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Interaction in Online Learning

The use of technology has contributed to the development of new forms of

communication around the world. Education is one of the areas where technology has had
a profound impact. While some learners consider traditional classes an appropriate
scenario in which to study, there is a large number of learners who have changed their
perspective to online learning. This has happened due to the different demands in society,
which is looking for well-prepared people in a competitive world. Because of time
constraints and the flexibility that online learning has to offer these people, online learning
has increased during the last decade. According to a survey done in more than 2500
institutions, it showed that during 1998 the number of students who took online courses
was reduced; meantime, in 2009 this amount increased considerably to 5.6 million taking
online courses (Allen & Seaman, 2010). Even though there is a clear acceptance of this new
methodology, there should be a profound analysis of how the online classes are handled
and what needs to be improved. Specifically, online learning classes do not provide an
effective interaction between professor and adult learners which will affect the learning
process of the students. These concerns are related to lack of computer literacy skills,
inappropriate feedback, and unsuitable curriculum design focused on the course content.
Lack of computer literacy skills can cause difficulties for an effective online
interaction which directly affects student learning outcomes. According to Waiger, it is
necessary that when learners take online classes, they have developed computer literacy
skills, so they can use the interface easily (Parker& Parker, 2013, p. 8). If learners have not
been trained on how to use these tools, it would be complicated for them to interact with
their classmates and professor. For example, during online classes, students will have to
upload documents, watch videos, make interviews, and post messages on the interface, so

students need to have the necessary skills to do how to use the computer and do those
assignments. The insufficient knowledge can lead to students anxiety, frustration and
dissatisfaction in online classes. Due to these drawbacks, online learners will have few or no
opportunities to engage with and receive feedback from classmates and professors, and in
some cases, they will withdraw from their online classes. On the other hand, some
teachers consider that having computer literacy skills is not a crucial point in online classes.
They mention that adult learners can learn doing things while they start a course, which can
be true in some cases. Adult students prefer to search the solution of any situation by
themselves; they do not like to be taught how to do things. In some situations they do not
accept they are facing a difficulty and do not look for assistance because it is humiliating for
However, it could take a lot of time to acquire the necessary skills, and to overcome
some challenges they face. In the meantime, the students will not keep up with the class
involvement. While young learners have grown up in a net generation, it is easier for them
to develop their computer skills easily. Adult online learners have more challenges because
they have grown in a different era where the use of technology was limited. They need to
be taught how to use the interfaces, and to be reinforced about it. To have successful
interaction, a preliminary part of the class should have a tutorial about how to use the
computer, the interface, and other relevant details that will contribute to their favorable
Another important aspect to consider is the lack of feedback in online courses.
Ertmer, Richardson, Belland, Camin, Connoly, Coulhard (2007) states that if there is no
feedback in online courses, it can affect students learning profoundly. This shows that
appropriate feedback contributes to increase interactions in an online course, and as a

result of this, learners performance and achievements will be favorable; and the class itself
will meet everyones expectations. Online adult learners who are provided timely feedback
by the teacher feel motivated to get involved in the activities and participate more
frequently. This happens because learners know they will always have the teachers
support, and they have the opportunity to assess their progress which is valuable to
improve their academic growth. During certain activities for example chats, students have
to interact with their online classmates and provide them some valuable feedback that
engage their active participation. Because peer-correction is an outstanding technique in
online environments, it is important to know how to give appropriate feedback in order to
maintain interaction and interest.
Instead, there are people who feel that some teachers do not provide effective
feedback during online classes. Consequently, when students participate in the activities,
teachers rarely assess them or provide with the corresponding comments about how
accurate the exercise was. Students have to cover the assignments without finding out
their strengths and weakness. In certain situations, the teachers presence is not noticeable,
and of course the whole class does not have an active participation. What students finally
get is their grades which do not always reflect their learning outcomes.
In other words, feedback benefits online learning interaction. When students give
each other feedback, they start to work collaboratively, so their rates of interactions
increase. Through feedback, students stimulate their cognitive skills because they analyze
the information, give opinions, synthesize in some cases, argue, and draw conclusions. Also,
during teacherstudent feedback, students feel more secure that they are reaching their

Another important aspect that negatively affects interaction in online learning is

unsuitable curriculum design. Eom & Wen, Giossos, Koutsouba, Lionarakis & Skavantzos (as
cited in Kuo, Walker, Belland, and Schroder, p.31) point out that effective interaction can
be affected by the low flexibility in online courses design. Therefore, the organization of
contents, document layouts and instructions, relevant, and flexible information of the
course foments interaction between teacher-learners, and learners-learners in online
classes. The implementation of these characteristics in an online course design will permit
students to develop their critical thinking, get knowledge and reach their goals. For
example, online course that have clear contents with specific instructions of what to do,
how to do, and when to present the activities are beneficial in online learning. Another
important feature is that the activities are not complex to access. As a result, to have the
desired interaction there should be a combination of synchronous activities such as video
conferencing, chats, debates; and asynchronous tasks like e- mails; discussion boards, blogs
that let all students participate, work collaboratively.
On the contrary, some people consider course design is not a debatable issue in
online interaction. Adult learners have enough experience to deal with different types of
activities, and they can adapt easily. There is a wrong assumption that most online adult
learners do not like to participate in discussions because they are not good at writing. So,
teachers try to avoid them. The teacher presents a monotonous list of activities and
exercises which blocks students participation.
It is true that adult learners are more experienced people, but it cannot be true that
they know everything about the course content. Consequently, they need to have a clear
detailed structure of the course itself, a variety of activities they have on the online
interface, and what to do in each one. Teachers should vary them each certain period of

time. Also they need to ask students for some suggestions of the activities and contents
they will like to learn about.
In brief, online learning has given adult students an opportunity to be more prepared
for the new challenges in the society. This has permitted them to get involved in different
daily activities, and study simultaneously. Consequently, most adult students have chosen
online courses because of the time flexibility this alternative has offered. However, to lead
to a significant learning experience, the teacher has to create an appropriate environment
where all learners want to participate. Therefore, teachers have to identify the students
needs, and use the sources and strategies that let them learn.
To improve interaction in online classes, the teacher and the students have to build
up a good relationship since the beginning of the course, so there should be some social
interaction in the interface to make them know about each other, and start sharing
information about them. For example, there should be a section of the class where
everyone could post something entertaining such as favorite programs, jokes, upcoming
events, experiences they have had, photos, among others. As a result, they will feel more
secure to give opinions and ask for feedback during academic assignments. Also, the
teacher has to use some tracks to know the frequency that students use the interface, and
how engaged they are in the class. Depending on the students participation, teachers can
make some changes to improve the process. Learning online can be a memorable if
students are given the teachers personal and academic support.
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Open and Distance Learning, 14(1), 16-39. Retrieved from
Parker , A. & Parker , S. (2013, April 15). Interaction: The Vital Conversation in Online
Instruction. Retrieved from
York, C. S., & Richardson, J. C. (2012). Interpersonal interaction in online learning:
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