Interaction in Online Learning Environment

Introduction

Online learning has been embraced by many learners and it is fast becoming an accepted mode of gaining education in many learning institutions (Farahani, 2003). Online learning is an open and flexible mode of learning where learners can engage in the acquisition of knowledge while at the same time engaging in other domestic or work-related activities. Interaction comes in as a very crucial issue to address in the online learning environment and it is accompanied by the aspect of the provision of constructive and responsive feedback; active and full participation.; a conducive environment for learning how to deal with focussed messaging and sharing of ideas among the learners.

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There are many online learning systems in use. The most used especially in the US are the Blackboard and WebCT.However, these systems are very costly and many small institutions can not afford to purchase them. They have therefore opted to use other much affordable systems such as ATutor and the Manhattan Virtual classroom. All these systems promote interaction between the student and teachers and among the students as well. For instance, they support and enhance discussion forums, support live chat, are able to upload files and allow the use of many languages. Among other systems are the moodle, dotLRN, and ILIAS.

According to Moor (1989), there exist three main types of interaction within an educational context. The first type is between the learner and the instructor, the second type is among the learners who are participating in the learning process while the last type is between learners and the content they are striving to master. The interaction matrix draws together the dynamic interactions possible in the contemporary online learning environment into a single model that can be utilized in the design development and facilitation of online learning initiatives.

As technological innovations and advancement crop in almost all areas of development, inclusive of education, online learning has become part of the educational landscape. When questioned about online courses or face-to-face courses that include online components, university as well as college students normally give support to the online learning environment saying that it is the most suitable and valuable for their learning.

Discussion

Three types of interaction also occur in the online learning environment (Makitalo, 2006). In the first place, there is the social aspect of interaction that involves interaction among the learners. In order to work together and experience successful interaction, it is quite recommendable for the learners to engage in teamwork. This is achieved through making an equal personal contribution to the team’s activities and freely sharing previously acquired knowledge, assumptions, beliefs as well as feelings.

The methods of the rooting process are the core elements that can enhance learner’s ability to work as a team and reach a shared understanding in knowledge-building activities. This process enables the learners to face up as they go about building and maintaining common ground. Learners must concentrate on the content space in order to understand what their fellow learners are saying and at the same time consider what they say to the other learners and how they say it.

This builds a common understanding among the learners. In addition, they must understand the relational space of group work, representing what their fellow learners are willing and able to do and what they all can do as a group. Through this, they are able to facilitate the efficient progress of their work. (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997).

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Besides, individuals must attend to whether their fellow learners are willing and able to make contact, recognize the ideas and suggestions that are important and be willing to listen and react effectively. The learners must also know how to be present in the online learning environment and how to signal their presence in a suitable manner.

In online learning courses where learners do not know each other, uncertainty may influence collaboration in a number of ways. Learners’ collaborative learning activities can be specified and sequenced by using scripts. Results on student learning outcomes reveal that the learners in the unscripted condition have gained better learning outcomes than those in the epistemic script condition. Learning to collaborate in already being consciously promoted in higher education through the design of various tools or scripts supposed to help learners interact and work together. Online learning environments offer efficient ways of interconnecting group members and satisfying their communicative needs.

However, learning does not proceed through shared communication alone. All groups must imply social processes. Popular online learning systems satisfactorily enable the management of students and teaching staff but offer limited tools to support familiar education techniques and even less support to the essential processes of group dynamics that accompany learning (Hewson, 1998).

The teaching aspect of interaction in an online learning environment involves interaction between the learner and the teacher who is mostly referred to as facilitator. The teacher activities, encouragement, and attitudes are the key determinants of whether the learner remains in an online learning environment or not. In order to promote this type of interaction, the teacher should always provide opportunities that are frequent for both public as well as private interactions to the students. Timely provision of constructive feedback to the learners’ assignments is one of the important issues the teacher has to keep if trust is to be built between the learner and the teacher.

A set of submission dates for assignments should be agreed upon by both parties and the teacher provides immediate response so as to encourage the learners and sustain their motivations. This also helps both parties to be in a position of planning for their commitment in time. The teacher should ensure that clear guidelines and instructions are given for each assignment and give feedback based on the number of efforts put in by each individual student. However, positive reinforcement should be given to each learner since negative reinforcement may harbor future interaction between the teacher and the learner.

The teacher should be able to provide interaction constancy, a situation whereby the teacher portrays continuous concern for the learners (Yannis Karaliotas, 1998). This concern should be focused on what the learners should be in a position of doing so that they can learn, and hence the learners will feel a closer level of interest created by the teacher in them. This constant interaction also encourages the learners to recognize planning and studying skills on their own as well as their learning strengths. It enables the learners to value as well as respect their own contributions or ideas and at the same time be in a position of utilizing the available resources in a valuable manner.

The teacher should be able to support collaboration since it is a base and a means through which learners are able to construct knowledge on their own and contribute therefore to a group. Flexibility should also be considered and the teacher should be able to allow learners to use quite a range of technologies including multimedia so as to address different styles of learning and satisfying the needs of all the students inclusive of those with disabilities. (Meyer, 2000).

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Online education progresses rapidly with the swift evolution of ICT. Among all these issues related to online education, interaction has been defined as the key to successful teaching and learning. However, some online educators are facing the challenges of designing, developing, and facilitating interactions. Practice, experience-based, and reflective teaching techniques provide guidelines for educators to promote interaction in e-learning environments. (Hu, 2007). In online learning environments, it is common for students to feel isolated due to a lack of immediate social interaction. Furthermore, students need to change themselves to be more active and self-directed.

They are required to avoid being passive in their learning procedure. A common method to increase interaction in online learning environments is asynchronous discussion such as online discussion forums. Online discussion forums are one of the common features for promoting interactions in online learning environments. It allows asynchronous communication among the students as well as students to the instructor. It is one means of allowing students to communicate without the time and place limits. They can also post questions as well as share their opinions and queries as they interact with one another other.

The third aspect of interaction in the online learning environment is a cognitive aspect which involves interaction between the learner and the content. In order to promote this interaction, the content should seek to promote divergent thinking among the learners and be able to enable the learners to participate in problem-solving. (Sims & Stork, 2007) The content should also encourage consistent experimentation so as to enable the students to develop their practical skills and broad perspective of viewing assignments or problems. It should also seek to accommodate activities like self-testing, assignments that are written, and collaboration of small groups that will boost scientific thinking (Lewis, 1995).

The content should not be abstract for the learners nor should it be too simple. This enables the learners to develop a positive attitude towards interacting with the content since they are assured that they must learn something at the end of the course. In order to maintain interaction constancy between the learners and the content, the learners should be able to understand the content within the prior knowledge framework of the learner. The content that the learner has no idea of discourages the learner and diminishes the interest previously created towards online learning. The teacher should therefore bring to the attention of the learners what they have learned and assess them formatively such that they acquire knowledge on the learning experiences to come in the future.

In considering the implications for online course design, it is clear that certain elements of good course design that have been tested across the face-to-face learning environments and continue to be important in online environments. These include aspects such as challenging, incorporating, and engaging content providing a task structure that promotes problem-solving and collaboration within the classroom or online community. (Whittle et al 2000).

Conclusion

While opportunities and advantages of online learning are considered, it is very advisable not to overlook the aspect of interaction in the online learning environment. The learner needs should be fully addressed by the instructional designers as well as the administrators so as to promote social, academic, and purposeful outcomes.

The www has proved an efficient medium for the dissemination of flexible learning materials, but so far lacked the capacity to support the complex human interactions and richness of classroom learning experience. At best, web-based learning environments have used email or proprietary bulleting boars to enable messaging between teachers and learners and relied on the pedagogical design and expertise of the teacher to build these into the meaningful instructional process. The knowledge base and skills built over a century of classroom teaching are rarely transferred and applied to the new medium. In addition, some teachers have argued that the new medium demands new methods and in doing so, perhaps discourages the wider diffusion of the www as a teaching tool.

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Reference

Farahani, G. O. (2003). Existence and importance of online interaction. Doctoral dissertation. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Hu, P.-Y. (2007). Book review: Interactions in online Education. (Charles Juwah). Educational Technology & Society, 10 (2), 228-229.

Makitalo, K. (2006). Interaction in Online Learning Environments: how to support collaborative Activities in Higher Education. University of Jyaskyla. Institute for Educational Research.

Meyer, J. D. (2000). Quality of life in the school of the global village. Paper presented at the Teaching Online in Higher Education 2000 virtual conference.

Moore, M. G. (1989) Editorial: Three types of interaction. American Journal of Distance Education, 3 (2), 1-6. Web.

Sims, R., & Stork, E. (2007). Design for contextual learning. Web-based environments that engage diverse learners. In J. Richardson & A. Ellis (Eds.), Proceedings of AusWeb07. Lismore, NSW: Southern Cross University.

Whittle, J., Morgan, M., & Maltby, J. (2000). Higher learning online: Using constructivist principles to design effective asynchronous discussion. Paper presented at the NAWEB 2000 virtual conference.

Yannis Karaliotas. (1998). Interactivity in the Learning Environment. Distance Education. Project Report. MA in Open and Distance Education at OU, UK.

Gunawardena, C.,& Zittle, F. (1997). Social presence as a predictor of satisfaction within computer-mediated conferencing environment. The American Journal of Distance Education. Vol. 11, No. 3 pp. 10.

Lewis, R. (1995). The Creation of an Open Learning Environment in Higher Education. Innovation and Learning in Education. The International Journal for the Reflective Practitioner. Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 32-36.

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