Research Output
Transactional distance in the context of online and blended learning
  Moore’s (1993) transactional distance theory recognises that communications and psychological distance between learner and teacher are affected by course structure, dialogue between lecturers and students, and learner’s autonomy. These factors affect student engagement and are manifested in terms of study skills engagement and participation (Dixson, 2015). Elearning capital, a measure of self-expressed ability (skills and resources) to utilise the online learning environment, affects study skills engagement (Fabian et al., 2022). This presentation will discuss how factors of transactional distance affect student engagement in online learning environments as universities gradually return to on-campus delivery, keeping aspects of online and blended learning along with face-to-face teaching. We surveyed students (n=207; 65 attending a blended learning model with an equal mix of face-to-face and online and 142 attending mostly online or online only lectures) in the computing and engineering school at a UK university. We also report aspects of student satisfaction with their respective delivery models.

A partial least squares (PLS) analysis was used to explore how factors of transactional distance affect student engagement and satisfaction. We identified that the relationship between transactional distance and student engagement varies with type of delivery. In mostly online deliveries, elearning capital and perceived usefulness of learning activities positively affect student study skills engagement. Low transactional distance between students and lecturers, facilitated by better communication, positively affects perceived usefulness of learning activities, furthermore, low transactional distance between students positively affect participation. This means elearning capital, (low) transactional distance, and student engagement are items that are interlinked; so, activities that aim to improve one measure will consequently affect the other variables. In blended delivery models, these relationships are simplified, with only transactional distance between lecturers and students affecting perceived usefulness of learning activities and transactional distance between students affecting participation. This highlights the importance of communication channels regardless of mode of delivery and the significance of activities that promote student belonging in online, blended, and face-to-face learning environments. Meaningful communications with students can enhance their perceptions of the usefulness of course activities. Training and support to improve elearning capital remains an important endeavour to help improve students’ study skills engagement, especially for those who are still attending online lectures.

A non-parametric test comparing how the two groups rated aspects of student satisfaction with online learning found no significant difference between groups on the aspect of enjoyment (p=.637), preference for online learning (p=.051) and overall satisfaction with their delivery models (p=.068). With similar satisfaction scores reported, this implies that there is no single preferred delivery model. Moving forward, universities should consider retaining aspects of their online delivery that led to good overall student outcomes. Future research should consider investigating flexible delivery models and how this interacts with student engagement and student satisfaction.


Dixson, M. D. (2015). Measuring student engagement in the online course: The online student engagement scale (OSE). Online Learning, 19(4).

Fabian, K., Smith, S., Taylor‐Smith, E., & Meharg, D. (2022). Identifying factors influencing study skills engagement and participation for online learners in higher education during COVID‐19. British Journal of Educational Technology.

Moore, M. G. (1993). Theory of transactional distance. In D. Keegan (Ed.), Theoretical principles of distance education (pp. 22–38). Routledge.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    06 September 2022

  • Publication Status:


  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Fabian, K., Smith, S., Taylor-Smith, E., & Meharg, D. (2022, September). Transactional distance in the context of online and blended learning. Paper presented at Association for Learning Technology Annual Conference, Manchester


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