From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Module Summary

This module will discuss why interaction is important and what tools can be used to promote interaction in the course.


Learners will...

  • Define two types of discussion
  • Classify types of interaction
  • Identify tools for interaction

Main Contents

Interaction is critical for an online course. In a face-to-face classroom, instructors are able to see their learners but cannot in an online course and therefore cannot have group breakout sessions or other types of group work with their students. To bring those activities in the online class, instructors need to include interaction and discussion(s) in various methods spread throughout the class.

Interaction can be one, two or multi-way(s). Instructors can communicate with students through email on an essay paper, journal or simple through the announcement tool in a course. There can be group work on projects or message boards discussions (asynchronous) or chat sessions (synchronous).

Asynchronous discussions allows learners to post on the message board any time to each other’s posts from anywhere, and permits the discussion to continue over a long period of time. The postings are time stamped, allowing everyone on the message board to view the postings in a sequence it was posted. On the other hand, Synchronous discussions require all participants to be available during a chat session in real time.

Design of discussion in a course has certain characteristics that are constant. Learners will need to be discussing constantly, following a set of guidelines set by the instructor, commonly known as netiquettes. This identifies what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior for learners in the course. In addition, instructors use rubrics with points alongside discussion activities to guide learners on their interaction and motivate them with points.

When an instructor creates an opportunity for peer to peer interaction, they assume the role of the facilitator or moderator. Technology use in the course fosters greater interaction and collaboration among learners and higher order cognitive thinking is required for interaction with both content and peers. In an online course, no learner can be invisible or passive and interaction is a strategy to make each learner present and visible in the course.

K-State Online has various tools for instructors to use for discussion(s). One or several of these tools can be used in conjunction to have discussions in the course. The message board and student grouping tool can be used for discussions and chat, in addition to Wimba.

According to Reigeluth and Moore (1999) interactions can be classified as human interactions, and non-human interactions. Based on the type of interaction, there are different activities coinciding with each.

Human Interaction

  • Learner-Teacher (submission of journals, papers, discussion, quizzes, feedback)
  • Learner-Learner (problem-solving, group work, team projects, message board discussions, resource researching and sharing, role playing assignments, debating, collaboration of wiki)
  • Learner-Guest Speaker (interviewing a guest, discussion on message board, or working with an expert from field)

Non-Human Interactions

  • Learner-Tools (use software to learn, share ideas, and work)
  • Learner-Content (researching databases, web, and reading, and writing)
  • Learner-Environment (online databases, simulations, online sources)

The existence of interaction makes for the course to be interesting to both learners and instructors. An instructor’s design of the course, allows for learners to interact with each other, content and instructor so select a few strategies the first time, and add as you teach the course in the future.


1. Instructional Design and Technology Roundtable(Nov.11, 2004): "Making the Message Board Work For You and Your Class"

How To

1. A message board(s) can be created in one's K-State Online course to allow for discussions to occur.

2. Learners can be added to the student group tool for group discussions and/or interactions to occur using one or several of the tools available in this space.

3. Activate use of wiki in the course where students can collaborate and interact on building content.

4. Use of email in the course and student grouping tool, will allow students to email their peers or the instructor.

5. Wimba Chat ensures instructor's to interact with students on a scheduled timetable set prior to the beginning of the course.

Possible Pitfalls

Road Map

Clear instructions are required for learners to participate in interactive activities. Instructors have to clearly state, how many times they are expecting learners to contribute to the message board during each week, the length of postings, and quality of postings. Lack of instructions, can lead to learners not completing the task or being confused during the learning process.

Role of the Instructor

In order for interaction to occur in the course, the instructor has to assume a different role than "sage on the stage" and often shifting roles can be difficult for an instructor. Learners will be required to analyze the content, evaluate and present the information back to the class.

Class Size

This determines the possibilities if a course can have synchronous group discussions. Large classes are not very suited for this type of interaction or need to be broken down into smaller groups.


Extra Resources