Ten Ways to Add Learning-Rich Interactivity into an Online Course

From E-Learning Faculty Modules

Ten Ways...to Add Interactivity

Federal regulations require that online courses integrate regular and substantive interactions between the course professor and learners. These regular interactions should be built into the course learning, not just initiated by the students themselves. The interactions should be unique or customized to the respective learners based on their unique learning needs. Minimum expectations of faculty members involve the maintenance of office hours (online and by telephone) and high responsiveness to learners through traditional avenues of electronic communications.

1. Early Introductions and Social Icebreakers: Having students meet online and learn more about each other encourages them to make learning connections with each other. These connections enrich interactivity. They enhance online (remote) group work. These enhance online collaboration and communications. The professor should also have a strong social telepresence to encourage learning interactions and communications.

2. Discussions [via message board (asynchronous), chat room (synchronous), and voice over IP (VoIP) (synchronous)]: Another way to enhance learner interactivity is to design discussion questions, problem-solution learning contexts, short-research jigsaw assignments (in which individual learners research an aspect of a topic and share that with the larger group), and other reasons to interact and discuss ideas with others. The professor of the course should have a clear presence in message boards not only by structuring the work but in responding to student work.

3. Live Sessions [web conferencing (synchronous)]: One of the closest simulations of the face-to-face (F2F) classroom involves the use of the live or synchronous session. Here, learners from all over the world can log in via a web conference tool (such as Wimba in K-State Online) and interact via live web cam videos, voice, and digital documents. Live sessions may include expert (or student) demonstrations, online laboratory work, and workshops. Such live sessions may be used for other types of gatherings like small-group student meetings.

4. Co-Creation of Information (wikis, blogs or web logs, Google Docs, Twitter-microblog sharing, and social media): Course projects may be designed around a co-created knowledge base. Here, learners may be using a combination of research, analysis, fieldwork, and even their imaginations to collate knowledge in a course. Wikis and blogs are great ways to integrate the information, including text, audio, video, slideshows, photos, and other digital artifacts. For online learning, there is a wide range of possible types of research that tap digital repositories, online libraries, virtual worlds, and the broader World Wide Web (WWW) and Internet.

5. Group Work (a mix of technologies): Student work may be more integrated with each other through the formation of small teams to achieve particular aims. The teams may be competitive ones, such as those creating work for an external client in the profession. Learners are asked to present their work via live (web presentation) or asynchronously (digital galleries). They may be parts of design teams to solve particular real-world challenges. Here, the professor may take the role of the evaluator, or he / she could bring in professionals from the field to offer feedback to the students. He / she may “sit in” on a work session or at least review student collaborative work artifacts captured in the learning / course management system (K-State Online). In K-State Online, there is a Groups tool that enables high-level collaboration, record-keeping, and live and asynchronous interactivity.

6. Assessment: The assessment aspect of an online course offers plenty of opportunities throughout the term for customized interactivity between the instructor and learners. While some automated exams (with pre-determined answers) may be used, more unique types of assessments offer more learning value for divergent and complex learning. These assessments will require plenty of professor attention and expertise, communicated to learners. These will require interactivity and multi-way conversations in the online classroom. These may include student design projects, student portfolios, research papers, and such work.

7. Simulations, Virtual Dramas, and Role-playing (in 3D virtual worlds): Students may participate in simulations to understand more complex phenomena. They may research and take on period-piece or domain-specific role plays to understand processes and interactions. Here, professors may interact with learners through both their avatars and their effective design of the learning spaces that students may interact in.

8. Virtual Labs: Online learners may participate in virtual labs that simulate particular aspects of the world. These simulations are used in the sciences and in other fields. Learners may take lab notes as they proceed. These lab notes may be shared with the professor and even with their peers. These offer opportunities for substantive interactivity between the learners and the professor, who may make observations about their lab-based methodologies and their findings.

9. Games (Game Spaces): Online learners may participate in designed games online. Here, the instructor sets up the learning scenario with a game and debriefs the game on its completion, with specific observations of each player’s strategies and contributions to the learning.

10. Real-world Tours and Field Trips: Online learners may be asked to engage the real world by going on tours and field trips. Learners may be asked to share audio interviews with people they interacted with on these endeavors. They may share photos, travel journals, and short videos. Learners may even create slideshows or Prezi™ presentations to share what they learned. Faculty members may take part in the actual trips; share the digital artifacts from their own research trips; and provide insights on each of the learners’ field trips and digital artifacts. This sort of assignment enriches a course by “localizing” the learning to the various geographical locations of the students and may offer enriched learning particularly when students come from various places around the world.

An online course may be enriched with much more supportive and substantive interactions between the professors and their students. These are some ideas for how professors may engage with their students to promote in-depth learning.


  • Interactions (between the instructor and learners, and learners and learners) are critical to quality learning in an instructor-led online course. (Other interactions may include subject matter experts (SMEs) from outside of a course.)
  • A variety of pedagogical approaches and technologies may be used to create interactivity.
  • Some types of interactivity are asynchronous, and others are synchronous.
  • Interactivity is often integrated as part of the core curriculum. It may also be value-added.