and instructor. Not all interactions count as dialogue. Dialogue is a positive interaction which results in the learner having an improved understanding. The less dialogue in the course, the more learner autonomy there is. However, this requires more course structure for a successful course.

“What determines the success of distance teaching is the extent to which the institution and the individual instructor are able to provide the appropriate opportunity for, and quality of, dialogue between teacher and learner, as well as appropriately structured learning materials.” (Moore, 1991:5)

Ideas to Consider

Consider the following ideas to reduce the distance between you and your students:

  1. Send Regular, Personalized Communication to Learners
    Feedback and check-ins that are personalized to each learner can lessen the gap in the long-distance relationships you have with your students. A few general announcements are not bad, but including personalized communication establishes an opportunity for learners to respond with questions and concerns
  2. Host Live Events to Fill the Social Gap
    eLearning Industry’s Christopher Pappas suggests using webinars or live Q&A sessions to encourage learners to voice ideas or concerns. Record these events and include them as student resources for future reference (Pappas, 2017).
  3. Include Additional Resources for Learners Who Need Extra Help
    Having some helpful, easy to access resources is useful for those who need a little extra help. Microlearning material is an example of extra resources students can work on at any time during the semester.

It’s easy to feel a separation from students when teaching online. Reach out to your instructional designer for creative ways to make teaching online more comfortable for you and engaging for your learners.

Jennifer Antoon is an instructional designer for FIU Online. After studying adult learning theories in her master’s program and implementing them during her time as an adjunct professor, she became interested in discovering and creating learning activities that engage and motivate adults.

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