Learner Interaction

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Module Summary

Interactions are frequently the hallmark of a successful course. Help generate a positive learning environment and a sense of community by providing your students with an opportunity to communicate not just with you, but with each other as well.

Online learning can be an isolating and frustrating experience without communication and support from the instructor and student peers. Do not let this happen to you and your students.

Faculty Tip: Linda Yarrow– Instructor – Human Nutrition


Learners will...

  • Understand why student interaction is important for student success.
  • Review some of the common practices for establishing interaction an online course.

Main Concepts

Without learner interaction in an online course, the overall experience is comparable to a correspondence course, which is far from desirable. Communication between students and their peers, as well as you the instructor is essential for student success.

A student’s separation from the instructor and their peers can be far more disconcerting than is evident at first. As an online instructor you will find the process equally frustrating. Not being able to see your students’ faces to know if they are “getting it” or not can lead to a sense of uncertainty and isolation.

This disconnect is one of the primary challenges to teaching at a distance. You will need to meet it head on with activities and assignments that necessitate that your students interact with you and their peers.

How to

Many of the most successful online courses use a variety of activities and assignments to help their students communicate and become involved. In many instances you will want to interweave these elements in your course to create an environment that promotes your students becoming a learning community. Listed below are several of the strategies typically used to engage students:

  • Introductions

This is the cornerstone of learner interaction. If students are not given a chance to identify themselves in your course they will feel continually disconnected. An icebreaker activity goes a long way to help students establish a sense of ownership over their learning experience.

  • Email the instructor

Require your students to email you early on in the course. This does several things. First, it demonstrates to you that students have an active email that you can contact them with. Secondly, it helps you establish direct contact with them as individuals. Many instructors use this activity as an opportunity to find out what their students’ expectations are, and if they have any special needs that must to be met.

  • Message board discussions

Discussions frequently drive most online course work. Although discussions on message boards are not appropriate for all curriculum, they do assist students in articulating their own understanding of the material and sharing their point of view with their peers. Such conversations tend to have more depth and breadth than the face-to-face equivalent.

Synchronous chat using a conferencing application like Wimba can tie a course together like few activities. Real-time discussions quickly let students ask immediate questions and share their work. Also, Wimba works well for online office hours. (Wimba has not been used since 2013/2014 at K-State. Zoom and Collaborate are some other tools that may provide similar functionality on campus.)

  • Group work

Few things will compel students to interact with each more than group work. Admittedly, this can be difficult to implement. Group work needs to be thoroughly considered before you use it in your course. Clearly outlined expectations, individual roles for group members, and even grading strategies that encompass self-assessment and peer evaluation, can go into a well rounded assignment.

Possible Pitfalls

  • Ignoring conflict
Conflict does occur sometimes in online courses, just as it does in face-to-face courses. Do NOT ignore it. Miscommunications and misinterpretations can, and do, escalate quickly in the online environment. Step in quickly to defuse misunderstandings and set ground rules for appropriate conduct.
  • Humor
The online environment makes interpreting humor unpredictable at best. Not everyone, or every culture, expresses humor the same way. Especially, be leery of sarcasm, as it often appears mean or cruel online.
  • Multiculturalism
Lots of people take courses online. They come from all walks of life from all over the world. Even time zones can easily become and issue in an online course. Be sensitive to your students’ needs.