Interactivity in Distance Education

By Mahle, Marlene | Distance Learning, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Interactivity in Distance Education


Mahle, Marlene, Distance Learning


The recent proliferation of distance education among higher education institutions, as a valid educational alternative, has been tremendous. Distance education has grown significantly over the past few years, and this has in turn expanded the possibilities of both teaching and learning. It was estimated that by 2004, there were more than 1.5 million students taking Web-based courses in the United States (Everhart, 2000). Distance education is among the fastest-growing markets in the education industry today. It is also a method employed in other noneducational industries from the private sector to government agencies and professional associations. However, the proliferation of distance education has brought with it concerns regarding student achievement and motivation. Of specific concern is the level of interactivity that is offered by Web-based versus traditional face-to-face instruction. This article is a brief review that addresses the following questions about interactivity in distance education:

1. Is there a clear definition for interactivity?

2. Why is interactivity important in distance learning?

3. How does interactivity relate to students' self-directness?

4. Is there a relationship between interactivity and students' satisfaction with distance learning?

5. Is there a relationship between interactivity and students' motivation and success?

6. Is interactivity also important in elearning?

7. How can interactivity be incorporated into Web-based courses?

IS THERE A CLEAR DEFINITION FOR INTERACTIVITY?

Interactivity usually refers to the level of communication and participation as well as feedback between learners and instructors. Interactivity, as described by Gilbert and Moore (1998), requires that there be an exchange between the technology employed and the learner. Wagner (1994, 1997) further expanded the definition of interaction as: "reciprocal events requiring two objects and two actions" (p. 20). Interactivity has been an on-going challenge for instructors that teach via the Web. Instructors need to be cognizant of incorporating a significant amount of interactivity into their courses. There are many ways in which a Web-based course can be interactive. For instance, Moore (1980) identified three specific kinds of interactions: interaction with content, interaction with instructors, and interaction among peers. Hillman, Willis, and Gunawardena (1994) identified a fourth type of interaction which they called learner-interface interaction, and defined as "the interaction that takes place between a student and the technology used to mediate a particular distance education process" (p. 31) Thus, interactivity can be incorporated at different levels within a course.

WHY IS INTERACTIVITY IMPORTANT IN DISTANCE LEARNING?

Visser and Keller (1990) correctly identified the lack of empirical research focusing on the relationship between interactivity, student success, and motivation. The research that has been conducted has demonstrated a strong relationship among these three factors. Some of the research studies include the work by Roblyer and Ekhaml (2000). They concluded that the degree of interaction was a primary factor in students' perception of the course's quality. Gao and Lehman (2003) examined various levels of interactivity in Web-based courses and found that interactivity had a positive effect in student motivation and success. The many advantages offered by interactive courses are mentioned throughout the literature. Simonson (2001) listed as one of many advantages of interactivity, that lesssocial students may find the distance education environment a positive experience that would allow them to interact more than they would in a face-to-face course. Fischer and Scharff (1998) concluded that interactivity is essential in all technology-mediated environments. Bürge (1994) conducted a study in which she employed two Web-based graduate courses. …

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