The way of the termite: a theoretically grounded approach to the design of E-learning environments

Jon Dron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper presents an argument for a design paradigm for e-learning environments that caters for the needs of diverse learners using social navigation and signposts. The argument is based on Michael Moore's theory of transactional distance, which predicts an inverse relationship between structure and dialogue in a learning transaction. It is argued that this relationship is more usefully expressed as a function of the control exercised by each participant in a learning transaction. The need for control varies from context to context and learner to learner. This paper identifies and describes a type of e-learning environment wherein structure is derived from a dialogue-like process between its inhabitants. In such an environment, control is emergent, arising from the interactions and behaviors of its users. This suggests some general principles for the design of e-learning environments that both shape and are shaped by the communities that inhabit them.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-16
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Web Based Communities (IJWBC)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2005


  • self-organisation
  • transactional distance
  • social navigation
  • stigmergy
  • e-learning
  • systems theory
  • transactional control
  • emergence
  • online learning
  • signposts
  • learning transactions
  • design
  • web based communities.


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