Learner-To-Learner Interaction Effects on Achievement, Social Presence and Satisfaction

Concurrent Session 3

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session reports a non-experimental comparative research study which investigated types of learner-to-learner interactions effects on achievement, social presence, and learning satisfaction in online courses.  Designed interactions have a high level of cooperative intent. Results indicate designed interactions positively affect achievement and satisfaction. Implications for designing interactive experiences  are discussed.


Beth Oyarzun received her PhD in Instructional Design and Technology from Old Dominion University in May, 2016. Her research interests include designing effective online instruction, social presence, and effective online interaction. Beth works as an instructional designer in the Office of e-learning at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, in addition being an adjunct lecturer for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She has worked in the higher education environment for more than ten years. Beth was previously a high school mathematics teacher.

Extended Abstract

Online teaching and learning is an evolving field within education. As teaching and learning strategies are researched and developed, technologies used for online learning are growing alongside them. Today, more than 20 million higher education students are enrolled in online courses or degree programs (Allen & Seaman, 2013). This rapid growth has taken place in a short time considering face-to-face educational research and best practices have been compiled and reported for centuries.

The current focus of research regarding online courses concentrates on identifying effective design and delivery methodologies for online learning. To identify effective design and delivery methodologies, researchers detect problems or issues currently occurring in online teaching and learning. One persistent concern is that learners feel isolated or disconnected to the course, instructor, or other students (Johnson, 2006). Student isolation has been a concern since the inception of distance education. Moore (1989) defined this feeling of isolation as transactional distance. Transactional distance is defined as the cognitive distance which is defined as a psychological and communication space in which miscommunication can happen between instructors and learners in an educational setting (Bol & Garner, 2011).

Borokhovski et al. (2012) focused specifically on learner-to-learner interactions with the intention of identifying the types of learner-to-learner interactions that were more effective. The analysis yielded two categories of student-to-student interaction treatments: designed interaction treatments and contextual interaction treatments. Designed interaction treatments are instructional activities that are specifically designed and implemented to provide opportunities for students to work together. Cooperative learning and collaborative learning activities were provided as examples of designed interactions. These types of activities require the learners to interact with one another while completing an activity or an assignment. Contextual interactions provide options and alternatives for the students to interact with one another, but had no explicit cooperative or collaborative intent. Discussion boards in which students were encouraged to participate and account for others’ opinions were provided as an example of a contextual interaction.

The mixed effects model was used to analyze the different effect sizes between designed interaction treatments and contextual interaction treatments. The results suggested designed interactions had more of an effect on achievement than contextual interactions, with a positive weighted effect size of g+ = 0.38. Lou, Abrami, and d’Apollonia (2001) found similar results investigating small groups in classroom contexts. There were variations in the designed interactions, but three promising tactics were identified: (a) role-based scenarios, (b) scaffolding by establishing rules and procedures of interaction, (c) monitoring and adjusting interaction by providing meaningful and timely feedback, both from instructor and peers. It was recommended that designers consider four elements when designing interaction to produce higher quality interactions: (a) positive interdependence; (b) individual accountability; (c) promotive interactions; (d) elaborate explanations. Lou et al. (2001) also suggested that a promising approach to increasing learner performance is to explicitly plan for cooperative or collaborative activities in the design of course activities.

This study sought to examine the relationship between social presence and asynchronous online learner-to-learner interactions to determine effective methods for online instruction. Picciano (2002) suggests that interaction and social presence can affect student performance independently, while Rourke and Kanuyka (2009) failed to find support in the Community of Inquiry framework, which is based on interaction and presence, for deep and meaningful learning. This study specifically investigated the effects of learner-to-learner interaction techniques on social presence, learner achievement, and satisfaction in online undergraduate asynchronous courses.

The following research questions guided this study:

  1. What types of learner-to-learner (designed or contextual) interactions positively affect achievement, social presence, and satisfaction in fully online asynchronous undergraduate courses?
  2. Does the level of instructor social presence affect achievement, quality interaction, and satisfaction in fully online asynchronous undergraduate courses?
  3. Does level of learner social presence affect quality of learner-to-learner interactions, achievement, and satisfaction in fully online asynchronous undergraduate courses?
  4. Does quality of interaction affect level of social presence, achievement, and satisfaction?

This non-experimental, comparative study investigated the strategies used for learner-to-learner interactions effects on achievement, social presence, and satisfaction. A portion of 19 fully online asynchronous undergraduate courses were analyzed.

A total of 227 student surveys measuring social presence, interaction quality, and learning satisfaction were collected. Achievement measures were collected via forms from the instructors and matched to the surveys for data analysis.


The researcher and a co-rater evaluated the instructions for assignment to place each assignment or activity into one of two categories: designed interaction group or contextual interaction group. Decisions were made solely on explicit evidence of collaborative/cooperative instructional activities/assignments based upon these characteristics: (a) positive interdependence; (b) individual accountability; (c) promotive interactions; (d) elaborate explanations. The researcher and co-rater rated each assignment/activity using a scale of zero through five with zero being the no evidence of collaborative/cooperative intent in the instructions and five being very explicit collaborative/cooperative intent in the instructions. Inter-rater reliability was calculated at 0.051 with Cohen’s Kappa. Assignments/activities rating an average of 3-5 were placed in the designed interaction group and assignment/activities rating 0-2 were placed in the contextual interaction group. There were 77 students in the contextual interaction group and 150 students in the designed interaction group.  Analysis results show that designed interactions significantly affected achievement regarding all three achievement measures collected.  There were also significant differences in the learner’s level of satisfaction.  The results regarding instructor social presence, learner social presence, and interaction quality were mixed.  This session will review the results of this research study and provide recommendations with examples for designing quality asynchronous interactions in asynchronous undergraduate course.  Implications for the design of interactive experiences in online learning environments will also be discussed.

Note: reference list intentionally omitted due to space considerations, but is available upon request.