Handbook of Distance Education

By Michael Grahame Moore; William G. Anderson | Go to book overview

16
Learner Differences in Distance
Learning: Finding Differences
that Matter
Connie Dillon
The University of Oklahoma
cdillon@ou.edu
Barbara Greene
The University of Oklahoma
bgreene@ou.edu

One important difference between distance and traditional learners is the fact that distance learners typically learn in more independent environments. As a result, the concept of independence has been an important construct in the evolution of distance education theory. To establish a context for this chapter, it is important to make a distinction between “distance” learning and “distributed” learning. The growth in the capacity of telecommunications technologies is blurring the boundaries between distance and traditional instruction. Online and web-based instruction is becoming increasingly common in traditional as well as distance courses. As a result, our resident learners are being required to learn in much more independent environments than they have in the past. This is a positive trend if we believe that experience as an independent learner will ultimately foster independent learning. But this trend may pose new challenges in our quest to accommodate the unique needs of each individual learner. So within the context of this chapter, “distributed” learning is used to reflect the fact that many of our “distance” technologies are being applied in traditional resident learning environments. If this is true, any discussion of the issues surrounding learners who learn at a distance will also inform the wider spectrum of online learning, irrespective of physical distance.

Moore and Kearsley (1996) argued that the concept of distance should not refer to physical separation of teachers and learners alone, but rather to the “pedagogical” distance between different understandings and perceptions. Thus, transactional distance refers to a psychological separation or gap in understanding and meaning. But as Moore and Kearsley suggest, transactional distance is a factor on the campus or even in a classroom. Certainly physical distance increases the “transactional” distance a learner experiences because some form of technical media must be used to mediate the communication between teacher and learner. The field of distance education emerged years ago within the context of serving learners who cannot otherwise come to campus due to time or geographic constraints. But the use of distance technologies in traditional classroom settings is growing at a phenomenal rate. We may have “outdistanced”

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