Topic 1 Introduction to digital communication tools Interaction: how it is achieved within and outside the learning session

The term “Interaction” is made up of two morphemes, «inter» and «action». It is a mutual or reciprocal action or influence. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary an «Interaction» is a situation where two or more people or things communicate with each other or react to each other.

Therefore, when we refer to «education» we usually intend the set of actions that happen in the learning process that involve:

Educators and Learners

Actually, nowadays the concept of interaction in the education system is enlarged. It could also refer to the:

– Interaction among learners

– Interaction among educators

– Interaction between learner and educational material

– Interaction between learner and the community/the world outside

– Interaction between learner and technology

Reflection exercise:

1)Think about the different examples of interactions mentioned above and try to find one example for each of them

2)Try to imagine other kind of possible interactions that can happen inside and outside the session.

It is important to foster the interest of the learners in engaging with the contents of the courses but, it is also important that learners share what they create with the world and generate connections, models to follow, inspiration and motivation for further learning and development of the communities…

Concentrating on educators and learners’ interaction, studies show that the positive interaction between the educator and the learner impacts productively on learners’ self-esteem and enhance their skills.

When talking about this kind of interaction we differentiate between «Interaction within the learning session» and «Interaction outside the learning session»

Interaction within the learning session

There are thousands of different actions that educators (teachers, trainers, instructors) put in place every day to facilitate the interaction inside the classroom/learning session. The University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning developed a system (called CLASS) that provides a common way to understand interaction inside the classroom that could be applied to any learning environment. It helps to better understand and improve the quality of educator-learner interactions and, consequently the learning.

CLASS considers ten dimensions that describe different types of interaction. Each of the ten dimensions falls into one of three broad categories: emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support.

CLASS’ three broad categories

Emotional support: the ways educators help learners to develop warm, supportive relationships, excitement about learning, feel comfortable in the classroom, and experience appropriate levels of autonomy or independence. It includes: Positive climate; Negative climate; Teacher sensitivity; Regard for student perspectives.

Classroom organization: the ways educators help learners to develop skills to regulate their own behavior, get the most of learning, and maintain interest in learning activities. It includes: Behavior management; Productivity; Instructional learning formats.

Instructional support: the ways in which educators effectively support learners’ cognitive development and language growth. It includes: Concept development; Quality of feedback; Language modeling.

Additional information about the «CLASS» is available at

Interaction outside the learning session

Learners who experience informal interactions tend to be more motivated, engaged, and actively involved in the learning process.

This kind of interaction can take many forms, like: office hours either in-person or online, e-mail exchanges, organizing small group gatherings.

These more individualized interactions offer the deepest kind of learning experiences by enabling a learner to open up and share about own struggles or interests, to make more personal connections with the educators therefore taking the courage to investigate more on topics of their interest becoming co-responsible for their own intellectual development.

Important: learners may be reluctant to seek for interacting with you outside the learning sessions for a number of reasons: fear of being exposed too much, not term of reference on how to behave in such a situation, cultural background (the “teacher” is above me and I must keep distance), are just a few examples.

There are many actions that you can take to encourage the learners; probably the easiest is to take the first step.  An idea could be taking a moment for a one-to-one chat during a break from the session…

To better understand the process by which interaction outside the classroom takes place, Bradley E. Cox from Florida State University and Elizabeth Orehovec, from University of South Carolina, conducted one-year research and found out that the content of these interactions generally fell into five categories: disengagement, incidental contact, functional interaction, personal interaction, and mentoring.

Five categories to analyse the process of the «outside the learning session» interaction

Disengagement: faculty and students not interacting outside of class

Incidental Contact: unintentional contact between educators and learners

Functional Interaction: occurs for a specific institutionally-related purpose. It is directly or indirectly related to concerns about the educational activities

Personal Interaction: the interaction has a purpose that could be related to the personal interest(s) of the educator and of the learner

Mentoring: Intended as the highest end on a continuum of helping relationships

More information on how the 5 categories work is available at Faculty-Student Interaction Outside the Classroom: A Typology from a Residential 

Reflection exercise

Which of the following criteria CANNOT be considered as a mentoring relationship:

(a)Direct assistance with career and professional development

(b)Emotional psychosocial support

(c)Role modeling

(d)Polite greetings and waves

(e)Friendly conversation on topics of common interest

(d) is a “incidental contact” and (e) is a “personal interaction”

How digital communication tools support interaction

Keeping in mind the similarities and differences and the connections between the interaction processes inside and outside the learning sessions, specific attention should be given to digital communication tools. In fact, nowadays they provide a great support in achieving all types of interactions (see examples of interactions at the beginning of this Unit).

Interaction among educators and learners

E-mail, asynchronous chats, online office hours can provide crucial avenues of connection and information between learners and educators outside the learning session.

Synchronous or asynchronous audio and video tools when communicating with learners can help build rapport.

You can give web-based assignments shortly before one class session. The feedback you will receive will help you to create a session more tailored to learners’ questions and needs. Learners can positively respond when they see questions they asked before the session being addressed and answered during the session.

Be careful not to create expectations and workloads that are unmanageable, leaded by the enthusiasm for the limitless opportunity to keep in touch with your learners!

Interaction among learners

Educators can create learning communities composed of learners. This will help them to compare ideas with their peers, to share doubts and learn from others’ experiences improving their learning opportunities.

Social media, blogs, online forums, and Project Management tools are just a few of the options. The key is to offer to your learners a tool they are already familiar with and to satisfy the learning requirements. Many social media platforms offer closed groups and pages. For example, blogs fuel the online discussion; Facebook and Twitter are great for sharing quick links and taking polls.

Interaction among educators

By using tools such as videoconferencing, online chats, and social media sites, educators, from large urban to small rural districts, can connect and collaborate with experts and peers from around the world to form online professional learning communities.

If you would like to explore a collaboration platform for learners and educators you might be interested in iEARN

Interaction between learner and educational material

Educators can design highly engaging and relevant learning experiences through technology.

For example, you don’t need science labs or equipment to offer learners the possibility to experiment: they can use virtual simulations. In addition, these simulations are safe places for students to learn and practice effective processes before they conduct research in the field. And, to conduct researches in the field, learners can collect data for their own use via mobile devices and sync their findings with those of collaborators and researchers anywhere in the world to create large, authentic data sets for study.

Take useful inspiration from the experience of a group of educators in experiment different technologies to interact with the learners offering them engaging learning experiences:

Teaching in the connected learning classroom

TITLE: Interaction outside the learning session

EXERCISE: Go through the 5 categories of interaction outside the classroom. Which is the one that you really apply? Discuss it with your colleagues 

This topic explores the various types of interactions, especially the one between the learner and the educator.

It starts by presenting the differences between the interaction within the learning session and outside it to get to show how digital communication tools facilitate interaction in the classroom and outside.