Moore’s (1993) Transactional Distance Theory offers that the quality and intensity of the interaction between the learner and the learning environment influences performance within distance learning environments. The higher the quality of the interaction, the more likely the learner is to perform well. The learner’s interaction with the learning environment is measured as transactional distance, which is described as the perceived pedagogical, psychological, and communication distance between the learner and the learning environment. In other words, transactional distance measures the connectedness between the learner and the learning environment.
Three factors are used to measure transactional distance: the learner’s perceived openness of dialogue, the student’s sense of autonomy within the learning setting, and the learner’s perception of the learning structure’s flexibility (Chen, 2001; Moore, 1993; Park, 2011). Transactional distance is a relative measure—as opposed to being an absolute value—which is useful for comparing environments, elements within learning environments, and learner characteristics for the benefit of improving learner connectedness to the environment.
Low transactional distance suggests a high level of connectedness between the learner and the learning environment while high transactional distance implies a lack of connectedness between the two. An example of low transactional distance within an in-seat class environment is the learner, either individually or within a small group, working directly with the instructor to ask questions in order to clarify concepts, to adjust learning objectives based upon the learner’s desires, and to make adjustments to the curriculum and content delivery to meet the learner’s needs. In contrast, a high transactional distance environment includes large university courses in which they syllabus is firmly set and individual students are unable to ask questions.
Within online environments, connectedness between the learner and the learning environment occurs when the learner is able to ask questions and receive timely responses, when the learning pathway supports the learner’s goals and is clearly understood by the learner, and when the objectives of the course are clear and the content supports those objectives. Environments that facilitate low transactional distance include two-way video environments (Falloon, 2011), blended environments, such as flipped classrooms (Moffett & Mill, 2014), and well-organized discussion communities (Zhao, Ha, & Widdows, 2013). On the other hand, some environments do not facilitate connectedness, including environments without any means of communication between learners and others, content delivery that is unidirectional, and rigid learning structures.
There are several benefits to understanding, measuring, and applying transactional distance constructs within educational environments. Organizations that strive for higher performance from learners should consider evaluating the level of connectedness between learner and the learning environment, as learners who experience higher quality interactions as indicated by small transactional distances with the instructional source performed better than learners that experience a wider psychological or communication gap with the knowledge source (Hauser, Paul, & Bradley, 2012). Additionally, higher levels of connectedness between the learner and the learning environment are associated with higher retention rates within university environments (Bean & Eaton, 2001). Such considerations are particularly valuable within voluntary learning environments, such as universities, consumer-oriented training, and volunteer organizations, in which attrition negatively influences the organization’s reputation, revenues, and resources. Learner connectedness is also a necessary consideration for those environments in which training is compulsory, such as corporate or government training. Within these environments, connectedness influences learner satisfaction and the associated motivation to learn, both of which are factors in learner (employee) motivation and performance (Deci & Ryan, 2008).
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