Interactivity in eLearning

“Thing 2″ for the MSc module Theory and evaluation of eLearning:

Interaction is evolving

Is interactivity a useful notion for eLearning?

Is interactivity a definable concept, and is it just about eLearning , or does it apply to learning in general? Although Yacci (2000 p1) notes that, at the time of writing, computers were only just gaining the “critical mass of interface technologies” needed to provide a useful educational partner, it was recognised that computers will play a larger part in education in the future. But the model put forward by Yacci (2000 p8) could equally apply to interaction through any medium:

Here Yacci (2000 p6) identifies two types of effects can occur through interactivity: (1) content learning and (2) affective benefits. Content learning is purposeful learning that attains an instructional goal, and in this model it sits with the learner. Affective benefits such as emotions and values that re-enforce or detract from the instructional goal sit with the interaction channel.

Muirhead & Juwah (2004 p13) build on this model by explicitly recognising the additional interactivities learners have with content and other learners when following distance and on-line education programmes:-

  • Learner to learner
  • Learner to content
  • Learner to tutor
  • Learner to technology
  • Tutor to content
  • Tutor to technology
  • Content to content

These are brought together by Muirhead & Juwah (2004 p13) in their enhanced Model of Interactivity:-

Model of Interactivity - Muirhead & Juwah 2004 p13

Building on Yacci’s notion of affective benefits that support the interaction process, Muirhead & Juwah (2004 p15) identify four types of learner support scaffolding that can be used to guide and enhance the interaction of distance learners with programme content:

  • Conceptual: These guide the learner in what to consider, particularly when the problem/task is defined.
  • Metacognition: These  guide the learner on how to think in considering the problem/strategies, for example, framing the problem.
  • Procedural: These guide the learner on how to utilise information – i.e. provide on-going help and advice, and may include tutoring.
  • Strategic: These guide the learner in analysing and approaching the problem with a strategy.

As we have moved into the “information era” where large amounts of information can be accessed quickly and easily on a global scale using advanced search engines Sabry & Barker (2009 p186) suggest that information is becoming more dynamic, an indication of how things are at a particular time, rather than timeless truths.

In their Dynamic Interactive Learning System Model (DILS), Sabry & Barker (2009 p191) further enhance the interaction model with dynamic components that are constantly updated and modified.

The existence of, and access to, ever increasing amounts of evolving information means embedding data in learning content could result in built in obsolescence. The DILS model links to data providing an additional interaction between data sources and the elements identified by Muirhead & Juwah. Sabry & Barker (2009 p191) speculate that these dynamic interactions may only be one to two weeks ahead of the student, and that programme content would be built on the individual student’s knowledge of the topics at that time.


As well as the explicit interaction between learner and tutor, Yacci (2000 p12-13) identified learning patterns which elude to interaction between learners and programme content as follows:-

  • Declarative Knowledge Pattern (“correcting the facts”)
  • Procedural Knowledge Pattern (“shoring up the steps”)
  • Structural Knowledge Pattern (“why do you think like that?)
  • Extra-Instructional Pattern (“tell me more”)
  • Activity in the Environment Pattern (“does this do anything?”)

In recognising that these “interactions” promote metacognition (reflection), which was considered essential in forming understanding and the construction of new knowledge by Muirhead & Juwah (2004 p17), the way learners interact with content and their peers becomes as important as the interaction with their tutors.

The Dynamic Information Generation (DIG) presents even wider possibilities for interaction where programme content, learner status, teaching practices and the media for interaction can all be constantly changing (Sabry & Barker 2009 p190). In every aspect of life I have seen advances in information technology enable access to and updating of information easier and quicker. Almost every report now needs to carry the caveat “at the time of writing” unless it links to a reliably updated data source.

The understanding of interactivity in education has evolved from that of the relationship between the learner and teacher to the dynamic relationships between every element and party that is involved in the learning experience.


Yacci, M. (2000) Interactivity Demystified, a structural definition for distance education and instructional CBT, Educational Technology, XL (4).

Muirhead, B., & Juwah, C. (2004). Interactivity in computer-mediated college and university education: A recent review of the literature. Educational Technology & Society, 7 (1), 12-20.

Sabry, K. & Barker, J. (2009) Dynamic interactive learning systems. Innovations in Education and Teaching International 46: 185-197.


About mark8n

Facilitator of Learning Technology adoption and integration. Dad, Granddad and Motorcyclist.
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2 Responses to Interactivity in eLearning

  1. Great summary, Mark, thank you. I like your use of key diagrams to illucidate and add detail without having to explicate in prose.

    Dynamic and interactive is something of a Holy Grail for online learning, I think. As Kirsten, Vicki and Vidya amongst others comment, it seems a practical impossibility in many learning contexts and I agree with them. Reading Paul M’s post on RSS and tagging though gives a clear impression that dynamic, interactive communities spontaneously develop on the Internet all the time. I wonder, then what makes it more difficult in Educational contexts…

    • mark8n says:


      There’s a PhD, and probably a place in history for the person who comes up with the empirically proven answer to that question 🙂

      Seriously though, sometimes spontaneous communities are created in an Educational context if there is a need. I’ve previously heard of FaceBook groups being set up by students to communicate and build up shared content when the provided VLE facilities didn’t meet their requirements. Anecdotal of course, but apparently this is not uncommon…

      Kind Regards, Mark.

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