There are three types of interaction in online courses: learner-to-content, learner-to-instructor, and learner-to-learner. Each contributes to student retention and motivation. This article elaborates on these types of interaction and suggests which technologies can facilitate each type of interaction.
Learner to content
Learner-to-content interaction occurs when the online student examines the course content and begins to develop an individualized learning path. This learning path can be accentuated, say Picciano & Seaman (2009), if the design of the course content encourages students to expand their thinking and to approach the topic in a variety of ways. When a multiplicity of interaction with the content is available, students report an immediate sense of confidence in the online environment (Ritter, Polnick, Fink & Oesher, 2010).
Possible New Technology: Game-based learning
Learner to instructor
Learner-to-instructor interaction is technology-mediated communication between faculty and student that is focused on reinforcement of student understanding of the course content. Students use this mode of communication to clarify nebulous points and establish correct interpretations of course information. In the traditional classroom, few students are willing to ask for clarification due to fear of failure (Fung, 2004). The electronic classroom, on the other hand, allows for anonymity and eliminates fear of the “stupid question” (Beard, 2007).
Interaction between instructor and students changes the role of the instructor from lecturer to facilitator. This role change, according to Berger, Jackson, and Willis (2009), results in instruction that is often richer and more poignant than that in a traditional setting. This is because the instructor can guide the students to construct their own new knowledge and can help to individualize the learning process.
Possible New Technologies: Mobile devices (e.g., smartphones)
Learner to learner
Learner-to-learner interaction is communication between two or more students in the class. This type of interaction accomplishes the following:
Possible New Technologies: Cloud and mobile devices
Learner to technology
- It provides an avenue for students to validate their understanding of the topic and to share their perceptions with others in the class (Hackman & Walker, 1990).
- It builds social networks and social bonds among the members of the class.
Learner-to-technology interaction provides the foundation by which the course content is delivered. The learner must interact with the computer, the Web page, or the platform being used to deliver the content. The outcome of the learner-to-technology interaction has been studied by many researchers (Liu, Bonk & Lee, 2007; Lou, Bernard & Abrami, 2006; Hutchins, 2009), and the overall finding in these studies has been that technology needs to be seamless and allow the content to be the focus of the learning. The manner and frequency with which the student interacts with the technology is positively correlated with the level of achievement in the learning.
Possible New Technologies: Social media and mobile devices
A sense of community and mobile devices
Educators must consider making learning personal and motivating for every student. New technologies such as the smartphone afford students this opportunity because they are suddenly able to work as a team to construct new knowledge. These students develop a strong community of learners who have the potential to expand the content of their learning in new ways.
Today's mobile technologies make these authentic, personalized learning opportunities possible. Mobile technologies provide not only the platform, but also, and more important, the incentives for students to take personal ownership of their learning experiences.
But what does mobile technology have to do specifically with online education today? Mobile technology is helping to solve two challenges facing education today. First, students of the 21st century want
to learn differently than their parents did. Lectures from a single professor and straight rows of desks are obsolete and have no intrinsic motivation for this population of learners. Second, students need
to learn differently (McElrath & McDowell, 2008). Students today are captivated by the personalization and socialization of technology, the ability to build large networks of friends, share their thoughts, and easily ask questions to expand understanding. These online students are “digital natives” as they have only known a world where all this is possible. Not only is it possible, but it is possible anytime and anywhere via a plethora of mobile technologies.
Constructivism and game-based learning
To progress in a game is to “learn” (Bearly, 2009). When students are actively engaged with a game, their minds are grappling with new knowledge, past knowledge, and how it all fits together with the game scenario (Yates, 2010). In the United States, nearly 170 million people played computer and video games in 2010, spending a record $18.7 billion. Harness the power of well-designed games to achieve specific learning goals and the result is a workforce of highly motivated learners who avidly engage with others and practice applying problem-solving skills (Bearly, 2009).
Within a game, students work toward a goal. Through right and wrong decisions, students are highly engaged in developing new thought processes that can be transferred to other applications in learning.
In a recent report, Squire (see the URL for the Vimeo video in the reference section) hypothesized that if education can develop engaging games based on meaningful real-world problems, then students have the capacity to solve those same real-world problems. For example, one group of online students was given Foldit as their game-based learning. As they played, they were able to discover the secrets of a protein associated with AIDS.
A Chinese proverb sums up the importance of the interactivity found in game-based learning. “Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I'll understand.” Game-based learning is a way for students to get involved in the content they are learning.
Interaction and cloud computing
Cloud computing has the potential to reduce costs and to provide numerous avenues of interactivity. Many colleges in the United States are already enjoying the benefits of using cloud-based computing. The costs of maintaining and upgrading resources in the cloud are far less than those of hosting large computer systems. For students and professors, the cloud provides a safe, secure place to store, share, and retrieve documents.
The ultimate interaction tool: social media
Social media is most likely the new technology for interaction with the least number of evangelists in education. Social media, reports Bandura (2008), is really at the heart of interactive learning and social cognition. This technology has connected people of all ages in ways that were not imaginable only a few years ago. As a result, social media has witnessed an explosion in the processes and capabilities of individuals as they interact, collaborate, and leverage each other's abilities in a whole new way. Over the past decade, the emergence of new technologies such as social media has precipitated the emergence of new theories of cognition and learning in educational circles. Today, educators see instruction as allowing students to construct their own understanding not just through person-to-person interaction but also through collaborative construction of new knowledge from a wide variety of sources.
The importance of interaction in the learning process cannot be underestimated. Real-world employers want employees who are prepared to work with numerous technologies and numerous people to produce a final product. Today's students are digital natives who have never known a world without interactive tools. It is only education that seems to slowly adopt new technologies that have the potential to speed the interactive cognitive process.
Technology does not hold the entire answer. Instead that answer lies in the hands of tomorrow's education leaders and policy makers who understand that the cognitive process involves not just interaction between student and professor but also interaction between many learners worldwide and many new technologies.
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The authors are faculty members at Jones International University.