Designing distance learning for the 21st century : Constructivism, Moore’s transactional theory and Web 2.0

University essay from Blekinge Tekniska Högskola/Sektionen för datavetenskap och kommunikation

Abstract: Distance learning has been playing an ever more influential role. Yet there remains little rigorous academic research into distance learning pedagogy, lacking of serious study in management, delivery and organization of distance learning has destabilized the field. Recently, the boom of Web 2.0 has made websites a lot more intuitive, interactive and interesting; Web 2.0 is also widely used in distance education. Study of distance education as a result sometimes has been misdirected, instead of understanding and solving the real issues facing distance education, research in the field devoted entirely to technology usage discarding the very issue of effective education in distance context. In other words, instead of pursuing technology-relevant policies we focus on technology-driven policies. This thesis starts by reviewing learning theories and arguing for the case of why one is more suitable for distance learning than others. The author argues that constructivism, which favors a dynamic learning process, encourages people to interact, share ideas and bounce ideas is the more effective learning theory. But deploying constructivist pedagogy into real life is difficult. We need more concrete ideas as to how to organize distance learning, a framework to benchmark distance education, to evaluate distance education. That is where Moore’s transactional theory which actually derives from constructivist pedagogy comes into the picture. Moore pointed out 3 key areas of distance education: dialogue, structure and learner autonomy. Moore argues that by having enough constructive dialogue, flexible structure catering individualism and a high level of learner autonomy to execute learning; we can reduce “distance” in distance education. Moore is equally concerned about pedagogy as he is about technologies and he has incorporated into his theory how technological changes have influenced the way distance education has been delivered for the better. This is the brilliance of Moore’s, he has not sided with either pedagogy or technology, he observed the rise of technology and the influence it has on distance education but refused to see technology as the sole factor that makes distance learning more effective or reduces “distance” in distance education. The linkage between constructivism and Moore’s theory is of significance although it is only barely acknowledged in Moore’ writing. The magnitude of this connection is that first it highlights that the work that Moore has done has been based on strong theoretical pedagogy, his contribution is that he has simplified a grand ideology into something that can be applied in the class room. Also he has succeeded in refining elements of constructivism into working variables for quantitative research. His theory is still highly relevant today but his analysis of technologies’ roles has not yet included the latest explosion of technologies in the post-1993 age: the Internet, the booming Web and especially the new Web 2.0. The aim of this thesis is to extend his analysis to these new technologies. We studied how the explosion of Web 2.0 services have been facilitating rich dialogue among peers, teachers and learning materials, allowing more individualization to educational settings and structures. Also Web 2.0 lowers the barrier to participation and content generation and thus would be expected to encourage learner autonomy. A large part of the thesis has been dedicated to literature review. This is because the author believes that in order to improve distance education, it is necessary to first understand learning theory to know when and how people learn, and explore the nature of distance education to see the differences between distance and non-distance education, and then have a comprehensive plan to implement distance education, and evaluate that plan. The implementation bit is of course a practical project; the author used a real-life course at Umeå University where students from various backgrounds signed-up to learn about how Web 2.0 can be leveraged to enhance distance education. A constructivist approach was adopted so we had a chance to see how it actually turned out. We used Moore’s transactional distance theory to evaluate the impact of introducing Web 2.0.

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