Handbook of Distance Education

By Michael Grahame Moore; William G. Anderson | Go to book overview
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Modes of Interaction in Distance
Education: Recent Developments
and Research Questions
Terry Anderson
Athabasca University

This chapter focuses on the social, pedagogical, and economic impact of interaction in distance education. It reviews six types of interaction by extending an earlier discussion (Moore, 1989) of forms of interaction to include teacher-teacher, teacher-content, and content-content interaction. It also suggests new areas and approaches to research that will expand our understanding and competence when using the tools and approaches related to these six forms of interaction.


Interaction is a complex and multifaceted concept in all forms of education. Traditionally interaction focused on classroom-based dialogue between students and teachers. The concept has been expanded to include mediated synchronous discussion at a distance (audio- and videoconferencing); asynchronous forms of simulated dialogue, such as Holmberg's (1989) “guided didactic conversation” and mediated asynchronous dialogue (computer conferencing and voice mail); and responses and feedback from inanimate objects and devices, such as “interactive computer programs” and “interactive television.

Wagner (1994) addressed the problem of definition and defined interaction (in a distance education context) as “reciprocal events that require at least two objects and two actions. Interactions occur when these objects and events mutually influence one another”(p. 8). This definition seems satisfactory in its simplicity, having captured the major components of reciprocity and multiple actors and avoiding further restrictions on meaning or application. Simpson and Galbo (1986), however, argued that the essential characteristic of interaction “is reciprocity in actions and responses in an infinite variety of relationships” (p. 38). This definition, while attempting to be widely inclusive, seems to exclude many important educational interactions.


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