I feel that the theory of Transactional Distance is an important theory to understand. I feel that it applies in more arenas than online learning. Even in the physical classroom, there seems to be a question of dialog. While the teacher may be physically close to a student, there are students who are intimidated by the teacher and withdraw. So even in physical closeness there is an aspect of cognitive space and even, a possible cognitive abyss.
The structure of the class needs to be modern enough to hold the interest of the “tech” generation. As I have stated, I took an online class that was very much like a class at the college. We met at the same time and used Blackboard to communicate. Due to the problems with internet in the rural area, most of us even went to the college library to take the class together. This was a very different structure than the one we use today that includes social media and blogs. We can respond to our teachers and classmates any time of the day or night.
This being said, there is a certain amount of learner autonomy that needs to be in place. If the class is to be taught online, the student needs to expect to do the reading and learning on his own. The teacher will not be there at 2:00 a.m. to answer a question about the material. The learner must be prepared to learn and research what is not learned. In the classroom, a simple raised hand and the question is answered. Online, you must find your own answer to the question.
I think as a teacher, I use this everyday. I teach a hybrid course and throughout the course, I use engagement techniques like discussion questions to interact with the students and have them interact with each other. Structure in this type of class is essential and I maintain that structure with detailed lists of what is to be done and when. I post due dates in several places and send out reminders. I realize that learners will decide their own levels of participation and expected outcomes. With that in mind, I provide a clear definition of the value of assignments and the amount of work it will take to earn maximum points. The learner will find his level of achievement and work toward that goal.