A Case Study on How Distance Education May Inform Post-Pandemic University Teaching

Keywords: distance education, higher education, emergency remote teaching, transactional distance theory, university tutors'perceptions


Higher education recently found itself in the unprecedented situation of being forced to rapidly switch to online education as a demand of the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim of this article is to compare and contrast the experiences of university tutors who teach in two distance education universities with those who teach in a traditional university concerning their online lessons during lockdown. Forty university tutors participated in a survey to capture their teaching experiences. The survey was based on the transactional distance theory. Both qualitative and quantitative data were collected from both groups. Analysis of the quantitative data indicates no significant differences between the two groups in scores regarding course structure flexibility and the degree of student autonomy; however, significant difference with a high effect size was found regarding instructional dialogue, in favor of the distance tutors’ group. Thematically analyzing the qualitative data allowed the researchers to group the data into three main themes focused on how the instructional dialogue was manifested in the classes of both groups: (a) the learning design approach adopted, (b) the tutor-led interaction for student support, and (b) learner-to-learner communication and the sense of an online community. Ensuing recommendations involve adopting social-constructivist approaches that can sustain high-quality instructional dialogue in online learning settings and creating distance education faculty development programs in traditional universities that will help tutors support dialogical forms of online pedagogy.


Altrichter, H., Feldman, A., Posch, P., & Somekh, B. (2018). Teachers investigate their work: An introduction to action research across the professions (3rd ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315398822

Baneres, D., Whitelock, D., Ras, E., Karadeniz, A., Guerrero-Roldán, A. E, & Rodríguez, M. E. (2019). Editorial: Technology enhanced learning or learning driven by technology? International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 16. https://educationaltechnologyjournal.springeropen.com/articles/collections/telleteditorial

Bao, W. (2020). COVID‐19 and online teaching in higher education: A case study of Peking University. Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies, 2(2), 113–115. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbe2.191

Bawa, P. (2020). Learning in the age of SARS-COV-2: A quantitative study of learners’ performance in the age of emergency remote teaching. Computers and Education Open, 1, Article 100016. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.caeo.2020.100016

Beaunoyer, E., Dupéré, S., & Guitton, M. J. (2020), COVID-19 and digital inequalities: Reciprocal impacts and mitigation strategies, Computers in Human Behavior, 111, Article 106424. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2020.106424

Benson, R., & Samarawickrema, G. (2009). Addressing the context of e-learning: Using transactional distance theory to inform design. Distance Education, 30(1), 5–21. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587910902845972

Blayone, T. J., Barber, W., DiGiuseppe, M., & Childs, E. (2017). Democratizing digital learning: Theorizing the fully online learning community model. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 14(1), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-017-0051-4

Bozkurt, A., & Sharma, R. C. (2020). Emergency remote teaching in a time of global crisis due to coronavirus pandemic. Asian Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), i–vi. http://www.asianjde.com/ojs/index.php/AsianJDE/article/view/447

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2012). Thematic analysis. In H. Cooper, P. M. Camic, D. L. Long, A. T. Panter, D. Rindskopf, & K. J. Sher (Eds.), APA handbook of research methods in psychology: Research designs: Quantitative, qualitative, neuropsychological, and biological (Vol. 2, pp. 57–71). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/13620-004

Bruff, D. (2020, 7 March). Resources for just-in-time online teaching. Vanderbilt Center for Teaching. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/2020/03/resources-for-just-in-time-online-teaching/

Farquhar, L. (2013). The intersection of dialogue and low transactional distance: Considerations for higher education. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 16(2), 28–39. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1017524.pdf

Ferdig, R. E., Baumgartner, E., Hartshorne, R., Kaplan-Rakowski, R., & Mouza, C. (Eds.). (2020). Teaching, technology, and teacher education during the COVID-19 pandemic: Stories from the field. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE). https://www.learntechlib.org/p/216903/

Garrison, D. R. (2009). Communities of inquiry in online learning. In P. L. Rogers, G. A. Berg, J. V. Boettcher, C. Howard, L. Justice, & K. D. Schenk (Eds.), Encyclopedia of distance learning (2nd ed., pp. 352–355). IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch052

Hartshorne, R., Baumgartner, E., Kaplan-Rakowski, R., Mouza, C., & Ferdig, R. E. (2020). Special issue editorial: Preservice and inservice professional development during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 28(2), 137–147. https://www.learntechlib.org/primary/p/216910/

Heale, R., & Forbes, D. (2013). Understanding triangulation in research. Evidence-Based Nursing, 16(4), Article 98. https://doi.org/10.1136/eb-2013-101494

Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T., & Bond, A. (2020, March 27). The difference between emergency remote teaching and online learning. Educause Review. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning

Huang, X., Chandra, A., DePaolo, C., Cribbs, J., & Simmons, L. (2015). Measuring transactional distance in Web-based learning environments: An initial instrument development. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 30(2), 106–126. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680513.2015.1065720

Huang, X., Chandra, A., DePaolo, C. A., & Simmons, L. L. (2016). Understanding transactional distance in Web‐based learning environments: An empirical study. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(4), 734–747. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12263

Hussein, A. (2009). The use of triangulation in social sciences research: Can qualitative and quantitative methods be combined? Journal of Comparative Social Work, 4(1), 106–117. https://doi.org/10.31265/jcsw.v4i1.48

Kara, M., & Yildirim, Z. (2020). Identification of the optimal faculty behaviors for performance improvement in distance education. Asia Pacific Education Review, 21(1), 83–97. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12564-019-09610-3

Karakaya, K. (2021). Design considerations in emergency remote teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic: A human-centered approach. Educational Technology Research and Development, 69, 295–299. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-020-09884-0

Kassandrinou, A., Angelaki, C., & Mavroidis, I. (2014). Transactional distance among open university students: How does it affect the learning process? European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 17(1), 26–42. https://doi.org/10.2478/eurodl-2014-0002

Luongo, N. (2019). Promoting digital teaching and learning: Faculty development options for distance learning instructors. In A. Elçi, L. L. Beith, & A. Elçi (Eds.), Handbook of research on faculty development for digital teaching and learning (pp. 56–76). IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-5225-8476-6.ch004

Macaskill, A., & Taylor, E. (2010). The development of a brief measure of learner autonomy in university students. Studies in Higher Education, 35(3), 351–359. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075070903502703

Means, B., Bakia, M., & Murphy, R. (2014). Learning online: What research tells us about whether, when and how. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203095959

Miller, M. D. (2020, 9 March). Going online in a hurry: What to do and where to start. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/going-online-in-a-hurry-what-to-do-and-where-to-start/

Moore, M. (1993). Theory of transactional distance. In D. Keegan (Ed.), Theoretical principles of distance education (pp. 22–38). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203983065

Naidu, S. (2018). Editorial: To interact or not to interact is NOT the question! Distance Education, 39(3), 277–280. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2018.1483715

Papanikolaou, K., Makri, K., & Roussos, P. (2017). Learning design as a vehicle for developing TPACK in blended teacher training on technology enhanced learning. International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education, 14, Article 34. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-017-0072-z

Paul, R. C., Swart, W., Zhang, A. M., & MacLeod, K. R. (2015). Revisiting Zhang’s scale of transactional distance: Refinement and validation using structural equation modeling. Distance Education, 36(3), 364–382. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2015.1081741

Roberts, L. M. (2020, 28 July). Trauma-informed teaching during COVID-19. Vanderbilt Center for Teaching. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/2020/07/trauma-informed-teaching-during-covid-19/

Sandelowski M. (1995). Sample size in qualitative research. Research in Nursing and Health, 18(2), 179–83. https://doi.org/10.1002/nur.4770180211

Shearer, R. (2009). Transactional distance and dialogue: An exploratory study to refine the theoretical construct of dialogue in online learning (Publication no. 3399706) [Doctoral dissertation, Pennsylvania State University]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. https://www.proquest.com/docview/304983940

Suri, H. (2011). Purposeful sampling in qualitative research synthesis. Qualitative Research Journal, 11(2), 63–75. https://doi.org/10.3316/QRJ1102063

Taskiran, A. (2022). Effective, efficient, and attractive instructional design for online learning. In G. Durak & S. Çankaya (Eds.), Handbook of research on managing and designing online courses in synchronous and asynchronous environments (pp. 140–158). IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-7998-8701-0.ch007

Weidlich, J., & Bastiaens, T. J. (2018). Technology matters—The impact of transactional distance on satisfaction in online distance learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(3). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v19i3.3417

West, T. (2019). Exploring experiences of diverse faculty with diverse students in distance education (Publication no. 206) [Doctoral dissertation, Nova Southeastern University]. NSUWorks Digital Library. https://nsuworks.nova.edu/fse_etd/206

Wise, S. R. (2019). A quantitative correlational study of faculty sense of efficacy in online introductory courses (Publication no. 3399706) [Doctoral dissertation, Grand Canyon University]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. https://www.proquest.com/docview/2307477703

Zhang, A. (2003). Transactional distance in Web-based college learning environments: Toward measurement and theory construction (Publication no. 3082019) [Doctoral dissertation, Virginia Commonwealth University]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. https://www.proquest.com/docview/305222372

How to Cite
Mavroudi, A., & Papanikolaou, K. (2022). A Case Study on How Distance Education May Inform Post-Pandemic University Teaching. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 23(4), 57-74. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v23i4.6245
Research Articles