[Cutting-edge Technologies in Higher Education] Increasing Student Engagement and Retention in e-learning Environments: Web 2.0 and Blended Learning Technologies Volume 6 || From Connectivity to Connected Learners: Transactional Distance and Social Presence

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    survey of the impact of Michael Moores theory of transactional distance,

    A second major aspect of distance learning has been the attempt to

    introduce social presence into learning environments. The history of socialpresence is explored, as are its levels and consequences for the learner.Contemporary aspects of social presence reviewed include communities ofinquiry. While Web 2.0 has spectacularly resulted in connectivity, it

    Increasing Student Engagement and Retention in e-Learning Environments:

    Web 2.0 and Blended Learning Technologies

    Cutting-edge Technologies in Higher Education, Volume 6G, 113143

    Copyright r 2013 by Emerald Group Publishing Limited

    All rights of reproduction in any form reservedwhich considered the consequences of separating the learner from peersand instructor. Contemporary work on Moores contribution includestransaction and participation, activity theory, and transactional presence.TRANSACTIONAL DISTANCE AND


    David Starr-Glass


    Distance learning has proliferated signicantly in the last 20 years. Thischapter considers some of the issues and implications when teaching andlearning moves from an in-person to a distance mode. It begins with abrief history of distance learning, considering both the technologies usedand the dominant pedagogical approaches employed. This is followed by aISSN: 2044-9968/doi:10.1108/S2044-9968(2013)000006G007


  • 2011). This optimism is felt not only for online instruction but also forblended courses that incorporate in-person and distance learning compo-neye ear esu sof

    ybe dco gdiannts. Blended courses have shown a signicant growth rate in the last fewars, even if that rate lags behind online modalities and even although there indications that the growth curve may have peaked. The most completrvey data indicates that, in 2005, about 5.6% of all American collegefered at least one blended course (Allen, Seaman, & Garrett, 2007).The dramatic adoption of online learning and blended courses has onlen possible because of exceptional advances in communication annnective technologies. New technologies provide the means of deliverinremains unclear as to whether this automatically resulted in more stronglyconnected learners. Connectivist approaches are considered and distinc-tions made between technological connectivity and pedagogical engage-ment. It is argued that the full and exciting potential of Web 2.0 indistance learning requires a commitment to the distanced learner,balancing learner autonomy and teacher presence, promoting meaningfulsocial engagement, and meeting the specic needs of the distance learner.


    Distance learning, in which learners are physically separated from theirinstructors and peers, has a long history in both formal and informaleducation. Through much of its history distance learning has been regardedas a pragmatic compromise rather than as a legitimate paradigm. In the last40 years, however, there has been a rapid increase in distance learningmodalities in higher education and a growing sense that it provides not onlyincreased exibility but also unique learning opportunities.In the fall of 2002, only about 1.6 million students enrolled in American

    colleges experienced online distance learning, representing 9.6% of thestudent population. In the fall of 2010, those enrolled in at least one onlinedistance learning course had climbed dramatically to 6.1 million, or 31.3%of all students. In the same year, more than 67% of academic administratorsat American public colleges considered online instruction to be at least asgood as, or superior to, traditional in-person (face-to-face) teaching, andabout the same percentage agreed that online education would play asignicant part in the institutions strategic planning (Allen & Seaman,

    DAVID STARR-GLASS114stance learning, but more signicantly they increasingly provide teachingd learning opportunities for more effective knowledge creation. From an

  • institutional management and marketing perspective, distance learningtechnologies have been eagerly adopted to enter new student markets, toincrease enrollment, and to provide colleges with competitive advantages(Elloumi, 2008; Stromquist, 2002). Communication and connective technol-ogies have been signicant in reducing instructional costs and in facilitatingcooperation with other educational providers (Peters, 2000; Selwyn & Fitz,2001). From a broader learning and social perspective, innovation in thetechnology of connecting learners has for the rst time made it possibleto establish global communities of knowledge (Maddux & Johnson, 2010;Rajasingham, 2009) and to prepare students for the networked world withinwhich they will live and work (Zong, Wilson, & Quashiga, 2008).The move from in-person to distance learning has been technology-

    inspired and sometimes technology-pushed; however, the shift cannot beaccomplished by technology alone. It requires a signicant reconsiderationof two key aspects of the learning environment: the process through whichlearning takes place and the dynamics of instructorlearner interaction.Forty years ago, when distance learning began to ourish, in-personinstruction in higher education was dominated by a model in whichknowledge was considered to exist separately and independently from thelearner. The learners task was to acquire knowledge dened and presentedby the instructor. The instructors task was to indicate and explain relevantknowledge in ways that made acquisition possible. The instructor wascentrally and actively present in the process; the learner was to an extentmarginal and relatively passive. Distance learning radically changed theseassumptions. Instructors could not be actively present and learners have tobecome responsible for the decisions about what they learned and howlearning was to take place. Learners needed guidance in negotiating thechange in dynamics, and support in understanding that meaning is createdor constituted in the relationship between the individual and the context(Martin, Prosser, Trigwell, Ramsden, & Benjamin, 2000, p. 388).Distance learning shifted the model from instructor-centered to learner-

    centered, with the understanding that knowledge was not passively acquiredbut personally constructed by learners, or co-constructed through colla-boration with peers. The learner was highlighted as an autonomousindividual, but the learner was also repositioned in relation to other distancelearning participants. There was a growing appreciation that learning was asocial activity, in which experience and new understanding could be testedand conrmed through others. When the educational experience was

    From Connectivity to Connected Learners 115distanced, there was the danger that the learner would be isolated andseparated from its social dimension. Distance learning faced the challenge of

  • indicates that learning takes place when the technological potential of

    connectivity is harnessed to the social and cognitive needs of the learner. Asconnectivity makes way for learner connectedness, the subject matter, theinstructor, and fellow learners become more accessible and a dynamicprocess of knowledge creation can begin.This chapter highlights this move from connectivity to connectedness

    by considering two bodies of research that have proved particularly insight-ful: transactional distance and social presence. Michael Moores theory oftransactional distance explores the consequences of distancing learners fromtheir instructor. It provides a comprehensive framework for consideringdistance learning, a framework that is open enough to accommodate newparts but robust enough to provide practical solutions. Ongoing researchshows that Moores insights remain pertinent in designing distance learningenvironments for a Web 2.0 world. Theories of social and cognitivepresence provide a second way of understanding the challenges and oppor-tunities of distance learning. The contribution of social presence andcognitive presence research has been particularly useful in enhancing andenriching distance learning environments. Before considering transactionaldistance and social presence, however, it will be helpful to look at theevolution of distance learning.


    Distance learning did not begin with a particular theory of teaching andlearning; instead, it was grounded in a pragmatic consideration of increasedaccess and inclusion. In the UK, for example, a growing demand for workerparticipation in higher education was met by Isaac Pitman, the originator ofshorthand, who launched a series of correspondence courses in the 1840s(Schulte, 2011). By the mid-1850s, the University of London created acreating environments in which learners could sense social connectedness,recognize learning as a social activity, and explore new roles through whichlearnerinstructor and learnerlearner could interact.Advances in communication technology provided extraordinary oppor-

    tunities for distance learning. Increasingly, computer-aided communicationplatforms allowed learners to connect with one another. In a Web 2.0 era,global connectivity has provided the means of bringing physically separatedpeople together in virtual environments. The evolution of distance learning

    DAVID STARR-GLASS116revolutionary program that allowed external students, studying indepen-dently via distance learning, to earn degrees that were academically identical

  • to those earned on campus. A key issue in this move was to provide anopportunity for women, who at that time were unable to matriculate, orgraduate from other English universities.Distance education could be used to overcome social and cultural barriers

    and bring about wider inclusion. In other situations, the promise of distanceeducation was in reaching students who were physically distanced fromeducational centers. In Australia, for example, territorial distance andwidely dispersed student populations restricted learner mobility, making itimpossible to attend a central campus. Distance education, initially througha correspondence model, allowed the remote learner to actively participatein higher education.Adoption of distance learning came about in different places for different

    reasons. Once instituted, the evolutionary trajectory that it followed isremarkably similar. The evolution has been primarily driven by the availabilityof technology and media, rather than by educational considerations. Whiletechnological opportunity has been the driver, increasing interest has grown inthe educational consequences for the learning process: a reconsideration of thesocial context of learning; theories of teaching and learning; and, learnerautonomy (Schulte, 2011). This pattern can be summarized by drawingtogether two complimentary reviews of the technological opportunities(Taylor, 1995, 2001) and the pedagogical considerations that dominated andguided successive generations of distance learning (Anderson & Dron, 2011).

    First Generation: The correspondence model (18401960). In its earlydays, distance learning utilized the media and communication optionsavailable, relying on print and the developing postal services, withstudents receiving learning materials and responding via mail. There wasno clear change in teaching or learning approaches to accommodate theadoption of a distance learning modality.

    Second Generation: The multimedia model (19601980). This eracontinued to use print and postal services but supplemented these withthe latest audio (radio) and visual (television) technologies. Increasingly,advances in cognitive-behavioralist pedagogy were used in distancelearning. These approaches focused on the individual, regarding knowl-edge as something independent from the learner but capable of beingtransmitted. The instructors role, similar to that in traditional in-personteaching, was one of transmission: the sage on stage. No socialdimension was recognized and these delivery modes had a marked

    From Connectivity to Connected Learners 117absence of what would now be recognized as social presence or teachingpresence.

  • Third Generation: The telelearning model (19801995). Previous mediaand communication channels continued to be employed; however,advances in computer technology and telecommunications systems (suchas email, electronic bulletin boards, and computer-mediated communica-tion) made it increasingly possible for learning systems to operatesynchronously, with learners responding in real time. Social-constructivistlearning, in which the creation and validation of new understanding issocially mediated (Jonassen, 1991), began to be favored. Social interac-tion, which is central to the social-constructivist model, was provided bycreating social presence and sustaining teaching presence. The instructorassumed the role of guide and helper.

    Fourth Generation. The exible model (19952005). Growing technolo-gical advances permitted improved learner access, synchronous andasynchronous possibilities, and real-time collaboration. An expandinginformation age sensitized learners to different ways of accessing infor-mation, creating social connections, and using technology to fulll theirgoals. Social-constructivist remained the dominant pedagogical approachand there was growing interest in social presence and online communitiesof enquiry.

    Fifth Generation: The intelligent exible learning model (2005present).Taylor (2001) understood this to be the current stage in evolution ofdistance learning systems. It is derived from Fourth Generationtechnologies integrated and enhanced by the Internet and Web 2.0.Learners are viewed as knowledgeable, self-assured, and capable ofaccessing informational networks to explore, conrm, and augmentlearning. Learners live in a world of digital connections and are familiarwith social media and virtual possibilities. Some suggest that there is amove toward connectivist pedagogies, emphasizing social presence, andthe creation of social capital through maintaining and accessing net-worked links with others. Teaching presence is viewed as enablingand empowering, with instructors themselves engaged in a process ofcontinuous learning: fellow voyagers.

    Several points are signicant. First, dates indicated are approximate andcontestable. Distance learning generations have not displaced one anotherabruptly, but have gradually merged and coexisted. Second, newperspectives in technology have led and dened generational change. Thegrowth curve for technology has consistently outpaced that of learning and

    DAVID STARR-GLASS118instructional theory. Third, as a consequence, theoretical considerations ofdistance learning have retained a great deal of uidity. They have remained

  • established by the instructor, structure must be understood and negotiated

    by the learner. Moore (1972, 1973) argued that while some degree ofstructure was required, a rigidly structured environment limited bothmeaningful communication and the learners ability to ma...


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