In 1993, an educationist by the name of Michael G. Moore from the University of Wisconsin-Madison used a framework called ‘Transactional Distance Theory’ to explain the phenomenon of physical, psychological and communication gap between the teacher and the learner in the context of distance education and devised a mechanism of fine tuning attributes like dialog, structure and autonomy for better learning experience by reducing this distance. It is easy to deduce that transactional distance creates either misunderstanding or poor understanding between the teacher and the learner.
In simple words, e-learning needs more dialog and learner autonomy to be really successful. Classroom education is less structured compared to e-learning but has more dialog component by its very design. Most first-time e-learning providers imagine that by having good content in the form of videos and presentations, their courses are going to be lapped up by the masses. They forget the fact that good study material is the most basic pre-requisite but if their course delivery does not support dialog between teacher and learner in whatever form, then the best made content becomes just a show-piece. Additionally, many teachers who have just been introduced to the power of e-learning fall prey to the lure of controlling every aspect of the learning process of the learner thereby throttling the autonomy aspect – so vital for the success of e-learning. Just because the software can control every aspect of the learning delivery, exercising more control on the learner is really a very bad idea (Also see The Nine Don’ts of E-learning).
More than 20 years after Moore conceptualized the power of dialog and autonomy in distance learning, the MOOCs revolution conveniently forgot the previously discovered truth to its utter dismay and tried to resurrect itself through concepts like C-MOOCs (‘C’ stands for the word ‘Connectivist’ as per Stephen Downes who had originally coined the word MOOC) etc. So, a small piece of unsolicited advice to all aspiring e-learning providers – add forums, teacher-learner interactions (need not be real-time or synchronous, non-real-time asynchronous communication works wonders), assignments, projects, mentoring, assessments etc as a part of your e-learning delivery and see how your moribund courses get new lease of life.