Models of Interaction

A foundational idea in the online distance learning literature is Anderson’s (2003b) model that describes the modes of interaction. More recently, Kanuka (2011) presented a variation on Anderson’s model, which inspired a further revision and integration of Anderson’s and Kanuka’s models, the Structured Student Interactions model. It was proposed that educative interactions (i.e., structured learning activities) occur within the context of the course content. The interactions can take the form of student-self (through reflection), student-student, and student-instructor (Figure 6).

Structured Student Interaction Model

Figure 6. Structured Student Interactions Model

A further, related idea is Anderson’s (2003a) Interaction Equivalency Theorem, which postulates that any of the modes of interaction may be reduced or eliminated, without degrading the learning experience, as long as one mode remains at a high level. This investigation has shown that high quality, content-focused student-student interactions can be successfully promoted by including a structured study buddy activity as an option in a course. Participants in the study buddy activity reported high levels of social interaction and cognitive engagement, both of which align with Anderson’s model and theorem, as well as the Structured Student Interactions model. Furthermore, Bernard et al. (2009), in their meta-analysis of interaction in distance education, found that the strongest learning effects were gained when student-student and student-content interactions were emphasized, a finding that seems to be supported by the high levels of social and potential for cognitive engagement in the study buddy activity.