Online course enrollment has been growing continuously in the last decade. Students not only look for the financial benefits and convenience of online education but also seek out good learning experiences. Exploring effective pedagogical approaches to deliver high quality online education is a top priority for online educators today. In this recent study, researchers focused on interactivity in online education and investigated how various types of online interactions influenced students’ performance in online classes.

One interesting aspect of this study is that the conception of interactivity included not only human-human interactions, but also human-content and human-computer interactions. Thus, the researchers categorized and explored four kinds of interactions: learner-self interaction (e.g., using a assignment completion tracking feature), learner-interface interaction (e.g., following course management system announcements), learner-content interaction (e.g. viewing a multimedia presentation) and learner-instructor/learner interaction (e.g., using the discussion board and email). The researchers found that learner-instructor/learner interaction was the most consistent factor influencing learners' performance in the discussion forum, group project, and final exam.

Exploring ways to facilitate learners’ interactions with their instructors and peers is fundamental for online educators seeking to enhance their online teaching. The researchers suggest that instructors should continuously encourage knowledge sharing on discussion boards and promptly respond to students' questions either via discussion boards or emails; they should also make explicit recommendations for ways to interact in the course management system.

New media technologies keep pushing the boundaries and creating new styles of interactivity. One limitation of this current study is that the course management system that was studied presented only a few ways of interacting. Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook have provided much more integrated interactive experiences for learners in their daily life while data-driven learning systems have started to provide individualized interactions for online learners. Thus, it is important for online educators to continue fostering human interactions online while keeping an eye on new technologies and interaction approaches for better online learning.

Wei, H. C., Peng, H., & Chou, C. (2014). Effects of college students’ perception and actual use of a course-management system on their learning achievement. Computers & Education, 83(1), 10-21.

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