An Interview with Michael Moore: Editor of “Handbook of Distance Education”

February 17, 2003

As its Editor and after many months of planning, research, writing and editing you have just succeeded in publishing the Handbook of Distance Education. What are the distinguishing features of this Handbook?

Dr. Michael G. Moore:

The Handbook was conceived as a follow-up to the first ever compendium of scholarly articles which is a book I edited (and that you Dr. Saba,) contributed to that appeared in 1990. That book was called “Contemporary Issues in American Distance Education” published by Pergamon Press and was a really important book since it presented, in 32 chapters, ideas of all the people who at that time were involved in scholarship and research in distance education. In fact I think that book was a significant contributor to establishment of the field of study as we now know it, because until then many of the people making up the field of scholarship did not themselves recognize what they had in common. The new Handbook is intended to meet several purposes, but one reason for producing it is to record the state-of-the-art, a decade or so on from that first collection of scholarly work.

When you were conceptualizing and developing the Handbook who did you have in mind as its readers?

Dr. Michael G. Moore:
The book is unashamedly academic because I believe quite passionately that the current exuberance for practicing distance education in the dark, uninformed by theory and research, is tragic, particularly from the point of view of the students who are being served up with programs that fall far short of what informed people should be able to deliver, but also for administrators and policy makers who have put far too much faith in new communications technologies and missed the point that distance education needs changes in organizational structures and pedagogical methods. I believe in the traditional role of the academy as a place where new knowledge is developed and also disseminated, and in our case what we know about is how to organize and deliver good quality distance education, so it is up to us to spread this knowledge, by means of journals, conferences, and in this case a major publication. So I asked each author to review the research as well as practice in that part of the field he or she was most knowledgeable about and to comment on the research including giving ideas for further research. I think the structure I gave the field back in the first book still holds up today, and so we have sections on theory, organizational structures, pedagogies and policy issues, as well as a section that reviews the main sectors of practice, including the increasingly important field of international practice. So to summarize in reply to your question, the book is by scholars and academics, aimed primarily at scholars and academics with the intention of stimulating and supporting further research, but with the definite hope that the research will provide guidance for better practice than much of what we see around us at the present time.

In a recent conference you referred to a conceptual confusion in the field of distance education. What did you have in mind when you made that statement? Can you elaborate on that?

Dr. Michael G. Moore:
People are just confused about what distance education is and this is a shame. Distance education has the potential of delivering more educational opportunities to more people than ever before, to do so at lower average cost and, what is most important, higher quality than most people can get in other ways, but we aren’t doing it, partly because people don’t know what distance education really is. Most of what is happening in the name of distance education is simply traditional pedagogy and traditional structures of higher education with the addition of new technology. And people are proposing new names for this old wine in new bottles, such as e-learning, asynchronous learning, distributed learning, flexible learning, open learning, and so on. All this is part of distance education, and none of it alone is distance education. Yet there is enough sound literature and theory in distance education for people to make sense of all this, if only more attention was given to training, to developing courses, and of course to publication. Part of the problem is that the relatively few people who have taken the time and trouble to study distance education before talking and writing about it are outnumbered, almost swamped, by those who chatter in this theoretical vacuum. Which is one reason we have produced the Handbook, to try to bring a bit of order to the discussions.

To what extent do you think the Handbook addresses this issue?

Dr. Michael G. Moore:
I hope it does, though I am well aware that to some extent even with the kind of control one can exercise as an editor, there is a limit to what can be done to establish a sound conceptual framework in a book that contains the views of over 50 authors. Since I picked them all, I have to believe that most have a sound theoretical understanding. Quite frankly though I also had to try to incorporate representation of the field in its most contemporary forms, and since my own opinion of the contemporary field is not a very high opinion, I have to recognize that there are some perspectives represented even in our book that are more muddled and shallow than I would like. But that’s the predicament of the educator isn’t it? I mean we have to keep nudging people forward and live with the temporary inadequacies or imperfections, and keep trying to do better.

Who is the publisher of the Handbook of Distance Education, and how can we find more information about it?

Dr. Michael G. Moore:

The book is published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, and the best way of getting

more information is to log on to their website,

A search for “distance education” brings up a description of the

book and offers a hefty pre-publication discount, at:

Michael G. Moore, Professor of Education at Pennsylvania State University, is widely known as a pioneer in the study of distance education, with his published theoretical work in the early 1970’s being cited as among the earliest foundations of the field. Since 1986 he has been Director of The American Center for The Study of Distance Education (ACSDE) and Editor of The American Journal of Distance Education. His publications include “Contemporary Issues in American Distance Education (Pergamon Press, 1990) and Distance Education: a Systems View, co-authored with Greg Kearsley (Wadsworth Publishers, 1996).