An answer to the question: why is instruction hard?

The Pragmatic TV Teacher begins a three part series addressing Transactional Distance Theory (TDT).  Though used for Distance Education, TDT has important information for traditional classroom teachers.

Picture your classroom filled with students.  You take a deep breath while peering into their apathetic eyes.  I can’t believe I have to do this” violently bounces around your brain.  What is it, specifically, you have to do?  Teach a lesson… collect homework… transition into cooperative groups?  You have to instruct them. 

What makes instruction so hard? 
It is difficult to put into words, isn’t it?  From one teacher to another, we get it.  But from a teacher to a non-teacher, it can get frustrating.  It’s just hard!  Ok!” you feel like screaming.  “ I have to convince them that what I’m saying is important, that I’m on their side, that they need to trust me, and that in the long run what we do will help them.  There is this GAP between the students and I!” 
A GAP.  More like a valley that even Evil Knievel couldn’t jump.  Though sharing the same physical area, always present is an unbridgeable “get it” space that you need to cross daily.  When on the same side the students and teacher work together.  The students see the teacher as a resource and facilitator.  The lesson will have a certain FLOW to it (to steal a phrase from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyl ).

Transactional Distance Theory describes this GAP and how to control the educational setting to easily overcome it.  Like the newsletter, we will look at TDT in three steps.  First (this post) we’ll describe TDT.  Second, you’ll read about how to use dialogue  bridge the gap.  Third, you’ll learn how to use the structure of your course to easily connect with your students.

Transactional Distance Theory Basics
Michael G. Moore edits the widely popular American Journal of Distance Education and is considered the one of the leading Distance Education theorists.  He began developing Transactional Distance theory in 1973 but fully outlined the idea in 1993.  Transactional Distance is described as:

 “A psychological and communication space to be crossed; a space of potential misunderstanding between inputs of instructor and those of the learner”

It sounds familiar: a PSYCHOLOGICAL and COMMUNICATION space.  It answers the question “why don’t they just get it?” and “what makes instruction so hard?”  According to Moore, the answer is: because you have not yet crossed the psychological space yet- YOU ARE NOT YET ON THE SAME PAGE.

Moore describes three factors that affect the SIZE of the space: dialogue, structure, and learner autonomy. Dialogue is the level of productive conversation.  Structure is the flexibility of  course design to respond to the needs of the learners.  Learner autonomy is the how often the students need to take initiative to learn the material on their own.

We’ll look at Dialogue and Structure in two subsequent articles and learn how manipulate these two variables so you bridge the gap.  Thanks for reading.

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