TRANSACTIONAL DISTANCE THEORY AS A FRAMEWORK FOR A QUALITATIVE EVALUATION OF DISTANCE LEARNER EXPERIENCE

2020-06-05T09:01:02Z (GMT) by P Edirisingha
The proposed paper reports on our research into the development of a qualitative research approach based on Moore’s Transactional Distance Theory to evaluate learner experience on two distance learning courses at the University of Leicester.

Moore’s Transactional Distance Theory (TDT) [1] [2] is considered to be one of the early and influential theories of distance education (DE) that has contributed to our understanding of DE as a distinct field of education. In TDT, Moore captures what he calls the essential features of DE as three variables: ‘structure’, ‘dialogue’, and ‘autonomy’. For Moore, Transactional Distance is a psychological and communication gap that a learner can experience when he or she learns at a distance.

Our full paper defines the concept of TDT, its three key variables, and how this theory has provided a conceptual tool for educators and researchers to develop courses and evaluate experience of what it means be a distance learner. A key contribution of the paper is the systematic literature review in which we foreground some of the limited but significant critiques of TDT (e.g., [3]) and consider how this concept can be modified to develop research tools, especially qualitative, as opposed to predominantly quantitative methods, to understand distance education offered by not only dedicated distance education institutions (e.g., UK Open University) but conventional campus-based institutions, and using the full range of the Internet-based technologies.

Using the new research instruments, we have carried out an action research project on two distance learning courses at the University of Leicester. Our research participants were professionals working in educational institutions around the world. Data were collected from 18 participants using a combination of semi-structured interviews (40 – 90 minutes) and online methods. Interviews were carried out using Skype, Facetime or WeChat.

The full paper will present the analysis of data based on themes derived from Moore’s original conceptualisation of the three variables of TDT: ‘structure’, ‘dialogue’, and ‘autonomy’. The in-depth interrogation of data revealed more nuanced picture of the students’ experience and appreciation of leaning at a distance on courses offered by a conventional campus-based university in which their learning is mediated through internet-based technologies and resources. Deriving from the data analysis, the paper also discusses a set of guidelines for designing courses to optimise the students’ learning experience at a distance. Finally we present our on-going work with the Open University of China for adapting the instruments and approaches to suit large scale distance learning institutions.