Garrison on Computer Conferencing

I just finished an older article by Garrison in which he argues that distance education has primarily followed an industrial approach thus far, but with the use of computer conferencing tools can transform to a post-industrial one.  According to Garrison, the dominant industrial model focuses on mass communication and mass production, with learners engaged in independent study (rather than collaborative work).    “Industrialised distance education is mass education,” (p. 7) Garrison writes.  The approach is therefore prescriptive, objectified, and depersonalized; communication is rarely two-way in this model.

Computer conferencing has the potential to frame distance education with an entirely different world view, the post-industrial model.  This “emerging world-view of distance education incorporates highly interactive communities technology along with the ideal of both personalised and collaborative learning” (p. 3).  At the time of this article’s publication, most computer-mediated communication (CMC) was asynchronous text-based communication in one-to-one or one-to-many context, and thus much of the article focuses on the advantages of asynchronous written communication.  For example, it is argued that there is a “qualitative difference between real-time verbal and asynchronous written communication [because of]… the reflective and precise nature of written communication” (p. 4).

In addition to offering time for reflection and precision, CMC offers the potential for collaborative learning.  Garrison quotes one of his own earlier articles, writing that “[c]ollaborative constructivist approaches to learning at a distance … reflect the ideals of collaboration and independence respectively (Garrison 1993a; 1995)” p. (8).

As one who has taught high school English for 10 years, and perhaps also because of my own personality (I like to mull things over), I definitely am attracted to the “reflective and precise nature of written communication” (p. 4).  I have loved the depth of the asynchronous discussion boards my OHSU and BYU students have written.  I also like the possibility that “[d]iscussion in a computer conference … tends to be focused on content issues and less on personality” (p. 5).  I do know, however, that some students struggle with this text-based form of communication.  Garrison cites several (White, Fuweiler, Applebee) who argue that writing is essential to cognitive development.  I need to look into their arguments; if the connection is strong, then it seems important to me that we use writing activities even with more reluctant writers.


Garrison, D.R. (1997). Computer conferencing: The post-industrial age of distance education.  Open Learning, 12(2), 3-11.


One thought on “Garrison on Computer Conferencing

  1. This would actually be a really good point to bring up in class. There is a certain amount of effort that is required to communicate through text . . . maybe we need to require students to do it more . . . it does require a certain amount of precision.

    On the other hand – there is something refreshing about seeing a person talk and knowing that the ideas don’t have to be completely baked to begin negotiating meaning.

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