Michael G. Moore

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Dr. Michael Grahame Moore is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Education at the Pennsylvania State University. He is known for his major contributions to the field of distance education. In 1972, he published his first statement of distance learning theory, which asserted that "distance education is not simply a geographical separation of learners and teachers, but, more importantly, is a pedagogical concept" [1]. Half a century of study, teaching, experimentation and advocacy of distance education justifies a claim that he is the founder of contemporary online education, a claim supported by his inclusion as among the 128 “most important, innovative, influential, innovative and interesting thinkers on education of all time” by Routledge’s Encyclopedia of Educational Thinkers [2]. He was inducted into the Adult Education Hall of Fame in 2013 and, into the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame in 2002. Honorary appointments include Cambridge University, U.K., Shanghai Open University, China, University del Salvador, Argentina, and Honorary

Doctorates at University of Guadalajara Mexico and Athabasca University, Canada.

Among M. G. Moore’s many contributions, arguably the most significant is his seminal Theory of Transactional Distance [2, 3]. The theory describes the relationship between course design (structure), interaction (dialogue), and respect/awareness of individual learner’s tolerance for autonomy (self-direction). Essentially, the theory suggests that physical and temporal distance between the learner and the teacher gives rise to pedagogical issues that must be mediated by structure of a course and by the interaction between the learner and the teacher to minimize miscommunication and misunderstanding. The theory contributed significantly to the legitimization and growth of distance learning and teaching online. According to the most recent count [4], 5.8 million students, or 28.4% of all students enrolled in higher education in the United States are taking at least one online course.

A native of England, Michael G. Moore spent years of his early career in East Africa where he developed a belief in the potential of using technology (at that time, especially, in the form of radio broadcasting) to extend university resources to adult learners beyond the university campus. This interest brought Moore to the attention of Charles A. Wedemeyer at the University of Wisconsin, who invited Moore to join him in 1970 as a research assistant. On completing a doctoral degree in 1973, he joined the faculty of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Canada.

Between 1977 and 1986, Moore was a faculty member at the Open University of the United Kingdom, and during that period was a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin where he taught graduate seminars related to distance education and independent learners, seminars established by Wedemeyer, and the only graduate courses in the world on this topic at the time [5]. In 1986, Moore returned to the United States to take a position at the Pennsylvania State University. As founder and director of the American Center for the Study of Distance Education he was instrumental in the creation of one of the first social networks for educators, a listserv called Distance Education Online Symposium (DEOS). He organized an annual national research symposium, and designed and taught what probably was the world’s first full program of online graduate courses in distance education. Having acquired experience as editor of a scholarly journal in England, Moore founded the American Journal of Distance Education (AJDE) in 1986. In 2011, he was awarded Penn State’s College of Education’s Career Achievement Award and named Distinguished Professor of Education. He remains (2017) editor of the AJDE, the editor of two book series, is active as key-note speaker in conferences, and is a sought-after consultant worldwide.

When awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Athabasca University in 2017 the citation stated:

“On Thursday, June 8, 2017, an honorary Doctor of Athabasca University will be conferred on Dr. Michael Moore in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the discipline and practice of distance education. One of the founding fathers of distance education, Dr. Moore developed central theories and models that informed many that followed. He founded and continues to edit the American Journal of Distance Education, the first and still the foremost journal in the field. Dr. Moore also established the world’s first annual distance education conference and led the development of the first graduate courses in the discipline. As an active promoter and a talented practitioner of distance education, he has influenced many in both academia and the broader community. He is strongly committed to open education and education for social change and has played a major role in developing distance education programs in Latin America, Scandinavia, Asia and Africa and helped establish programs in other parts of the world.”

Personal life[edit]

Moore grew up in England, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in economics at the London School of Economics in 1959 and a teaching certificate at London’s Goldsmiths’ College in 1960. Thereafter he taught in a secondary (high school) in Surrey, UK. In 1963, he moved to Kenya for an appointment at first as a high school teacher and soon after as Extra Mural Tutor (a university extension position) at the University of East Africa. Working at first in Kisumu on Lake Victoria, later in Mombasa and the Coast Province of Kenya, he was responsible for administering adult education classes, teaching economics, and organizing seminars and public lectures. Additionally, he carried out research on extension services and various departments of the Kenyan government and voluntary organizations in the Coast Province. This was the time of Kenya’s emergence as an independent country, with deep problems of poverty and need for learning. And, it was through his work in East Africa at that time that Moore became passionate about the power and promise of teaching non-traditional adults through technology –correspondence education and teaching by radio at that time.

Education and early academic career[edit]

While In Kenya, Moore was introduced to visiting faculty from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M), from whom he learned about the work of Charles A. Wedemeyer, William H. Lighty Professor of Education at UW [6] and his vision for using technology in education. Apparently Wedemeyer was impressed by reports he received from his Wisconsin colleagues about Moore’s work in rural Africa. In 1970, he was invited to become Wedemeyer’s research assistant and was immediately involved in activism for non-traditional learning as he assisted Wedemeyer in a campaign to establish a statewide open educational system [7], as well as in international work through Wedemeyer’s presidency of the International Council for Correspondence Education. Some of his other activities included participation in studies on the first use of satellites for intercultural adult education, and assisting in teaching a seminar on independent study.

Over an intensive three-year association, Moore and Wedemeyer shared ideas on the emerging field; including what Wedemeyer [6] had been referring to as Independent Study. In 1973, Moore received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin and then continued his commitment to education in developing countries by taking a teaching post at St. Francis Xavier University and its Coady International Institute in Antigonish, Canada. While there, he and Wedemeyer corresponded and shared updates on each other’s work, including ideas about radio and satellite communication in education.

Between 1977 and 1986, Moore was Senior Counselor at the Open University of the United Kingdom and, for a period, a member of the Education Studies Faculty.

In the summer of 1979, Moore became a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin and for the next seven summers taught graduate seminars related to distance education and independent learners. These seminars had been established by Wedemeyer, and they were the only courses in the world on this topic at the time [7].


During the 1970s, Michael G. Moore’s research evolved prior work by Charles Wedemeyer and his own experiences into a cohesive theory of distance education, still referred to as either independent study or correspondence education. His doctoral thesis was titled “Investigation of the Interaction between the Cognitive Style of Field Independence and Attitudes to Independent Study among Adult Learners Who Use Correspondence Independent Study and Self Directed Independent Study" [8]. He wrote:

“It provides a conceptual framework for the field of independent study, in which we have started work on defining the components of the field, and on clarifying the terminology, so that it is now more possible for researchers to develop hypotheses in a systematic fashion, to recognize relationships between projects, to obtain systematic replication and to avoid inadvertent duplication.”

Based on this research he completed the article “Towards a theory of independent learning and teaching” [9] which was published in the Journal of Higher Education, with a second version in the Canadian journal Convergence [11]. In 1977, he published a “A model of independent study” in Epistolodidactica [12]. All this work on independent study and learning autonomy eventually led to his Theory of Transactional Distance [2,3] widely cited as the most significant and, perhaps, only solid theory of distance education[15,16].

During the 1980s, Moore built upon his research foundation. He published over 35 works and he continued to establish himself as a leading scholar with works that included Distance education: A systems view in English, and four other languages [18-22]; and the Handbook of Distance Education [3, 23, 24]. During the 1990s he focused significantly on applying his knowledge of distance education to problems in developing and emerging countries, with periods as full-time and then part-time consultant at the World Bank, at the International Monetary Fund, UNESCO, UNHCR, and foreign governments, notably Brazil’s Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Education in Republic of South Africa. Major assignments included work in Russia, Egypt, Mozambique and Romania as well as consulting in many European countries and American states.


1. Keegan, K. (ed.) (1993). Theory of transactional distance, in Theoretical principles of distance education, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 22–39.

2. Palmer-Cooper, J. (ed.) (2016). The Routledge Encyclopedia of Educational Thinkers, New York, Routledge.

3. M. G. Moore, (Ed.) (2013). Handbook of Distance Education (3rd ed.), Chapter 2, New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2013.

4. Allen, E. & Seaman, J. with Russell Poulin, R and Terri Taylor, T. (2016). Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States. Retrieved July 5, 2016, from http://onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/onlinereportcard.pdf

5. Moore, M. G. (1999). Editorial: Charles Wedemeyer, In memorium 1911-1999. The American Journal of Distance Education, 13(3), pp. 1–6, 1999.

6. Wedemeyer, C. (1971). Independent study, in L. C. Deighton (Ed.), The encyclopedia of education (Vol. 4). New York, NY: Free Press, pp. 548–557, 1971.

7. Moore, M. G. (2015). Remembering the Founding Fathers of the Wisconsin Conference, 1984-1985, American Journal of Distance Education, 29(2).

8. Moore, M. G. (1977). Investigation of the interaction between the cognitive style of field independence and attitudes to independent study among adult learners who use correspondence independent study and self-directed independent study, Doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin. Madison, University Microfilms No. 76-20, 127,p. 8.

9. Moore, M. G. (1973). Towards a theory of independent learning and teaching, Journal of Higher Education. 44, 661-679.

10. Moore, M. G. (1973). Some speculations on a definition of independent study, paper presented at the Kellogg Seminar on Independent Learning in the Health Sciences, Vancouver, Canada, University of British Columbia 1973.

11. Moore, M. G. (1972). Learner autonomy: The second dimension of independent learning, Convergence, 5(2), pp. 76–88.

12. Moore, M. G. (1077). A model of independent study, Epistolodidactica. (United Kingdom) 1: 6-40.

13. Moore, M. G. (1980). Independent study, in R. Boyd & J. Apps (Eds.), Redefining the discipline of adult education (pp. 16–31). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

14. Moore, M. G. (1980). On a theory of independent study, ZIFF, Papiere No. 16, 1980.

15. Saba, F. (2013). Building the future: A theoretical perspective, in M. G. Moore (Ed.), Handbook of distance education (3rd ed.), New York: Routledge, pp. 49–65.

16. Saba, F. (2014). Methods of study in distance education: A critical review of selected recent literature’, in O. Zawacki-Richter & T. Anderson (Eds.), Online distance education: Towards a research agenda, doi: 10.15215/aupress/9781927356623.01, pp. 151–171.

17. Wedemeyer, C. (1972). Independent study, in L. C. Deighton (Ed.), The encyclopedia of education (Vol. 4). New York, NY: Free Press, pp. 548–557.

18. Moore M. G. and G. Kearsley, G. (1999). Distance education: a systems view, (In Chinese), Taiwan, Unalis Corp. ISBN 957 22 3156 1.

19. Moore M. G. and G. Kearsley, G. (2012). Distance Education: A Systems View, (3rd Ed.), Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

20. Moore M. G. and G. Kearsley, G. (1998). Distance education: A systems view, (In Korean), Yae Ji Gak Publishing Company, ISBN 89-488-0613-0.

21. Moore M. G. and G. Kearsley,G. (2004). Distance education: A systems view, (In Japanese), Tokyo, Kaibundo Publishing Company.

22. Moore M. G. and Kearsley, G. Distance education: A systems view, (In Portuguese).

23. Moore M. G. and Anderson, W. G. (Eds.) (2003). Handbook of distance education, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

24. Moore, M. G. (Ed.) (20013). Handbook of Distance Education (3rd ed.), New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2013.