Learning Activities that Promote Interaction

Learning Activities that Promote Interaction

Written and designed by Mona Maxwell, Senior Instructional Designer

Edited by Lori Isber

Interactions in our online courses – the “right” amount, the “right” type, and the agility to customize interactions to each successive group of students – make for effective, enjoyable and efficient learning experiences for both learners and instructors. On October 20, 2021, the Manitoba Flexible Learning HUB hosted a webinar to share strategies related to learning activities that promote interaction in our online courses. I was honored to design and deliver it, despite some technical limitations due to having it hosted as a webcast rather than an interactive session. Thanks to the participants for their patience with that!

First, a visual review of Garrison’s (2017) Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework focussed our thinking on three presences- teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence (Garrison, 2017). Terry Anderson’s 2021 article on the application of CoI to the digital age suggested a possibility of a fourth presence – learner presence – with concepts like self-efficacy, self-directed learning and self-regulation emerging, as in Shea & Bidjerano’s article, referenced below. CoI’s widening applicability: “As CoI is essentially a social-constructivist model, it is also somewhat surprising to see its applicability to even the so called xMOOCs, which are based largely on cognitive-behaviourist pedagogies (Anderson & Dron, 2012 in Anderson, 2021). Holstein and Cohen (2016) analyzed large numbers of student perceptions of successful Coursera MOOCs and found that “constructing a successful MOOC can be accomplished by including all of the presence elements” – including social presence.” (Anderson, 2021)

This led us to categorize the learning activities we currently employ in our online courses to “bridge” students from outcome to assessment into three categories – learner-learner interaction, learner-instructor interaction and learner-content interaction. Our conclusion was that the majority of our collective learning activities fostered learner-content interactions, with learner-instructor activities being the second most common.

Image 1: Learning activities serve to “bridge” learners from outcomes to assessment

Next, participants were offered a choice of seven strategies, shown in the table below, to foster those three types of interactions. Many thanks to Dr. Dawn Sutherland, Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba, for providing permission to showcase the strategies #1 “Release conditions to create escape rooms” and #7 “Interdependency during facilitated discussions”.

1. Release conditions to create escape rooms2. Use tools to normalize patterns of interactions during delivery3. Readings through concept mapping
*other applications as well for concept mapping
4. One outcome, two learning activities to achieve it5. Feedback AS they learn6. Low-risk decision-making case studies in a small group
7. Interdependency during facilitated discussions
Table 1: Seven strategies offered for “Learning Activities that Promote Interaction”

Some of these strategies are ready for you to use anytime. For example, you can try strategy #2 whenever you are ready if you have synchronous sessions.  Simply setting norms for your classes can support the interaction that you seek.  Strategy #5 requires some time to incorporate on the instructors’ part primarily – and so if your class is large, you may want support from the Manitoba Flexible Learning Hub to realize how it can be manageable for you.  If your content is conducive to the strategy, #1, #3, and #6 can likely be implemented with a couple of hours of your time invested. Strategies #4 and #7 likely require some effort before launching into them and would be best done after completing a course alignment between outcomes, assessments and learning activities (review page 29 of the University of Manitoba’s Course Development Guide). Identifying misalignments between course outcome – assessment pairs and the learning activities you offer to support students achieving those outcomes can be very helpful to ease any “pinch points” in your course.

Image 2: Identifying misalignment between course outcome-assessment pairs and the learning activities that aim to bridge them prevents future “pinch points”!

A strong alignment can, in turn, allow you to:

  • ensure that the learning activities that you design are an effective “bridge” between learning outcomes and assessment. That is the purpose of a learning activity!
  • provide agility in your course design so that you can begin to design two possible learning activities to achieve the same outcome, enhancing Universal Design for Learning
  • realize whether the activities effectively scaffold students to where you expect them to be in terms of applying, evaluating and more demanding skills
  • choose learning technologies that align with your need. For example, map learning technology tools onto Bloom’s taxonomy

I hope that there is a strategy or inspiration you can take from this webinar or article. Due to the participants’ willingness to provide constructive feedback, next articles will include “engagement strategies during synchronous sessions” and “engagement in discussions”, as requested. The Manitoba Flexible Learning Hub offers collegial support for your online course in what form you are ready for – from a one-hour consultation to a full course alignment using an online, confidential self-review tool or a peer course review.


Anderson, T. (2017, September). How communities of Inquiry Drive Teaching and learning in the Digital age. Teach Online. Retrieved September 9, 2021, from https://teachonline.ca/tools-trends/how-communities-inquiry-drive-teaching-and-learning-digital-age.

Terry Anderson is listed as Research Associate Former Canada Research Chair in Distance Education and prepared this for Contact North’s website, a great site if you want to keep up with Canadian online education.

Shea, P., & Bidjerano, T. (2010). Learning presence: Towards a theory of self-efficacy, self-regulation, and the development of a communities of inquiry in online and blended learning environments. Computers & Education, 55(4), 1721-1731.

Concept mapping

“Inspiration” was used the software used for collaborative concept mapping software in the engineering example provided.

Gaitonde, U. N., Tembe, B. L., & Kamble, S. K. (2017). Computer Assisted Collaborative concept mapping in Engineering Education. International Journal of Information and Education Technology, 7(6), 469–473. https://doi.org/10.18178/ijiet.2017.7.6.914

In this article, 2 concept mapping learning activities – pencil and paper & computer-assisted – are compared in a flipped classroom.

Chiou, C.-C., Tien, L.-C., & Tang, Y.-C. (2020). Applying structured computer-assisted collaborative concept mapping to flipped classroom for hospitality accounting. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism Education, 26, 100243. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhlste.2020.100243