Getting the Mix Right Again: An updated and theoretical rationale for interaction
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No topic raises more contentious debate among educators than the role of interaction as a crucial component of the education process. This debate is fueled by surface problems of definition and vested interests of professional educators, but is more deeply marked by epistemological assumptions relative to the role of humans and human interaction in education and learning. The seminal article by Daniel and Marquis (1979) challenged distance educators to get the mixture right between independent study and interactive learning strategies and activities. They quite rightly pointed out that these two primary forms of education have differing economic, pedagogical, and social characteristics, and that we are unlikely to find a “perfect” mix that meets all learner and institutional needs across all curricula and content. Nonetheless, hard decisions have to be made. Even more than in 1979, the development of newer, cost effective technologies and the nearly ubiquitous (in developed countries) Net-based telecommunications system is transforming, at least, the cost and access implications of getting the mix right. Further, developments in social cognitive based learning theories are providing increased evidence of the importance of collaborative activity as a component of all forms of education – including those delivered at a distance. Finally, the context in which distance education is developed and delivered is changing in response to the capacity of the semantic Web (Berners-Lee, 1999) to support interaction, not only amongst humans, but also between and among autonomous agents and human beings. <br>Thus, the landscape and challenges of “getting the mix right” have not lessened in the past 25 years, and, in fact, have become even more complicated. This paper attempts to provide a theoretical rationale and guide for instructional designers and teachers interested in developing distance education systems that are both effective and efficient in meeting diverse student learning needs.