Distance Education Theory,
Methodology, and Epistemology:
A Pragmatic Paradigm
San Diego State University
America's approach to distance education has been pragmatic and atheoretical. With the notable exception of contributions made by Charles A. Wedemeyer, theories of distance education have been primarily conceptualized and developed by Europeans, Australians, and Canadians. The practice of distance education in the United States traces back to the late 1800s, but the first scholarly journal on the subject did not appear until 1987. Publication of the American Journal of Distance Education and symposia of the American Center for the Study of Distance Education organized by its director, Dr. Michael G. Moore, have brought the question of theory to the forefront of discourse in the United States and have highlighted the contribution of American scholars to research and practice within the discipline.
Today, traditional American pragmatism is evident in the search for “best practices” and the establishment of methodological benchmarks. A broad look at the American scene indicates there is a quest for practical solutions and a neglect of theory. This chapter contains a comprehensive review of theoreticians who have contributed to the conceptual development of distance education. It examines unresolved theoretical issues and demonstrates that the philosophy of pragmatism (as explicated by William James) could be of immense utility in resolving such theoretical issues by offering a solid epistemological foundation and a robust methodology. American pragmatism is in fact presented as one possible foundation for the development of distance education paradigms in the foreseeable future.
Theorists of distance education have addressed the main issues in the field from a holistic perspective. Special areas of synergy have emerged, with the result that the core concepts and building blocks of the field are understood with exceptional clarity. These areas of synergy are explored and analyzed in the first section. Then, contemporary changes that have introduced several theoretical issues and seemingly dichotomous concepts to the field are explored. Finally,