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The role of dialogue in distance education: A qualitative study

Lynette K Watts, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Distance education has come a long way from its first offerings of pen and paper when submissions had to be mailed and no interaction occurred between students and instructors. One concern that has remained is that of keeping students connected to peers and instructors. Moore (1973) stated this psychological and communication gap (transactional distance) can only be closed with dialogue that resulted in learning course content. ^ A review of published literature discussed the use of interaction in online learning related to learning, satisfaction, and transactional distance. Negative and neutral interactions in online courses were not addressed, and online participants’ feelings regarding student- versus instructor-led interactions were not addressed. This study was conducted in an attempt to close the gaps and provide best practices for instructors who teach online courses and learners who enroll in online courses. A qualitative, phenomenological study was used to gain insight to the participants who were experiencing the online learning setting. ^ Seven student participants were selected from an online baccalaureate Radiologic Sciences program who had taken more than five BSRS courses, and five instructor participants from Radiologic Sciences and two from the English Department who taught online courses were selected. ^ The common themes from student interviews, “methods of interaction,” “learning,” “focused discussions,” and “connectedness,” revealed that students want to be connected to their instructors and some want to be connected to their peers. Having focused interactions in course discussion boards was important to learning, satisfaction, and feeling connected. The common themes from instructor interviews, “types of interactions,” “methods of interaction,” “growth,” and “networking,” recognized that instructors wanted students to feel connected to each other, to instructors, and content, which results in increased learning, increased satisfaction, and decreased transactional distance. Instructors described student interactions as leading to personal and professional growth. ^ Findings suggest that instructors provide clear instructions for discussion interactions. Instructors should also provide separate discussion board strings for social and course content discussions.^

Subject Area

Education, Policy|Education, Technology of|Education, Higher

Recommended Citation

Watts, Lynette K, "The role of dialogue in distance education: A qualitative study" (2010). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3398457.