Getting in Touch at a Distance: Handout to my Talk at AERA 2018 in New York City

Geschrieben am 13.04.2018

Encounter refers to a degree of proximity, while distance education is characterised by the remoteness of learners. Questioning this apparent contradiction unveils the possibility of fostering deeper meaning through social learning and computer-mediated communication within distance education. Drawing on a structural comparative analysis of philosophical and psychological concepts of encounter, this submission investigates encounter as an existential principle of education and analyses its appropriateness within online distance education. Exceeding the bare experience of others, encounter is anchored within the deeper understanding of a person or an object. This understanding may also be expressed within text- or video-based online communication. Further, in shaping personal relationships, distance education may prepare possibilities for encounter.

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Characteristics of Distance Education

  • Subject matter
  • Social Presence
  • Process

Different Concepts of Encounter

  • Existential encounter of subjects in education according to Otto F. Bollnow (Bollnow, 1955, 1959; Koskela, 2012; Koskela and Siljander, 2014).
  • Existential encounter of persons according to Emanuel Lévinas (Lévinas, 1983; Zembylas and Vrasidas, 2005; Fulford, 2016)
  • Encounter of human plurality according to Gert Biesta and referring to Hannah Arendt (Biesta, 2002; Arendt, 2006)
  • Encounter groups according to Carl R. Rogers (Rogers, 1971, 1973)

Comparative analysis

  1. As a formal or structural issue, encounter is characterised by objects of experience.
  2. As an issue of engagement, encounter is characterised by a certain depth of experience.
  3. As a transformative issue, encounter is characterised by a move or shift of a person’s mind.


  • Within distance education, learners may encounter with persons of subjects. Encounter hereby is a spontaneous phenomenon referring to personal engagement and transformation.
  • Distance Education frames possibilities for encounter with other persons or new subjects, while actual encounter remains spontaneous and uncertain.
  • Considering Distance Education as a space of experiences that frame encounter highlights the potential of learning and communication within those environments for personal and societal transformation.
  • Distance education structures possibilities of encounter


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Biesta, G. (2002) ‘Bildung and modernity: The future of Bildung in a world of difference’, Studies in Philosophy and Education, 21(4-5), pp. 343–351. Available at: (Accessed: 6 October 2014).

Bollnow, O. F. (1955) ‘Begegnung und bildung’, Zeitschrift für Pädagogik, (1), pp. 10–32. Available at: (Accessed: 20 May 2016).

Bollnow, O. F. (1959) Existenzphilosophie und Pädagogik : Versuch über unstetige Formen der Erziehung. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.

Fulford, A. (2016) ‘Education: Expectation and the unexpected’, Studies in Philosophy and Education, 35(4), pp. 415–425. doi: 10.1007/s11217-015-9495-y.

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Lévinas, E. (1983) ‘Die spur des anderen’, in Krewani, W. N. (ed.) Die spur des anderen: Untersuchungen zur phänomenologie und sozialphilosophie. Freiburg: Alber, pp. 209–235.

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Rogers, C. R. (1973) ‘The Interpersonal Relationship: The Core of Guidance’, in Maslowski, R. M. and Morgan, L. B. (eds) Interpersonal growth and self actualization in groups. New York: MSS Information Corp, pp. 176–189.

Zembylas, M. and Vrasidas, C. (2005) ‘Levinas and the “inter‐face”: The ethical challenge of online education’, Educational Theory, 55(1), pp. 61–78. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-5446.2005.0005a.x.