Smith, Heindel and Torres-Ayala (2008 ) in their article, E-Learning Commodity or Community: Disciplinary Differences Between Online Courses, discovered that depending on the discipline (applied or pure streams) instructors used different tools and course design.
For instance, in pure disciplines professors use online tests for evaluation, whereas with applied disciplines, exchanges of essays and dialogue are assessed using drop boxes, discussion boards and external sources.
It was deemed that applied vs pure disciplines are more apt to more diversified in design and more oriented towards communities of practice; whereas the latter is more prone to be commoditized. How a discipline views knowledge construction and assessment will affect how they use online tools.
Relying on Moore’s transactional distance (TD) between instructor, learner and/or others, this study suggests certain structural variables in course design contributes to transactional distance such as opportunity for dialogue and structured learning materials. Interaction is found to be a key component for student satisfaction. In this study, applied disciplines seem to have a shorter TD distance.
The study, which took place over 5 years, found instructors were gaining a more refined knowledge of online communication and course tools.