Changed conditions for learning

The concept of distance is a remnant from when we regarded distance education as a solution to access to education and skills. Different theories about this form of distribution can be described based on how they handle the physical distance between teacher and student, roughly speaking as a distance that must be compensated for or that offers new opportunities. Theories that express the benefits of distance often argue based on the student’s independence as a key to success, a belief in an instructive methodology or automatic benefits of using technology. We should probably consider and work with the conditions for learning regardless of form rather than choosing sides. 

So there are areas that you should consider when designing an online course. Above all, it concerns important differences for communication, meaning-making and learning in education. 

These changed conditions can be summarized as: 

  • For the student the reduced context that often does not sufficiently explain conditions and expectations of students. 
  • Communication aspects such as simultaneous and non-simultaneous forms of communication with different opportunities for learning. 
  • Access to new meaning-enhancing resources (multimodalities). 

To these can be added changed societal structures meaning that we may not be able to consider the mission of higher education solely based on previously common forms to which we often attribute different values. 

Moore (1993) describes pedagogical proximity (Transactional distance) as a relationship between the student’s motivation, the structure of the course and the degree of interaction. Here, for example, a communication-dense course can support the student and compensate for lack of motivation or independence or in a course with a low degree of communication, such as a standard MOOC, that requires high motivation from the student and clear structure in the course. An unclear course, on the other hand, places demands on the student’s motivation and a lot of communication with the course leaders. 

The online environment is completely stripped of signs of context that help the student understand what applies in the interaction with others and what requirements are set. In the online course room, we have deprived the students of the clues they receive at a lecture or in a hall on campus that contribute to how they should perceive the situation. This means that we need to establish, motivate and negotiate both the interface and the content. Listening to conversations, reading body language and reconciling things with teachers and classmates after teaching is made more difficult. 

Further reading: 

Moore, M. G. (1993). Theory of transactional distance. Theoretical Principles of Distance Education. D. Keegan. New York, Routledge: 22-38. 

From attendance to representing presence 

Sorensen (1999) presents three basic principles for communication in asynchronous (non-simultaneous) learning environments. 

  1. Instead of appearing physically at a teaching session, the student must represent their presence. It is only through communicative actions that a student is seen in an asynchronous learning environment – through the traces they leave. 
  2. Instead of interacting face to face in a room, students reflect on their own and their fellow students’ communicative actions. Here, the non-simultaneous communication provides an opportunity for students to reflect on their own actions as they are represented and become objects (feelings, thoughts, values) and thus available to the student. 
  3. Instead of being involved in speech, the student reflects in writing or recorded speech. Non-simultaneous communication often involves a heading where the student needs to take a position on the nature / content of his / her contribution that does not have its equivalent in the physical meeting. 

A learning platform, for example, thus creates a learning environment where reflection precedes action / commitment. In the physical environment, speech often precedes reflection. This gives teachers opportunities to let the student be confronted with what they are carrying in a teaching situation. This makes it harder to be anonymous and also hides things you as a student struggle with. 

Further reading 

Sorensen, E. (1999). Intellectual Amplification trough Reflection and Didactic Change in Distributed Collaborative Learning. Computer Support for Collaborative Learning (CSCL), Paola Alto, CA, Stanford University. 

Multimedial resources, alternative forms of representation, the widened concept of literacies and multimodality are different linguistic expressions that capture the opportunities for meaningful teaching that are currently offered through digital technology. These new resources encompass not only visual and auditory expression, but also movement and placement as meaningful resources with explanatory value in teaching. On a daily basis, we talk about audio and video recordings, images, graphics, maps and other graphic representations such as diagrams and also modeling tools. Several of these are based on a different logic to that of linear text presentation that we often use to communicate information and test students’ knowledge. Visual representations, for example, are stronger than text in terms of representing relationships, patterns and consequences and can even convey meaning without text for students who have other linguistic backgrounds. 

The form of distribution also contains various meaningful conditions. The physical meeting offers opportunities for rich communication and to build on each other’s ideas and associations in real time, but also means that action is prioritized over thought because there is limited speaking space. This rewards certain student actions such as leaving an impression in the form of speaking space. In non-simultaneous communication (asynchronous – learning platform and other non-simultaneous communication) thought before action is made possible and enables sharp and substantiated formulations and that everyone can make a contribution. 

Further reading 

Kress, G (2009) What is mode? The Routledge Handbook of Multimodal Analysis, edited by C. Jewitt. Routledge.

Kress & Selander (2012). Multimodal design, learning and cultures of recognition. Internet and Higher Education. 15. p 265–268 DOI: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.12.003