The Three Interactions your Online Class Needs

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session explores the three types of interactions critical to learning and engagement in the online environment and shares research-based strategies and “quick actions” that K-12 and online instructors can take to facilitate each type.  These interactions occur between learner and content, learner and instructor, and learner to learner.


Dr. Kelly Keane is the program director for the Educational Technology at Loyola University Maryland. She teaches graduate level educational technology courses to practicing teachers and her teaching style is based in active and collaborative learning. She is a QM certified peer reviewer and passionate about Universal Design for Learning in the online classroom. Prior to joining the faculty at Loyola, Dr. Keane was a lecturer at Towson University for the Department of Educational Technology and Literacy. While at Towson University, she also worked as the assistant manager for the Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) Grant. She began her career as a classroom teacher and has taught in award winning elementary schools in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Extended Abstract

The Three Types of Interactions
Designing an online educational experience that addresses the transactional nature of the relationship between the instructor, the learner, and the content is critical to its success.  Because of the numerous and varied interactions that occur among the instructor, the learner, and the content, it is useful to pay specific attention to each type of interaction and consider how to create the most effective and engaging learning environment.  In 1989, Moore identified three distinct types of interactions and suggested that distinguishing among them not only benefits each conceptually, but helps educators “overcome the misunderstandings” when using different media to promote each.  These three interactions are (1) learner-content interaction, (2) learner-instructor interaction, and (3) learner-learner interaction.  Research has since documented that students’ perceptions of online learning is influenced by their interaction with content, with the instructor, and with their peers (Swan, 2002).  These three types of learner-centered interactions should be considered when designing a course, as all three play a critical role in how learners experience online courses.  

Learner-Content Interaction
Learner-content interaction is central to education.  Described as the process of intellectual interactions that result in changes to understanding, perspective, and even cognitive structure, learner-content interaction is what “makes” an educational experience (Moore, 1989).  More recently, Parker (2013) expanded on this type interaction and described it as “the ability of learners to access, manipulate, synthesize, and communicate content information” (p. 47).  In online classes, learners interact first and foremost with the content (Moore, 1989), which has many implications relevant to the design of the course ranging from its organization to navigation to content presentation to allowing learners to make their own decisions and move at different speeds.  

Learner-Instructor Interaction
Learner-Instructor interaction, which is highly desired by learners, is the interaction between the learner and the expert who prepared the material (Moore, 1989).  It the ability of learners to communicate with and receive feedback from the instructor (Parker, 2013) and can also be thought of as the formation of an interpersonal relationship that takes into account the perceptions and actions of both the learner and the instructor (Giuseppe & Galimberti, 1998).  While these interactions may be learner-centered, they are instructor driven and it is essential in the online environment to allow opportunities for learner-instructor interactions which may include simple tasks such as communicating expectations and providing feedback to more complex ones like establishing social presence and facilitating learner engagement.  

Learner-Learner Interaction
The third and final type of interaction, learner-learner interaction, is simply the interaction between one learner and other learners, one to one or in group settings, with or without the instructor present (Moore, 1989).  It can also be perceived as the ability of learners to communicate with each other about content and to create an active learning community (Parker, 2013).  Learner-learner interaction is a valuable resource in the online environment because it supports the collective production of knowledge and takes into account the social presence of the learners.  Similar to learner-instructor interaction, the instructor should facilitate the building of relationships among peers in multiple and varied ways.  

Session Description and Outcomes
This Discovery Session will describe these three types of interactions critical to learning and engagement in the online environment and share best practices, research-based strategies, and “quick actions” that K-12 and online instructors can take to facilitate each type of interaction.  Samples and exemplars relative to each type of interaction will be on display using a combination of slides and exhibits.  Content will be presented in a highly visual way with multiple charts, organizers, and lists, and participants will be encouraged to share their own techniques and strategies relative to each of the types of interactions at the start and conclusion of the session.  Interactive handouts with QR codes will be provided so participants can easily access web-based resources, tools, and samples relative to the different types of interactions.  By the end of the session, participants will be able to (1) describe the three types of interactions, (2) differentiate among the three types of interactions, and (3) integrate strategies and actions to facilitate each type of interaction into their own teaching practices. 


Giuseppe, R., & Galimberti, G. (1998). Computer-mediated communication: Identity and social interaction in an electronic environment. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs , 124, 434-464.

Moore, M.  (1989).  Editorial:  Three Types of Interaction.  The American Journal of Distance Education, 3(2), 1-7. 

Parker, R. E.  (2013).  Redesigning courses for online delivery:  Design, interaction, media, and evaluation.  Bingley, U.K. : Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Swan, K. (2002). Building learning communities in online courses: The importance of interaction. Education, Communication & Information, 2(1), 23-49.