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Transactional distance describes the psychological and communicational distance that may arise in any instructional context. It is determined by the degree of interaction amongst learners, teachers, their institutions, and their environments.

According to the Manifesto for Teaching Online, distance is not only geographical, but also psychological, temporal, spatial, communicational, emotional, political, and social. All of these interact in online education and profoundly impact on the students’ engagement with courses and programmes, and so it is important to consider it in our teaching and learning design.

In general, as transactional distance increases, student experience, satisfaction, course engagement and completion, and educational outcomes are all reduced.

Three main variables determine the transactional distance between the teacher and the learner

  1. the dialogue that develops between the teacher and the student;
  2. the structure of the educational program; and
  3. the autonomy of the student.

Of these three, the dialogue between the teacher and the student is the most important in determining transactional distance. As dialogue increases, distance is reduced. If a programme is too structured, then dialogue decreases and transactional distance increases. If students do not enjoy some degree of autonomy, then transactional distance increases.

We aim to use engaged teaching to mitigate transactional distance.


Anderson, T., Liam, R., Garrison, D. R., & Archer, W. (2001). Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context.

Garrison, D. R. (2007). Online community of inquiry review: Social, cognitive, and teaching presence issues. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 11(1), 61-72.

Manifesto for Teaching Online (2016).

Mbwesa, J. K. (2014). Transactional distance as a predictor of perceived learner satisfaction in distance learning courses: A case study of bachelor of education arts program, University of Nairobi, Kenya. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 2(2), 176-188. doi: 10.11114/jets.v2i2.291

Moore, M. (2013). The theory of transactional distance. M.G. Moore (Ed.), Handbook of distance education (3rd ed.), Routledge, New York, pp. 66-85

Vasiloudis, G., Koutsouba, M., Giossos, Y., & Mavroidis, I. (2015). Transactional distance and autonomy in a distance learning environment. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-learning, 18(1), 114-122.

Adventures in Learning: Transactional Distance

Teaching Crowds: Transactional distance in groups, nets and sets

(Image: Remote Teaching, by François Philipp, via Flickr. Licence: CC-BY-2.0)