Moore on Interaction & Transactional Distance

For Dr. Graham’s class this week, we read two articles by Michael Moore, one of the pioneers and leaders in the field of distance education, and currently the editor of the American Journal of Distance Education.  In one article, from 1989, Moore discusses three types of interaction in distance education: learner-content interaction (without which there is no education, he writes), learner-instructor interaction (especially important, he points out, at the point of application, an idea echoed in the book Talent is Overrated which I read about a month ago), and learner-learner interaction (which Moore says is a newer development to distance education and one more important to younger or less autonomous learners).  These categories seem pretty straightforward to me (though must they only apply to distance education? are they not also the categories of interaction in face-to-face settings?), so I would like to know more about the critiques of this method of categorization.  I do know that other writers, such as Terry Anderson, have added additional interactions on the part of teachers and content.  The idea that struck me most in this article was Moore’s argument for the importance of using a variety of media.  With only one form of media, he says, interactions can only take place in one way.  He closes the article by stating that “it is vitally important that distance educators in all media do more to plan for all three kinds of interaction, and use the expertise of educators and communication specialists in both traditional media – printed, broadcast, or recorded – and newer teleconference media” (p. 6).

Moore’s second article discussed the key concepts and the impact of his theory of transactional distance.  The three concepts — structure, dialogue, and autonomy — seem straightforward at first glance.  However, I have found myself wanting more clarity in the distinction between autonomy and structure.  While autonomy is said to be a characteristic of the learner, yet it is broken down into elements (goals, evaluation, and execution) which are at least in part structural and all frequently decided by the instructor.

Of his three components, dialogue is of the greatest interest to me.  Moore himself notes the overlap between his concept of “dialogue” and Holmberg’s concept of “conversation.”  Yet as I wrote before, Holmberg’s use of conversation is not as compelling to me as Andy Gibbons’ metaphor of instruction as conversation.  Gibbons writes that “conversation [is] the most comprehensive and useful metaphor that an instructional designer could use today to inspire and generate designs” (p. 6)  He defines instruction as “the intentional engagement of two or more agents capable of decision-making in purposeful conversation.” (6)  What would a study based on the metaphor look like?


  • Gibbons, A.S. (In press). Instruction and learning, technology and design.
  • Moore, M.G. (1989).  Three types of interaction.  The American Journal of Distance Education, 3(2), 1-6.
  • Moore, M.G. (2007). The theory of transactional distance.  In M.G. Moore, Handbook of Distance Education Today (2nd ed.), pp. 89-108.  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s