How to Use Online Learning Tools to Increase Interaction and Improve Learning Outcomes

Promoting Interaction in Your Assignments – Broadband from Samuel Merritt U Academic Tech on Vimeo.


Do you wish you could make one change in your course that would increase student engagement and boost your course evaluations? Research shows that courses with high rates of interaction among students and instructors get better course evals higher student satisfaction and higher course performance. As a matter of fact one of the strongest predictors of student course satisfaction is “timely comments from instructors” (Thurmond, V., & Wambach, K. 2004).

This article will discuss ways you can use your instructional technology to increase the rate of interaction in your course.

Interaction comes in four different basic types: learner-content, learner-learner, learner-instructor, and learner-interface. While many of these types of interaction can happen in the traditional classroom-based course, instructional technology like a Learning Management System (LMS) provides significant tools for enhancing and increasing interaction in your course.

Learner-Content Interaction

Learner-Content interaction is focused on students’ opportunities to access course content materials like textbooks, lectures, handouts, and multimedia. Increasing this type of access can be achieved by offering the same content in a variety of modalities so students can choose to access content by reading, listening, or watching. You can also increase learners’ access to content by offering recorded lectures that students can pause, fast forward, and rewind until they master core concepts.

Interacting with content is not always about consuming course content– students can also represent new content by restating or synthesizing the concepts into other forms. Making mnemonic songs, drawing concept maps, developing flash cards, and other creative practices aid in Learner-Content interaction.

The object here is to design experiences that maximize the amount of time students are actively engaged with content materials. If they’re already reading, how can you get them to re-read, picking out key concepts? If they’re listening to your lectures, are they discussing the main topics with classmates or a study group? If they understand it when they’re listening, can they restate the information from memory?

Increasing Learner-Content Interaction can also be achieved by making it easier for your students to consume the content for your course. Busy students may prefer to read your textbook by audiobook on their long commute or might like an e-book version to read on their mobile device in-between parenting duties. Wherever possible, try to give students choice about how they want to consume and represent the concepts in your course.

Tools for increasing Learner-Content Interaction

  • Post video or audio lecture recordings along with written lecture transcripts in Canvas. Or better yet, encourage student volunteers to do this for you! Our smartphones and tablets can record video or audio– use them!
  • When presenting content to students, take breaks to check for recall and understanding. *Classroom Response Systems *like TurningPoint and Socrative take lectures from a one-way monolog to a two-way interaction.
  • Explore open-licensed learning materials that come in various formats like ebook, audiobook, and video so students can consume content in their choice of media. This way, students can access content using the learning modality they prefer best. It also makes reading the textbook a lot easier for busy students who need their eyes and hands for commuting, caring for family members, and other life tasks. You may even encourage students to submit corrections or improvements to these projects.
  • Reflection blogs, ePortfolios, and discussion boards encourage students to represent newly acquired learning, and synthesize it with their current understandings. Publishing this work publicly can also open students up to interactions from the wider world around their subject matter.

Learner-Learner Interaction

One of the best way to increase the level of student interaction is to have students interact with each other! Students report greater course satisfaction and higher levels of learning when they have high rates of interaction with other students. “teachers in online learning rated the learner-learner interaction as the most important form of interaction, followed by learner-instructor interaction. ” (Thurmond, V., & Wambach, K. 2004). If interaction is a key determinant of students’ success and satisfaction in courses, it makes sense than the more students interact, the more they will exhibit these gains. Canvas offers several tools to facilitate learner-learner interactions such as Peer Review, Group Assignments, and Group Collaboration.

Tools for Increasing Learner-Learner Interaction

  • Peer Review assignments give students the opportunity to read and critique each other’s work anonymously. This affords students the opportunity to consider the content material from another perspective and evaluate it against the instructor’s standards for proficiency. It also increases time-on-task so students see the same information multiple times and have authentic motivation to actively engage with the content. This video demonstrates how to implement Peer Review assignments. From an instructor’s perspective, this gives you an opportunity to assign engaging assignments without creating an additional grading burden for yourself.
  • Group Assignments allow students to work together on a shared product and submit one work artifact for all group members.
  • Student Study Groups– it is possible to group students in Canvas (or let them group themselves!) into study groups where they can review, discuss, and collaborate– even if they do not have a group assignment. Students can benefit from reviewing with classmates, asking questions, and building collaborative study guides on group wiki pages.
  • Discussion Boards are an excellent way to get students to interact with one another. You can use discussion boards for common “adminis-trivia” questions, content-focused discussions, and ongoing course knowledge bases. You may even incentivize discussion activity with participation points to encourage students to help each other rather than going directly to the instructor for common questions.
  • Social Collaboration tools Canvas can integrate with social tools like Google Docs, Twitter, Facebook, and Piazza to empower students to work together. is a list of free 3rd party tools that can be easily integrated into any Canvas course. Contact Ted Curran for help integrating these apps!

Learner-Interface Interaction

Part of what makes interaction so important to student learning is the instant feedback they get from students and instructors. It is possible to use the LMS to create interactive assignments that will give students the instant feedback they need without creating more work for the instructor. Students can interact with self-graded quizzes as a way of checking their understanding of a new concept. Tools like Quizlet and JeopardyLabs allow you to create online quiz games for students to test their knowledge. The field of “serious games” is a movement to develop high-quality interactive games and simulations designed to teach students academic concepts by simulating real world scenarios. When integrating Learner-Interface interaction, the objective is to give students a tool to interact with repeatedly until they master the intended outcomes, receiving clear instant feedback when they need to correct themselves. Even video-recorded lectures and the “flipped classroom” approach are an attempt to provide the benefits of classroom lectures without tying up the teacher’s valuable time repeating lectures they’ve delivered several times before. Offloading the work of low-quality interactions with students is one of the greatest strengths of the LMS, freeing instructors to focus on high-leverage teacher practices.

Learner-Instructor Interaction

Students expect and benefit from high levels of personalized interaction with the course instructor. The strategies above can reduce the instructor’s burden of meeting students’ varied interaction needs. You may want to work towards providing students several opportunities to interact with the interface, other students, and the content so you can spend a greater percentage of your time and attention having high-level interactions with students. Most of the U. Michigan list of “high-leverage” teacher behaviors involve engaging students in focused interactions, analyzing their thinking and guiding their understanding towards mastery of course outcomes. These are activities that require a high level of mental attention on the part of the instructor. Often these behaviors fall by the wayside, crowded out by the daily concerns of taking attendance, delivering lectures, and grading papers for so many students (and trying to fit a balanced life in somewhere!). As you think about the design of your course, try to automate as much as you can so you can increase the amount and quality of interaction you can have with students.


Remember, THIS is the most important part of your workload as a teacher– making time to read student work carefully and give meaningful feedback, have 1:1 interactions frequently, questioning student thinking, clarifying misunderstandings, and simply being there is a huge motivator for your students! Any of your thousands of other daily tasks that take you away from this ideal– see if you can automate those within the LMS, empower students to handle it themselves, or build activities that incentivize students to work together to meet these needs. The more time and energy you can devote to having rich interactions with students around content, the better outcomes you will experience.


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