Digital technologies

Stimulate interactions for active learning

Tips to promote meaningful interactions online 

by KULeuven

One of the expected learning outcomes of the EMVITET project is that teachers engaged in the project can gain sufficient knowledge and skills to run online courses effectively. A major challenge in online education is the great distance that arises between teachers and students and between students. How can you respond to this as a teacher?

Two important concepts here are dialogue and structure. You can bridge the distance with your students by building a good balance between the degree of dialogue and structure in the online component of your course. You take into account the autonomy that you can expect from your students. 


Student-content interaction

In a context without direct contact with students, it is important to pay attention to this form of interaction. It is important to encourage students to process information with a critical eye, to broaden their perspective, to build up knowledge, and then to apply it. On this page you will find some tips that can help you as a teacher.


1. Activate the knowledge of your students

It is important to build on existing knowledge. It is indispensable for gaining new insights.

2. Give clear, structured and challenging instructions

A good structure and a solid understanding of the objective are important for students.

How can you approach this?

Tip 1: Gerard van den Boom of the Open University of the Netherlands wrote a white paper entitled ‘Ontwerpen met modellen’ [Designing with models]. There are different variations in presenting learning material. For instance, the structure of a task-based learning package can be as follows:

- Introduce the task (in form of text or voice or video). 

A clear and challenging instruction contains not only a description on “what is needed to be done” but also an explicit statement of the instructional intention (why it is important to fully engage) and an explanation on the level of mental activities expected. Rubrics and example work can be given to further illustrate the learning focus and expected performance level.

- Provide core tasks that the learner must carry out making use of the source-materials: modelling/ explanation, examples, assignments

- Wrap up the task (students can make a summary and post it on a forum, where teachers’ summary can be pre-set as a feedback to be shown after students submit theirs).

Tip 2: Give or request brief interim summaries when closing a learning phase/subject topic. You can do this with short videos, podcasts, infographics, mind maps, or regular written summaries. These can be made by students or by you.

3. Teach students effective learning methods

Encourage students to improve their learning methods. In this way, students process the lesson contents better than that they merely go through a text and highlight certain topics. It is important to prevent procrastination among students. This way you avoid waiting until just before the exam to start learning.

How can you do this?

In this blog, the authors discuss a few strategies and correctly point out that not all strategies are suitable for all types of content. They also stress that it’s important to teach learners about these strategies.

Obviously, many of these strategies can be used without learning technology, but usually using a learning technology makes the process more efficient.

4. Alternate with exercises

“During practice, variability is usually key. By alternating between different types of practice and different types of content, learners can learn to use various problem-solving strategies. Variety is the spice of learning!”

This goes beyond varying in content or format (video, text, podcast, ...). You will encourage students to put their acquired knowledge into practice in many ways. This encourages students to reflect on the lesson content at a deeper level. This is conducive to long-term learning.

Alternating similar types of practice

Switching between worked examples, partially completed worked (out) examples, complete problems, and goal free assignments.

Alternating between various productive practice types

Switching between individual work, peer learning in pairs, and collaborating in small groups.

Online you can find various overviews of tools:

Edshelf: Find the right educational tools for your needs (filter tools in various ways).

Padagogy Wheel (hundreds of apps, aligned with Bloom’s taxonomy, learning activities, and phases of the SAMR model.)

Tools Directory Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies (many tools, categorised, with short descriptions).

Student-learning environment interaction

Students interact online within a learning environment. This interaction can take place asynchronously or synchronously. For the asynchronous learning environment, we are talking about all functionalities within the learning management system (LMS) you are using (e.g. google classroom, Moodle, etc.).


Your learning management system (LMS) offers a range of functionalities to create and realize different online activating formats for your students within your course. The learning environment shall offer an activating, attractive and structured learning climate:

- Structure: use a well thought-out start page that shows the structure of your course. 

- Use learning modules instead of folders and map out a structured learning path. Use communicated learning goals. 

- Use icons to offer the different types of learning material and to create a recognizable table of contents

- Use discussion forums with learning opportunities. Provide clear instructions. 

- Let students reflect and learn from others. 

- Exploit the potential of blogs. 

- Press regularly to keep your finger on the pulse. 

- Give formative exercises to your students. 

- Use knowledge clips with guiding questions.

Student-teacher interaction

This form of interaction is about the dialogue between you and your student group. In other words: how can you as a teacher interact with your students in an online learning environment where face-to-face contact is not available?


1. Communicate your enthusiasm from a distance

This is an important aspect in online learning environments. Taking lessons remotely in front of a screen, without contact with fellow students, is tiring. If you involve students in your dynamics, you can influence their willingness to actively participate. For example, even the tone of your voice can already have an impact on the motivation of your students.

2. Interact with individual students

Indicate to your students how they can contact you with individual questions: by mail, by phone, a question hour via eg chat, are you still available online after class, ...?

Do you work during your contact hour with work moments, individually or in a group? Tell students how they can address you with questions, for example via the chat in google hangout?

Individual questions that come back regularly can be fed back throughout the group.

3. Interact in online classes

Ask for reactions, short input,… in online lessons. This way you activate students remotely during the contact moment..

4. Create interaction in asynchronous teaching moments

Even if you do not organize a synchronous contact moment, you can build in interaction with your students. 

How can you do that?

- Ask questions using mentimeter or other similar tools: have students vote on a multiple choice question or ask them to formulate an answer to a statement.

- What questions do students still have with a chapter or topic? Let them send it in by mail, post it on a discussion forum or send it in as an assignment in LMS

5. Keep your finger on the pulse: are your students with you?

In an online learning environment, it is less easy to see whether your students are with you. Have they understood the subject matter? Do they get started with what you offer online in knowledge clips, assignments or exercises? How can you keep track of this from a distance?

Student-student interaction

This type involves the online interaction between students, one-on-one or in a group setting. In a face-to-face setting, this interaction often happens spontaneously: students ask each other a question about the subject matter, give comments during class or spontaneously discuss how to approach an exercise. In an online environment, this is less obvious because of the distance. As a teacher, you need to incorporate these interaction moments (even) more consciously into your lessons and allocate sufficient time for them. This can be done in both synchronous and asynchronous settings.


1. Short moments of interaction

Even incorporating brief moments of interaction into your lesson can already help to increase engagement and reduce the emotional distance.

How can this work?

- Let students respond to each other's comments, answers and proposals in a synchronous lesson via Zoom function of voting or via chat.

- Whirling moments or short discussions in breakout groups during synchronous lessons.

- Reflecting on each other's views in an online discussion forum by explicitly providing criteria (quantitative and qualitative) for reactions.

2. Online working methods that stimulate interaction

In addition to these small interaction moments, you can also choose work forms in which the interaction between students is a central element. Students usually spend some time on this. So keep this in mind when planning your lesson or assignment.

You can do this in different ways.

a. Think pair share during a synchronous lesson

Present a question or statement to the students during your lesson and ask them to explicitly write down their ideas or answers for themselves. Then let them exchange thoughts about this in small groups of two or three (via break-out rooms) and provide plenary feedback. This can be done verbally, but in large groups it is best to do this via chat, poll or another tool such as padlet.

b. Online Jigsaw

In this form of group work, students work in subgroups (expert groups) to acquire knowledge and expertise on a particular topic. They bring in what they have gained in this first subgroup in a (newly composed) subgroup (home groups).

You can also provide synchronous moments for the group moments, whereby you can divide the groups into the break-out rooms. You can also communicate the group composition to the students via Toledo, after which they have to organize themselves online. It is best to set deadlines by which the discussion in the subgroups must be completed and have them submit the results or propose them (whether or not linked to a plenary moment).

c. Online peer instruction

This method starts with offering a question or statement during a synchronous lesson. Students initially answer individually (eg via a poll). Afterwards, the students discuss in groups in a break-out room about their given answer or vision. Finally, you bring the students back to the main room, after which you again submit the same question or statement. After the answers (which may differ slightly from the first result) you can give additional explanation if you wish.

d. Teamwork

You can also give group work to students online. You can communicate the group layout and the assignment in your Toledo course, or during a synchronous lesson. Groups can organize themselves. Give clear instructions and clarify where students can go with questions. It's nice if you also provide students with suggestions of tools they can use for collaboration, such as Skype for Business or Zoom for exchange, and collaboration tools like Google Docs or Google Sheets.

You can also choose to provide time and (virtual) space where the students can work on their assignment or paper, for example in Blackboard Collaborate where you prepare a few break-out groups so that students can go here themselves. You can also use these moments to solve questions or ambiguities, for example by providing a plenary question room or visiting the various break-out rooms yourself.

Extra variant: Student observation

In this additional variant of student-student interaction, the student does not actively participate in the interaction, but observes other students who interact with each other. Although the student does not participate in the interaction himself, this form of learning can be interesting because there is more room to stand still, reflect critically and look with a meta view at what is going on between the other students.

This can be done in small (break-out or not) groups, where you give the observer a clear assignment, such as being able to answer certain reflection questions, giving feedback to fellow students, expressing reflections that arise, etc. make a changing role.

You can also apply this variant in a large group, for example through a debate or discussion that is followed on the basis of the fishbowl principle. In this working method, a few students are appointed who conduct the discussion (with or without assigned characters and opinions). The other students are spectators and listen to the discussion, possibly focused on a certain character or opinion. Switches can be entered at set times, with spectators taking the place in the discussion and continuing where the previous one has stopped or was stuck.

Ngày 01/08/2021 - 12:18:27

Active learning, EDU4.0, Interactions

Contact US

© 2019 Emvitet

    692     90