of communication, such as computer conferencing, occur in
quadrant 3 (same pace, different time).
In both paced and unpaced online learning environments,
various types of interpersonal, mediated communications are pos-
sible: student to student, student to class, instructor to class, and
student to instructor. However, Table 13-3 illustrates that, in
practice, there are relatively few forms of electronic technology that
are both supportable by the learning institution and suitable for the
unpaced online learning environment.
Tables 13-2 and 13-3 illustrate that technologies exist to
facilitate all forms of synchronous and asynchronous interaction in
paced, online learning environments—the type of interaction
envisioned by Garrison (1989, 1990) and Jonassen et al. (1995).
However, facilitating interaction among learners in an unpaced
online setting is still problematic, despite rapid advances in techn-
ology and online learning management systems, because most
online learning systems have evolved from classroom-based
educational models and group-based support systems. Although
online technologies can be adapted to facilitate some forms of
interaction—for instance e-mail to allow learner-learner com-
munication—organizational and systems problems engendered by
the rolling nature of student registrations may make these practices
difficult to implement.
Presumably, other means, such as the use of carefully structured
instructional material (whether online or printed) must be used at
present to provide meaningful unpaced learning experiences to
students at a distance. These strategies are very similar to those
promoted by Holmberg (1983, 1990) and Keegan (1990). The
failure to distinguish among relative degrees of pacing in distance
education courses or programs, and the organizational and learning
system differences that result, may account for varying concep-
tualization of the appropriate means to achieve “interaction” in the
distance education literature.
As a result of this analysis, it also seems clear that unpaced
online learning must address some important practical challenges.
The balance of this chapter describes the development of an online
learning system prototype designed to facilitate learner-instructor
interaction, and a limited form of learner-learner interaction, in an
unpaced online environment. The system appears to provide
learners with maximal amounts of flexibility, yet to rectify an
Theory and Practice of Online Learning