How to bring your teaching online – Part 2: About the importance of interactions

How to bring your teaching online – Part 2: About the importance of interactions

This is part two of my series of how to explore the many opportunities of learning and teaching online. The aim of this series is to make you familiar with the basics, potentials and risks, interactive elements, and the strategies you can use to develop and implement successfully blended learning environments. Not all students, teachers, academics are aware of the possibilities that were behind online learning. This series provides practical tips and takes you through the process of development of online learning courses. For an introduction see part one.

Types of Interactions

Interaction is of central importance both for learning in general and for the use of technology-supported learning tools. But why is interaction so important in online learning? According to Wagner (1994), interaction is generally related to reciprocal events involving at least two actors or objects and at least two actions that influence each other.

Interactive elements are indispensable in the design of online courses. Reciprocal events and actions can be implemented in online learning using various media and digital technology (Bolter, 1991; Landow, 1992; Lanham, 1993). This can be achieved through collaborative tools such as chats, forums, online meetings.

Michael Moore (1989), an American pioneer of distance learning, identified three types of interaction that we can apply to online learning:

Types of Interactions Description Examples
Interactions with teaching content Interaction refers to the intellectual engagement with concepts, terms and contexts that are intended to lead to changes in the learners’ understanding, development of skills or new perspectives.

e.g. eLectures, problem solving tasks, learning diary, game-based learning, quizzes

Interactions with teachers

The interaction between learners and teachers should focus on motivation to learn, guidance, application of concepts and development of different competences.

e.g. moderation in the online discussion forum by teachers, virtual classroom, learning portfolios/journals, scripts and study guides as well as regular (audio/video) feedback on tasks

Interactions with other learners Following the constructivist paradigm, Moore (1989) notes that interactions are an essential resource for learning.

e.g. asynchronous discussion forums in which learners link learning objects with their experiences, small group work in projects, group wikis and blogs, peer review tasks

Table 1: Types of interactions using examples (based on Moore, 1989)

Danny Hillman, Deborah Willis and Lani Gunawardena (1994) argue that online learning has also produced a fourth type of interaction: the interaction between learners and learning technologies that enable online learning processes. In other words, online learning includes interactions with the learning interfaces, media, platforms, and applications used, where learners interact with course content, teachers, and peers. Learning technologies can significantly influence the quality and quantity of the other three types of interactions mentioned above. For example, consideration must be given to how the discussion in the online course can be structured, depending on whether it is an asynchronous text-based forum, online meeting, text-based chat, asynchronous audio or video feedback, or a synchronous interactive whiteboard.

Strategies for designing interactions in online teaching

In order for learners to engage interactively and intellectually with the course content, develop an understanding of interrelationships and generally develop their abilities and skills, various strategies for involving students are required:

  • Linking content with learners’ experiences

  • Developing authentic activities and assessments that reflect real events

  • Gamification of contents

  • Let learners develop their own concepts for interaction with their peers.

The following interactive elements can be easily integrated into all current learning management systems, depending on their intended use:

Interaction with learning object Interaction with lecturers Interaction with peers
Expert video Feedback from teachers Online discussion
Case Study Online Blog Small group work
Self test Summary by lecturers Online learning groups

Table 2: Example methods for different types of interactions (author’s illustration)

In summary, interaction is an essential feature of good quality online teaching. When designing teaching, care must be taken to create various possibilities for optimal interaction between teachers, learners, the subjects taught, and the learning technology used.

References (see see part one)

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Dr. Maik Arnold is Professor for Non-Profit-Management and Vice-President for Research, Innovation and Transfer at University of Applied Science Dresden.