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In flexible and open models of education students and lecturers experience a virtual sense of separation that is caused by more than physical distance between students and lecturers. Transactional distance is “a psychological and communications gap, a space of potential misunderstanding between the inputs of lecturer and those of the student” created in part by the physical distance inherent to online learning (Moore 1991, p. 2). a large transactional distance such as that between geographically dispersed students and lecturers in an asynchronous, text-based, online learning environment may contribute to students’ feelings of isolation and disconnectedness, which can lead to reduced levels of motivation and engagement and consequently attrition.
When designing e-learning experiences lecturers must consider two variables that affect transactional distance: structure and dialogue. Structure refers to the flexibility or rigidity of the pedagogical methods and strategies used in an e-learning experience. Dialogue refers to the interaction between the lecturer and student during an e-learning experience. Moore does not suggest that either structure or dialogue are inherently good things. Each may be appropriate in different circumstances and a typical educational event such as a conventional lecture will, at a micro-level, move constantly between the two. Another dimension of the theory suggests that more autonomous students, being self-directed, are better able to cope with more structure while less autonomous students benefit more from greater dialogue.
This paper explores a proposed model of flexible learning which attempts to inform practitioners of the fluid, interdependent relationships between students, resources, contexts and lecturers. This helps explain and justify a reconceptualisation of the role of the lecturer and suggests how social activity is also pivotal in successful learning outcomes for students.
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