One of the most common mechanisms for promoting learning in online environments is interaction. What exactly does that mean though? Interaction with what? Interaction with whom? How much and why? These are questions that immediately arise when we discuss the need for and benefits of interaction for learning.

In particular, we can identify three types of interaction associated with online learning:

  • Student-content interaction
  • Interaction with problems
  • Interaction with people.
In the following activity, click on the images to learn more about the three types of interaction.
Interactivity icon

Foundations

In 1989, Michael Moore published an editorial in which he argued that it...

Student-content interaction

In a previous unit we discussed a variety of perspectives on how online technologies and pedagogical approaches might support learning. From a presentational perspective, for example, we might want to use a variety of media to demonstrate a concept or present a visualisation or simulation to help learners to understand a process. From this point of view, student-content interaction is the key to learning.


Interaction with problems

Interaction with problems is sometimes viewed to be crucial. From this view, the privileged occasion for learning is active problem solving with precise teacher guidance and feedback on performance. Again, there is a dimension of learner-content interaction but this perspective foregrounds active learning with effort, practice, evaluation and mastery. Interaction with a teacher, tutor, or an intelligent system is the key to learning in this view.


Interaction with people

This perspective looks at learning through a social lens. Here, learning is about participation in a community dedicated to enhanced understanding or knowledge building. This perspective highlights interaction amongst members of the community as the primary means for promoting engagement and learning. The key to learning is student-student and student-teacher interaction. This interaction may also be thought of as direct or 'vicarious'. The latter term refers to the fact that many participants in learning communities do not always feel comfortable contributing (especially at first) and are more likely to 'lurk' (i.e. to listen to or read the contributions of others). This may be seen as a form of 'legitimate peripheral participation' (Lave & Wenger, 1991) before the new member gains greater stature and the standing to contribute to the dialogue within the community.

Having considered three types of interaction associated with online learning, think about how you currently use these forms of engagement in your own teaching.

In the following activity, read the question about interaction, enter your thoughts in the space provided and then click the 'View feedback' button to see our thoughts.

Consider the following three questions about interaction, thinking about your own response, before continuing on to get our thoughts.

Useful links

Anna Sfard's seminal article, 'On two metaphors for learning and the...

Key terms

Student-content interaction: Intellectual engagement with course concepts that...

PROGRAMME | Teaching Online
COURSE | Mastering Online Pedagogy
UNIT | 3 : How people learn online
PAGE TITLE | Foundations of online interaction

Question 1 of 3:

How do you support student-content interaction in your own teaching?

Our thoughts:

Simple ways to do this include providing key resources with questions that promote close reading and formative assessment of understanding. Focusing students' attention on important points and asking them to apply their understanding in novel contexts is useful. Think of other ways you can promote student-content interaction and record these in your portfolio.


Question 2 of 3:

How do you support interaction with problems in your teaching?

Our thoughts:

Providing students with opportunities to practise with and solve problems in your subject area can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Providing problem sets and solutions is the most straightforward approach. Record some other ideas in your portfolio and refer back to them when you are developing your course.


Question 3 of 3:

How do you support interaction between students, and between you and your students, in your course?

Our thoughts:

Supporting interaction between you and your students is an important goal (see Jaggers and Xu's research in the 'Useful links' pod at the end of this section for one reason why). How can you support such interaction? How can you get students interacting with each other in ways that will help them learn? For now, record your initial thoughts. We will return to this question in subsequent sections of the course.

Acquisition or participation?

In many ways, your perspective on the importance of interaction (and what kinds of interaction to use) may depend on whether you believe learning is about acquisition or participation (Sfard, 1998). Framed by this longstanding dispute, reviewed by Anna Sfard in the Educational Researcher, we might ask the following questions:

Key terms

Acquisition (metaphor of learning): Sees learning as the acquisition of...

  • Is learning more about the acquisition of discrete units, ideas, and concepts that gradually cohere into something we recognise as knowledge?
  • Or is learning more about our unfolding identity, reflecting membership in important communities where knowledge and understanding are conferred through participation vis-à-vis the growing recognition of other central community members?
  • Is it more important to acquire the content of the discipline or to become fluent in the language and discursive practices of the real-world community presumed to be the official source and generator of knowledge and disciplinary content?

Your own approach

Your approach to these admittedly philosophical issues will shape how you define teaching and learning and the subsequent design of your online learning materials. If you are more in the acquisition camp, you may believe that interaction with content, practice with problems, and frequent assessment are priorities. If you believe that participation is a more resonant metaphor for learning, then you may be inclined to engage students in purposefully structured dialogue and to connect them to other relevant discursive communities – either face-to-face or online.

Let's now interrogate your own thinking about learning by considering the nature of knowledge and knowing, the goal of learning, the nature of learning, the role of the teacher, and the role of the student consistent with the acquisition and participation models of learning.

In the following activity, you will be presented with a number of principles from the acquisition and participation models of learning. In each case, click the principle at the top and then click the column in which you think it belongs.
Consider the following list of principles taken from the acquisition and participation models of learning. In each case, reflect on which model the principle belongs to, then continue to find the principles arranged under the appropriate headings.

Principles taken both from the acquisition and participation models

  • Nature of knowing: having, possessing.
  • Student: recipient, consumer, constructor, or co-constructor
  • Student: peripheral participant, apprentice
  • Learning: becoming a more recognised and competent participant
  • Concept of knowledge: an aspect of practice, discourse, activity
  • Teacher: provider, facilitator, mediator
  • Teacher: expert participant, preserver of discourse and practice
  • Goal of learning: individual enrichment
  • Goal of learning: community building
  • Nature of knowing: belonging, participating, increasingly competent membership, communicating.
  • Learning: acquisition of something
  • Concept of knowledge: property, commodity, possession

The same principles arranged under the appropriate models

Acquisition model of learning

  • Goal of learning: individual enrichment
  • Learning: acquisition of something
  • Student: recipient, consumer, constructor, or co-constructor
  • Teacher: provider, facilitator, mediator
  • Concept of knowledge: property, commodity, possession
  • Nature of knowing: having, possessing.

Participation model of learning

  • Goal of learning: community building
  • Learning: becoming a more recognised and competent participant
  • Student: peripheral participant, apprentice
  • Teacher: expert participant, preserver of discourse and practice
  • Concept of knowledge: an aspect of practice, discourse, activity
  • Nature of knowing: belonging, participating, increasingly competent membership, communicating.

With a better understanding of the foundations for interaction, we are now better prepared to think about and design learning activities that best achieve the kinds of learning goals that reflect those foundations.

In the following activity, click on the tick or cross to indicate whether the interactive learning activities will help you achieve your goals. If you 'tick' an activity, fill in the text box to explain why and how you might use it. Read our feedback for each activity, and then click 'Print' at the end to access a printable summary of your entries.
Work through the following list of interactive learning activities, and consider whether each one will help you achieve your teaching online goals. For each activity that you decide will be helpful, reflect on why and how you might use it. Then, continue on to consider our expert feedback on each activity.

PROGRAMME | Teaching Online
COURSE | Mastering Online Pedagogy
UNIT | 3 : How people learn online
PAGE TITLE | Foundations of online interaction

Interactive learning activity 1 of 10: Whole class discussion

Will this activity help you achieve your goals? If so, consider why and how you might use it.

Feedback:

This activity can promote whole class community building and help students get to know classmates and to explore topics, engage in dialogue, or debate. For example, students could be asked to introduce themselves to the class, upload a photo of where they are (or something that represents where they are), and to reply to at least two other posts.


Interactive learning activity 2 of 10: Auto-graded quiz

Will this activity help you achieve your goals? If so, consider why and how you might use it.

Feedback:

This activity in an online environment is a good way for students to self-assess and to check their acquisition of a concept, process, or other unit of understanding. The self assessment quiz at the end of this course is an example of an auto-graded quiz. You can also use auto-graded quizzes as a diagnostic tool at the start of your course to ensure prerequisite knowledge, or as a formative tool with feedback for each answer option.


Interactive learning activity 3 of 10: Interactive simulation

Will this activity help you achieve your goals? If so, consider why and how you might use it.

Feedback:

This activity is useful in promoting understanding of processes, dynamics, and inter-relationships, but may be difficult to develop without external support. An example might be a projectile motion simulation where students can enter the initial height, speed, angle of inclination, mass, air resistance etc., predict what will happen, and then observe the resulting animated projectile path. An alternative example is an online role-play activity in which students explore the issues around coal seam gas exploration and production. Students could take on the persona of various stakeholders, debate the issues and make submissions to a public inquiry.


Interactive learning activity 4 of 10: Multiplayer game

Will this activity help you achieve your goals? If so, consider why and how you might use it.

Feedback:

Games are increasingly being introduced as tools of learning. Multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft are thought to promote 21st century skills such as collaboration, teamwork, and group problem solving (Gee, 2008). Off-the-shelf games have the advantage of high production values, but may not reflect disciplinary content. Custom-built games depend on external resources and may be prohibitively costly to produce.


Interactive learning activity 5 of 10: Small group discussion

Will this activity help you achieve your goals? If so, consider why and how you might use it.

Feedback:

This activity promotes group cohesion, sharing of ideas, and makes interaction more manageable. For example, you might ask groups of students to discuss different controversial public health issues and find and critique relevant media items.


Interactive learning activity 6 of 10: Electronic tutorial

Will this activity help you achieve your goals? If so, consider why and how you might use it.

Feedback:

This activity takes the user through branching teaching that provides custom feedback based on user response. For example, a student could be required to make choices in regard to treatment of a patient at a clinic. The student could take various paths in regard to patient management, clinical tests, result interpretation etc., and would be able to see the consequences of their choices.


Interactive learning activity 7 of 10: Clickable PowerPoint presentation

Will this activity help you achieve your goals? If so, consider why and how you might use it.

Feedback:

This activity is useful for presentation of content but in fully online formats must be more explicit or else include the missing audio voiceover that a speaker would provide in a live presentation. For example, an audio-narrated presentation of key concepts could be provided to a class prior to a virtual classroom session or face-to-face meeting.


Interactive learning activity 8 of 10: Collaborative wiki

Will this activity help you achieve your goals? If so, consider why and how you might use it.

Feedback:

This activity can be used to promote collective problem solving, joint authorship, and the development of shared group projects. Wiki learning activities, if designed appropriately, can foster collaboration and joint knowledge building. For example, students could be asked to contribute to a terminology wiki by collaboratively producing a wiki page for each new term with a definition and examples of use in the literature.


Interactive learning activity 9 of 10: Course blog

Will this activity help you achieve your goals? If so, consider why and how you might use it.

Feedback:

Blogs allow for several potential benefits in online environments. They can be used to foster reflection on learning processes and content. They can also be used to solicit feedback and thus to promote interaction between students in a course. Learning management systems (LMSs)/virtual learning environments (VLEs) may include a course blog option that makes their use easier and integrated with other activities. For example, students on practical placements or work experience could blog about the challenges and successes in applying their 'book' learning in the real world.


Interactive learning activity 10 of 10: Authentic blog
(outside of a course)

Will this activity help you achieve your goals? If so, consider why and how you might use it.

Feedback:

A 'real' blog has all of the benefits of a course blog with the added benefit of a wider and more authentic audience. Learners will hold themselves to higher standards if you can engage them in writing for (and building) such an audience. Of course, this kind of activity is time-intensive and will need to be designed with an understanding that achieving such benefits may take months or longer. For example, a blog could be used by students studying a second language to communicate with students in another part of the world.

Perhaps you are totally committed to an acquisition or participation approach to teaching and learning. Or perhaps you found yourself somewhere in the middle, between acquisition and participation type activities, when it came to actually choosing the activities to use in a course. In any case, interaction will necessarily play a critical role in the online activities you create.


Foundations

Useful links

Key terms

Student-content interaction: Intellectual engagement with course concepts that results in changes in the learner's understanding, skills, or perspective.

Student-teacher interaction: Interaction between a student and a more expert teacher who engages interest, motivates to learn, provides direct instruction, organises application of concepts and/or practice of skills, and assesses learning.

Student-student interaction: Interactions amongst two or more students in an online class.

Student-interface interaction: The interaction between a learner and the technologies, media, platforms, and applications that mediate student interactions with course content, teachers and classmates.

Legitimate peripheral participation: Novice members of a community observe but do not directly participate in group activities until they become sure of the culture.

Key terms

Acquisition (metaphor of learning): Sees learning as the acquisition of knowledge.

Participation (metaphor of learning): Sees learning as becoming a member of a group.