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Designing Online Learning for Interactivity

by Dr Ruslan Ramanau

A key question facing teachers and institutions that move their teaching online (be it fully or partially), is whether reducing the amount of face-to-face contact can lead to less engagement from learners, and less positive learning experiences.

Recent evidence from research conducted by Hilliard and Stewart (2019) sheds more light on the relationships between face-to-face tuition and interactivity. Using a survey questionnaire, the authors researched learner experiences on high-blend (i.e. where online activities constituted up 50 % of activities and interactions) and medium-blend (where these activities comprised up between 25 to 50% of activities and interaction) online courses. The participants were students doing a first-year writing course in a university in the USA.

The main findings were that students studying the course in a high-blend mode showed a high degree of engagement with their studies, i.e. they felt that they were not only more actively engaged into module activities at a cognitive level, but also held more positive views of their input of their teacher and felt more connected to other students studying the course. When course and organisation on both modes of course delivery were analysed, it appeared that, in contrast to the medium-blend version of the course, most of the teaching sessions in a high-blend mode incorporated opportunities for synchronous interactions between tutors or teaching assistants as well as greater opportunities for student-to-student interactions in asynchronous forums. In other words, embedding greater interactivity in course design for the high-blend online course helped to make up for the lack of face-to-face interaction.

In my view the key takeaway points from this paper are:

  1. More online and less face-to-face contact does not automatically lead to less interaction or interactivity
  2. Greater proportion of online activities may lead to a more interactive learning experience
  3. Personal interaction and interactivity matter and if embedded into course design may lead to learners holding favourable views of their learning experience


This blog represents the views of the individual, not SCiLAB or the Open University.

Dr Ruslan Ramanau

Dr Ruslan Ramanau

Dr Ruslan Ramanau, Lecturer in e-Learning and Deputy Director of SCiLAB at The Open University.