Improving Online Student and Instructor Correspondence

While there are many theories pertaining to online learning and outcomes, “Impact of Instructor Immediacy and Presence for Online Student Affective Learning, Cognition, and Motivation” addresses an important theory relating to the importance of web based student and instructor interaction.

The transactional distance theory states that cognitive space between instructors and learners puts potential misunderstandings in the inputs of the instructor and those of the learner. If learning outcomes in any distance education course are to be maximized, transactional distance needs to be minimized or shortened.

Because student motivation, active learning, and participation among students are all affected by interaction, how do online instructors minimize transactional distance and enhance interaction?

Utilizing course communication tools

Advances in communication tools make synchronous and asynchronous interaction readily available. Certain communication tools online can help the quality of interaction relate less to geographical separation and more to the structure of a course.

Examples of course communication tools include email, discussion forms, video, audio & podcast recordings, instant messaging, video conferencing.

Putting importance on communication immediacy

Communication immediacy is defined by the verbal behaviors that reduce psychological and physical distance between individuals. According to this article, online instructors that use the following verbal immediate behaviors enhance interaction:

  • Initiating discussions
  • Asking questions
  • Using self-disclosure
  • Addressing students by name
  • Using inclusive personal pronouns (we,us)
  • Responding frequently to students
  • Offering praise
  • Showing attentiveness

Maintaining an active virtual visibility aka instructor presence

Instructor presence helps students feel like they are communicating with an individual rather than an impersonal object. When instructor presence is low, students can feel disconnected, and cohesion levels are low. When social presence is high- joint involvement is felt.

To establish an online presence, instructors should develop consistent patterns of interaction, communicate accessibility, provide consistent and substantive feedback, moderate discussions effectively, and provide content expertise through discussion posts.


What are some other ways to enhance interaction, and eliminate transactional distance?