Exclusive Interview with Dr. Michael G. Moore, Leader and Pioneer in Distance Education
This week, Dr. Saba sat in an interview with Dr. Michael G Moore, Professor of Education, the Pennsylvania State University, and the founder and editor of of the American Journal of Distance Education.
Dr. Moore has several decades of pioneering leadership in our field. His professional experience ranges from implementing distance education systems to theory building and consulting. His advice and consultancy is sought-after the world over, and he is one of the most interesting and informative keynote speakers in professional conferences and meetings.
Perhaps more importantly from a personal perspective, Dr. Moore has been a colleague and a friend for many years. My research and contributions to theory building has been inspired by his seminal work in developing the theory of transactional distance, and for many years, I have had the pleasure of his guidance in many important matters related to the foundations of our field.
You have been involved in the field of distance education in your entire career, how did you become interested in the field and what made you passionate about it?
I grew up in England, and after graduating from the University of London with a degree in economics, I took a teaching job that included adult education. Unsatisfied in this, after a few years, in 1963 I took a job in Kenya, a British colony about to become independent, first teaching in high school and then adult education for the university.
The direction of my life was determined when I was given the chance to participate in a ground-breaking project, the design and delivery of a course in African economics, part of a crash program for middle level governmental and business employees, training for administrative roles in the newly independent nation. At first we tried to use broadcast television linked to printed study guides and study groups (“blended learning”!), but soon abandoned television in favor of radio broadcasting. I wrote my first study guide, on African economics, on board a ship sailing round the Cape of Good Hope in 1965. And I fell in love with radio as a communication medium; today I retain a bias in favor of the spoken word, synchronous and, especially, asynchronous. There is much more to this story than I can tell here, but let me at least record the bare fact that the program I refer to was a development of experiments at England’s University of Nottingham, that were themselves based on the ideas and experiences of Charles Wedemeyer in his AIM project at the University of Wisconsin. In 1970, based on what he had heard about my “distance education” work in Africa, Wedemeyer invited me to join him in Madison, and I moved to the United States, where my first interest was to learn about radio as an educational medium. After a while I discovered that there was no place in the educational literature for the kind of work I had been doing in Africa, which led, eventually to my writing the first theory about distance education.
Where do you think the field is in terms of its maturity now as compared to when you became professionally engaged?
In 1976 I returned to UK and spent the next 9 years working at the Open University. I share with all other informed commentators the view that it was the establishment, and subsequent success of the OU that did more than any other event to bring distance education from the periphery of the educational universe into the center. I would say, in the terms of the question, that at its best distance education is now mature in its pedagogy, organizational structures and (to a lesser extent) research and scholarship. Again of course I have to point out that the genius who the British hired to advise them on setting up the OU was Charles Wedemeyer, basing his advocacy of a systems approach to education on his experiences in that same AIM experiment that I referred to earlier.
In the USA, where we have no national open university, we nevertheless, in all our institutions emulate to a greater or lesser extent – usually lesser – the systems approach proven by the OU to provide standard high quality learning opportunities at average costs lower than those of traditional higher education. Compared to the best practice in other countries, however, ours is far from a mature system, whether at the national, state or institutional level. The core problem is a lack of understanding by almost every policy maker and senior administrator about what is required in a system that fully engages the communications technologies and the necessary changes in the roles of faculty and changes in the deployment of funding. I am inclined to be charitable and ascribe American shortcomings to ignorance rather than cowardice, although I have observed how hard it is for administrators to resist faculty and community pressures when the subject of resource re-allocation arises. Sadly unless and until we have leadership at national, state or institutional level prepared to tackle entrenched interests we will never have a truly mature distance education system. What we have instead of integrated systems that deliver programs at scale is a vast number of small independent providers of small classes delivered on the Internet, mostly modeled on the pedagogy of the traditional classroom. And unfortunately there are many academics prepared to defend these outmoded practices with the dressing of constructivist and community-of-interest theories, theories that are not at all incompatible with a systems approach, but that are often presented as if they are. The bottom line is that without economies of scale and greater division of labor, it is not possible to achieve a fully mature distance education system.
Among your many accomplishments, perhaps the most important one, is the establishment of the American Journal of Distance Education. How has the journal evolved in the past 25 years?
From 1976 until 1985 I was employed at the British Open University and there I was identified because of my US academic training as suited to be an editor of their scholarly journal which was called Teaching at A Distance. The editor was a senior administrator and I was the associate editor for most of the nine years, so I returned to the US in 1986 with the knowledge of editorship but also a clear awareness of the need for such a journal in this country. For most of the time I was at the OU I traveled each summer to teach a course at University of Wisconsin-Madison and to teach about distance education I had to carry with me the UK journal as well as a handful of books published in UK. There was no journal and no suitable books in the US at that time. I persuaded the administration at UW Madison to offer a conference on distance education in 1985 and, giving the keynote, I said that for DE to develop in the US, it was necessary to have a scholarly journal, to have a national conference, to develop graduate study courses and establish a national professional organization. Over the next decade I participated in the achievement of all of those aims. But I saw the journal as the linchpin. By stimulating articles, I stimulated research and awareness of the field. I was then able to use those articles as literature for study in teaching the first graduate courses at Penn State. I was able to convene national research conferences where papers were presented that in turn ended up as articles in the journal, or as chapters in the first books that I edited and published. And as they say, the rest is history. As the field became accepted, other journals opened up, and other conferences. Some, in an attempt to establish a brand image, have given themselves different names, but a conference on, for example, asynchronous learning is still a conference that contributes to the theory of distance education, as also does a journal of online learning. One of the challenges for The American Journal is to help students and others understand how these apparently disparate streams are in fact part of the same river. That is another way of saying the Journal remains the principal single source for the accumulation of the theory of the field, as well as, incidentally, a superb archive of the evolution of research and practice of the past quarter century
What are some of the new directions that the journal is taking now?
The main objective for the future of the American Journal is to continue to both stimulate and guide distance education research and theory. To do this our primary aim is always to sustain the journal’s high quality, and protect its reputation as the principal repository of the best of American scholarship and research. Quality has been the hallmark of AJDE since its founding, and today this is especially valued by our subscribers in this Internet era, when anyone can set up an online journal, and everyone can get something published somewhere. In this culture of massive production of generally low-level content, it is a growing challenge to sift and identify the article that is self-evidently, or potentially of quality and likely to contribute value to the national research agenda and assembling of theory. That though remains our principal task. Other tasks that I have on the proverbial back burner (there because of time and work-load demands) are to attend to better distribution of the journal and to re-consider our policies about international content and publishing special issues. Distribution is the responsibility of the publisher, Taylor and Francis, and I am happy with the support I
In what other new projects related to research, publishing, or development are you engaged now?
Most of my answers in this interview have been rather longer than perhaps you would like (but your questions have been good ones, deserving of even longer –much longer– responses!). This one I can keep short. I am currently heavily involved in assembling 45 chapters for the Third Edition of The Handbook of Distance Education, to be published in 2012 by Routledge. My next major project will be launching a new book series, Online Learning and Distance Education: Leadership, Innovation, Policy and Practice. We already have the first book in production, about management and leadership issues, and others underway are on Quality and Accreditation and on Cultural issues. I plan to commission two more so we should see the first five of the new series on the market from the middle of next year. Work on the American Journal engages part of my every day, and I have many requests to visit overseas and at home for consulting and speaking, and so I expect to remain quite busy for the foreseeable future.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity of visiting with you. It is a pleasure to contribute to any project of Dr. Saba, who is one of my oldest colleagues in the field of distance education theory, as well as a dear friend. I hope what I have said above will serve his purposes and yours, and I will be happy to hear from anyone who has anything to contribute to the projects I have told you about. Again, thank you.
I appreciate your interesting responses to my questions. I am sure our readers will find this interview very Informative.
Michael G. Moore is known in academic circles for his leadership in promoting the scholarship of distance education and online learning. He published his first statement of theory about distance education in 1972, and has achieved a number of “firsts” in this field. While teaching the first graduate course in this subject at University of Wisconsin in the mid 70’s he was contributory to founding the national annual conference there. Appointed to The Pennsylvania State University in 1986 he founded the first American journal (American Journal of Distance Education) and established the first sequence of taught graduate courses, including the first such courses taught online. Moore has served on the editorial boards of all the main journals of distance education, and about a hundred publications include the books, Contemporary Issues in American Distance Education (Pergamon Press, 1990), Distance Education: a Systems View, co-authored with G. Kearsley (Wadsworth Publishers, Third Edition, 2012), published in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Portugese, and the Handbook of Distance Education (Third Edition 2012).
Throughout his career, Moore has not only studied the use of every kind of communications technology in education, but has extensive experience in using all of them. Academic degrees in both economics and education, and an early seven year career in African education led to a lifelong interest in education for development. This has included employment at the World Bank, and consulting appointments with UNESCO, the International Monetary Fund, and the Commonwealth of Learning as well as several foreign governments. Honors include induction into Hall of Fame of U.S. Distance Learning Assocation, Senior Fellowship of European Distance Education Network, Visiting Professorships to University of Cambridge, UK and the Open University, UK, and Honorary Doctorate from University of Guadalajara, Mexico. In 2011 he was appointed “Distinguished Professor” by his university and received a Career Achievement Award from his college.