A model of flexible learning: exploring interdependent relationships between students, lecturers, resources and contexts in virtual spaces

John Bostock

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In flexible and open models of education students and lecturers experience a virtual sense of separation that is caused by more than physical distance between students and lecturers. Transactional distance is “a psychological and communications gap, a space of potential misunderstanding between the inputs of lecturer and those of the student” created in part by the physical distance inherent to online learning (Moore 1991, transactional distance,). a large transactional distance such as that between geographically dispersed students and lecturers in an asynchronous, text-based, online learning environment may contribute to students’ feelings of isolation and disconnectedness, which can lead to reduced levels of motivation and engagement and consequently attrition. When designing e-learning experiences lecturers must consider two variables that affect transactional distance: structure and dialogue. Structure refers to the flexibility or rigidity of the pedagogical methods and strategies used in an e-learning experience. Dialogue refers to the interaction between the lecturer and student during an e-learning experience. Moore does not suggest that either structure or dialogue are inherently good things. Each may be appropriate in different circumstances and a typical educational event such as a conventional lecture will, at a micro-level, move constantly between the two. Another dimension of the theory suggests that more autonomous students, being self-directed, are better able to cope with more structure while less autonomous students benefit more from greater dialogue. This paper explores a proposed model of flexible learning which attempts to inform practitioners of the fluid, interdependent relationships between students, resources, contexts and lecturers. This helps explain and justify a reconceptualization of the role of the lecturer and suggests how social activity is also pivotal in successful learning outcomes for students.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-18
JournalJournal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice
Issue number1
Early online date30 Apr 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Apr 2018


  • transactional distance
  • flexible learning
  • dialogue
  • structure
  • meta-cognition


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