Introducing Distance into the Model

Introducing Distance into the Model

Jean-Claude Bertin (University of Havre, France) and Patrick Gravé (University of Havre, France)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-707-7.ch002

Abstract

This chapter will consider how the introduction of distance impacts the didactic ergonomics model constructed in chapter 1. In accordance with the systemic approach adopted in this book, we will first define the notions of distance learning – also referred to as e-learning. Then we will question the notion of distance itself to see how its specific meaning in our context intensifies the complexity of the language learning situation while at the same time making more explicit processes previously kept hidden. Distance should not however be considered just another pole of our model. It does not in itself generate new sets of interactions, but rather it modifies existing ones to an extent that remains to be defined. Instead, we will consider that it adds a new dimension: the shift from a face-to-face setting to distance learning superimposes an extra virtual, or immaterial, layer in the initial situation. The nature of this so-called virtual reality will be explored in psychosocial terms to understand how learning processes are affected.
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Objectives Of The Chapter

This chapter will try to answer the following questions:

  • Is distance learning and teaching a unified paradigm?

  • How can psycho-sociology help us develop an original perspective of distance?

  • How can the concept of mediation be described in distance learning contexts?

  • What ‘hidden’ dimensions of the pedagogic situation are revealed in distance learning contexts?

This chapter will consider how the introduction of distance impacts the didactic ergonomics model constructed in chapter 1. In accordance with the systemic approach adopted in this book, we will first define the notions of distance learning – also referred to as e-learning. Then we will question the notion of distance itself to see how its specific meaning in our context intensifies the complexity of the language learning situation while at the same time making more explicit processes previously kept hidden.

Distance should not however be considered just another pole of our model. It does not in itself generate new sets of interactions, but rather it modifies existing ones to an extent that remains to be defined. Instead, we will consider that it adds a new dimension: the shift from a face-to-face setting to distance learning superimposes an extra virtual, or immaterial, layer in the initial situation. The nature of this so-called virtual reality will be explored in psychosocial terms to understand how learning processes are affected.

One important consequence of this new dimension in a systemic perspective is the blurring of the borders between the two systems constituted by the wider learning environment and the virtual learning space respectively, and the increased difficulty in observing the events that take place within this border and without. The initial epistemological issue related to the absence of direct observation of phenomena in the field of didactics is further reinforced in our case by the necessary distance between the observer and the system(s). Another difficulty stems from the appearance of new ‘virtual actors’ due to an increased need for social interaction felt by isolated online learners. Former studies (Belisle & Linard, 1996; Montandon, 2002; Chapelle, 2003; Bertin et al., 2005; Bertin & Gravé, 20006; Bertin & Narcy-Combes, 2008) have shown how it may be necessary for researchers, designers and teachers to acknowledge the presence of ‘virtual peers’, ‘virtual teachers’ or even ‘virtual tutors’ whose presence may be mediated by a wide array of technological devices. Yet their roles cannot be satisfactorily accounted for as long as the nature of the distance learning situation has not been properly outlined.

Resorting to the didactic ergonomics model as a conceptual tool will help us study how the added dimension brought along by distance sheds new light on the various poles and their interactions. By turning to a psychosocial perspective, this chapter will show how distance turns out to be a revelator (an ‘analyzer’) bringing new insight to more traditional language learning situations.

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