This chapter presents the desirable interactions involved in teaching and learning at a distance. In these interactions, there are considerable ethical issues–notably that one’s own learner autonomy should be reduced at times in order to help others learn, to achieve the learning task, and at the same time help oneself to learn. Accordingly, learner autonomy is not an overarching goal of education. This is controversial, and this chapter deals with this issue in detail to explain that learner autonomy at best is a rough guideline, and ethically based on reasoning that autonomy should be interpreted as flexibly applied. The maxim that learner autonomy must be flexibly applied is particularly true in both cooperative group learning and in collaborative group learning in distance education where student interactions with other students constitute a major part of the education process. The ethics in interaction in distance education are extended to cover all possible interactions, especially the important interaction by the teacher to each student followed by the interactions by the student with the learning process, that can initiate the aesthetic social intrinsic motivation to lifelong learning and thus to one’s own emancipation. Accordingly, ethics are defined here as those pro-active interactions that induce the motivation to lifelong learning in all the students. Such ethics should override individualist autonomy as a goal in education.
Transactional distance theory postulates four categories of distance education according to the amount of structure (S+) imposed by the institution, and the amount of educative dialogue (D+) between the student and other persons. The most distant category has no dialogue and no structure (D- S-), the next closer has added structure (D- S+), the third has then added dialogue (D+ S+), and the fourth category of minimal transactional distance has dialogue and freedom (no imposed structure) (D+ S-). It should be kept in mind here that dialogue (D+) means being with educative intent. Accordingly, it should be mentioned somewhere here that young distant students often want student-teacher interaction such as face-to-face tutorial time to get their money’s worth, and at the other end of the scale, older distant students want student-student interaction for socialization purposes, but because other students may be much younger, then they choose student-teacher interaction. Both these can be moved aside as not being ideally educative in purpose or intent.