Learner Interactivity in Higher Education: Comparing Face-to-Face, Hybrid, and Online Instruction

By Brannan, Timothy Alan | Distance Learning, March 1, 2005 | Go to article overview
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Learner Interactivity in Higher Education: Comparing Face-to-Face, Hybrid, and Online Instruction

Brannan, Timothy Alan, Distance Learning

The purpose of this study was to compare the opinions of students toward the interactions they encounter while taking college courses in face-to-face, hybrid, and completely online environments. The study used a survey instrument containing open-ended questions asking students to describe how the interactions were encouraged in four categories; student-instructor interactions, student-student interactions, student-content interactions, and student-technology interactions. The instrument was sent to a sample of 106 students who had participated in courses using each of the three environments. The findings of this study supported the use of technology in instruction and found that technology can increase the four interactions found in the classroom.


Distance education programs have been used to reach and serve students since the development of correspondence courses in the late nineteenth century (Thomerson & Smith, 1996). With the widespread adoption of the World Wide Web, Internet-delivered courses have provided a vehicle for Webenhanced and virtual learning that is gaining popularity on college and university campuses. Studies of various types of distance education programs have repeatedly indicated that cognitive achievement of distance learning students and traditional classroom students is comparable (Thomerson & Smith, 1996). However, some of these same studies found that distant students often did not enjoy their classroom experience, did not interact as frequently with fellow students or the instructor, or did not feel as comfortable in the distance classroom settings as did students attending a traditional class (Thomerson & Smith, 1996).

In 1989, Moore proposed a theory of distance education based on the need to accommodate within the classroom three essential interactions: learner-content, learner-instructor, and learner-learner (Moore, 1989). In 1994, Hillman, Willis, and Gunawardena augmented Moore's model with a fourth interaction, learner-interface (Hillman et al., 1994). This interaction addresses learners' accommodation to technological learning platforms.

It was the interactions in these face-to-face, hybrid, and online instructional environments that were examined in this study. Multiple studies have examined the way traditional and virtual classes are similar and different, but none to date have looked at how a course delivered in these environments impact interaction in the classroom and the student's perception of the learning environment.


Although the popularity of online instruction has increased in recent years, the interactions in courses offered online as compared to other instructional delivery methods has yet to be fully investigated. Shale and Garrison (1990) state that, in its most fundamental form, education is interaction between teacher, student, and subject content. Without interaction, teaching becomes simply passing on content as if it were dogmatic truth, and the cycle of knowledge acquisition to evaluation and validation is nonexistent (Shale & Garrison, 1990). The idea and importance of interaction in distance education is a much-discussed topic (Hillman et al., 1994). Moore provides a framework for studying interaction in distance education by identifying the three types of interactions: learner-instructor, learner-learner, and learner-content.

The first interaction described by Moore, learner-content, can be defined as the process of "intellectually interacting with content" to bring about changes in the learner's understanding, perspective, or cognitive structures (Moore, 1989). The second interaction, learner-instructor, examines an instructor's attempt to motivate and stimulate the learner and allows for clarification the learner may need regarding the content of the learning (Moore, 1989). The final interaction-learner-learner-addresses interactions between one learner and another or among groups of learners with or without instructor intervention (Moore, 1989).

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Learner Interactivity in Higher Education: Comparing Face-to-Face, Hybrid, and Online Instruction


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