Is There Too Much Interaction in Your Online Courses?

Interaction has always been seen as a key component of an online course. Whether it is student-student or student-teacher interaction, the ability to discuss and exchange ideas has long been considered to be the piece that adds value to an online course, keeping it from becoming simply the posting of written course material on a web page, the digital equivalent of a correspondence course. In fact, many programs promote the highly interactive nature of their curriculum as evidence of its educational value.

But what if this assumption were wrong, or at least questionable? This is the finding of recent research by Christian J. Grandzol, PhD, and John R. Grandzol, PhD, both of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. In a recently published paper entitled “Interaction in Online Courses: More is NOT Always Better,” the authors report that “our key findings indicate that increased levels of interaction, as measured by time spent, actually decrease course completion rates. This result is counter to prevailing curriculum design theory and suggests increased interaction may actually diminish desired program reputation and growth.”

The research: Questioning the value of interaction
The value placed on interaction in a course is second nature to anyone familiar with student development and pedagogical theory. The authors note that five of the seven principles identified by Chickering and Gamson relate to interaction in learning. (These include “between students and faculty, reciprocity and cooperation among students, prompt feedback, emphasis on time on task, and communication of high expectations.”)

However, as time has passed, some research has begun to question the value of interaction, suggesting that there could be too much interaction required in a course. Summarizing 2007 findings by Arbaugh and Rau, the authors report, “learner-instructor interaction had the strongest correlation with perceived learning; learner-learner interaction actually had a negative correlation with delivery medium satisfaction. The more participants a learner had to pay attention to, the less satisfaction they had with the learning environment.”

It is possible, in other words, that requiring students to read and respond to posts and conversations from many different classmates may actually cause a good deal of frustration and dissatisfaction with the course experience. This study, which looked at online MBA courses, suggests that there may be an optimum level of interaction for graduate-level courses, and that more is not always better.

Excerpted from “Is There Too Much Interaction in Your Courses?” Distance Education Report, 14.7 (2010): 1,2. You can read the complete article by downloaded our free report Designing Online Courses: Models for Improvement. Download report »