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Why Social Interaction is Important in Online Learning

A shot of a computer monitor

By Ilianna Kwaske and Kay McLennan

There are many opportunities in traditional classrooms for students to interact with their instructors and each other and we know this interaction is critical to student success, so why would we think social interaction would be any less critical in an online course? Social interaction in online learning can lead to increased student engagement, motivation, and can help improve student performance. As educators, we must consider how we will create opportunities for meaningful and sustained social interactions in online courses, especially when many students are taking multiple online courses while balancing their studies with home and work responsibilities. Looking specifically at how online courses are delivered, course development collaborations between faculty and a team of instructional designers yields well-designed online course sites. Still, the extensive work that goes into the development of interactive course sites is only the beginning. Below are two types of social interaction in online learning and their importance.

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Instructor-to-Student Interaction

Sustained interactions between students and instructors are the cornerstone of effective online learning. The instructor may interact with students on different course-related discussion forums, periodic live (and recorded) webinar sessions, instant messaging within the course, instructor podcasts, and other learning activities. In addition, instructors provide students with written and/or voice/video thread feedback on all student course work submissions. Students participate in the learning process by contributing to online discussions, requesting and sharing course materials, and sending course-related questions to the instructor. Accordingly, students have sustained opportunities to interact with the instructor throughout the semester to develop a community of inquiry. In addition, through e-mailed announcements and messages, students receive all of the needed updates and reminders necessary to stay focused on their course work.

Instructors often ask students to share their personal experiences, academic achievements, and perceptions of the course concepts being studied. Such opinions can lead to the co-construction of understanding and knowledge in the course as well as give the instructor ideas on how to improve the course delivery.

Student-to-Student Interaction

Social interaction in online learning allows students to share their ideas on various subjects with each other. Student-led online discussions typically motivate deeper understanding as well as yield interesting personal applications of course concepts and theories. A student could also share struggles or triumphs with the course work on discussion board forums to obtain feedback, suggestions, or praise from fellow classmates.

Students can use communication on their class site discussion boards to obtain online learning support from others if they find certain course concepts challenging.

Assigning group work online can also create opportunities for students to interact with each other. The instructional technology is available to give students the virtual space to meet online. Students plan, complete, and share their findings within the online classroom. This collaboration with others prepares students for an integral part of life after graduating—networking.

Everyone learns in different ways, and social interaction maintained through online learning is just one of many great ways that students can thrive and prepare themselves for future careers. At Tulane School of Professional Advancement, we offer in-class and online education programs for those looking to advance their career. Our online learning coursework gives working professionals an option for pursuing their education on their own time. Learn more about our programs today.


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