Moore’s Transactional Distance Theory informs us that the more autonomous a learner, the less structure and dialog (interactions) they require to succeed in an educational setting. Students possessing self-regulated learning skills such as good time management, study, and organizational skills are more likely to be successful in the virtual classroom. The reverse is also true – students who lack these skills may benefit from online course design that integrates a higher level of structure and interactivity.
A recent study published in the Online Learning Journal compares outcomes for students enrolled in an online precalculus course over a two year period. The first year courses are referred to as Online with Low Interactivity (OLI) and the following year as Online with High interactivity (OHI). The second year (OHI) courses differed from the first year by an increase in the number of whole-class emails by more than double, as well as the implementation of voluntary weekly meetings.
Several announcements and reminders were sent to the OHI classes via email, as opposed to using the announcements tool within the LMS, thereby eliminating the need for students to log into their courses to read the announcements. In addition to the more than double whole-class email messages, students were invited to participate in a weekly synchronous session – reviewing content-related topics, answering questions, etc.
The results show the OHI group performed a half-letter grade higher than the OLI group. Overall results show significantly fewer failing grades and withdrawals, as well as fewer Ds and an increase in C and above letter grades.
Cung, Xu, and Eichhorn’s study offers some specific examples of how to integrate structure and interactivity into an online course, thereby mitigating the transactional distance students may experience in the virtual learning environment and improving student success.
Cung, B., Xu, D., Eichhorn, S. (2018). Increasing Interpersonal Interactions in an Online Course: Does Increased Instructor E-mail Activity and a Voluntary In-Person Meeting Time Facilitate Student Learning?. Online Learning, [S.l.], v. 22, n. 3, sep. 2018. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v22i3.1322.