The rapid development of technology greatly influences computer-based learning in distance education. One of the most important aspects is interactivity, and this is threefold: student-student interaction, student-instructor interaction, and student-content interaction (Moore & Kearsley, 1996). As distance-education technology increasingly moves toward multimedia-oriented systems, a more effective synergy of synchronous and asynchronous interaction is required. As discussed by Garrison (1990), the quality and integrity of the educational process in distance learning largely depends upon sustained, two-way communication. In this article, we will look into the characteristics of both types of interaction and discuss their advantages as well as impact on the three forms of interactions. We will also look at some examples for both asynchronous and synchronous interaction technologies in facilitating distance learning. Finally, we look at some possible future trends in distance-learning interactivity.
The Need For Interaction
Undoubtedly, interaction will occur in any learning environment. Wagner (1997) believed that interaction consists of reciprocal events requiring two objects and two actions where interplay and exchange occur and individuals and groups influence each other. Barker (1994) highlights the importance of interactivity as an essential and crucial factor for acquiring knowledge.A virtual classroom environment tries to emulate classroom environments, albeit, with different tools and approaches. In Lynch (2002) it is shown how traditional classroom-based interactions (class discussions, role playing, case studies, question and answer sessions) can be translated into parallel forms of Web interactions using the various communication tools available. Kinshuk and Yang (2003) discussed some of the frustrations and limitations of the learning process in a virtual environment. Some of the major problems noted were the lack of (a) human interaction (learner-learner and learner-instructor), (b) learner support (social and administrative), and (c) contextual interaction (learner-content). Communication technologies, through the use of various tools, must serve to address these problems in order to create an effective and satisfying learning experience for the learners. According to Shelly (1996), the most important factor for successful distance learning is a caring, concerned teacher who is confident, experienced, at ease with the equipment, uses the media creatively, and maintains a high level of interactivity with the students. This reflects the importance of learner-instructor interaction, social support for learners, and effective course-content management by the online instructor.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Interactivity: Functions and operations available to the learner that involve, engage, and motivate the learner to interact in a computer-based environment.
Interaction: Usually refers to reciprocal communication between two (or more) parties where there are feedback, comments, suggestions, and so forth. It can also be one way, for example, in learner-content interaction, where the interaction is reflective in nature.
Leaner-Learner Interaction: Interaction between a learner and other learners in one-to-one, one-to-many, or many-to-many settings.
Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC): Communication that is facilitated by computer applications, for example, e-mail, bulletin boards, and newsgroups.
Private Chat Room: A virtual private place for authorized users to communicate with each other in real time via the computer while connected to the Internet.
Learner-Content Interaction: Learners “talk to themselves” about the information or ideas contained in the material.
Internet Lag Time: The delay in transmitting the signals from users’ terminals to the Internet server and back due to congestion of the Internet link connecting the two.
Learner-Instructor Interaction: Interaction between the learner(s) with the instructor.