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Vicarious Interaction: A Learning Theory for Computer-Mediated Communications

American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting,


Prior research has identified four kinds of interaction that affect the learning process in distance education (D. Hillman, D. Willis, and C. Gunawardena, 1994; M. Moore, 1989). This paper defines, characterizes, and describes a fifth form of interaction of particular importance to certain learners, especially within the context of computer-mediated communication (CMC). This newly defined concept is referred to as "vicarious interaction." During a pilot study, students were identified as "direct interactors,""vicarious interactors,""actors," or "non-actors" (Sutton, 1999). Vicarious interactors are students who actively process the interactions of others. Within this framework the learning psychology associated with the process of vicarious interaction is comparatively analyzed. It is generally accepted that participatory interaction by students directly affects educational success; however, social and psychological characteristics of individual students often combine to inhibit their direct interaction. This paper presents the principle that direct interaction is not necessary for all students, and that those who observe and actively process interactions between others will benefit through the process of vicarious interaction. (Contains 46 references.) (Author/SLD)


Sutton, L.A. (2000). Vicarious Interaction: A Learning Theory for Computer-Mediated Communications. Presented at American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting 2000. Retrieved June 4, 2020 from .

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