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Interactions: A Key to Quality Classrooms

Interaction is central to the learning process. It is difficult to imagine an educational experience that does not involve some sort of interaction. Several theorists have identified different modes of interaction in educational contexts such as that between and among students, teachers, and the content that is to be learned (Anderson, 2003). According to Anderson and Garrison (1998), the three principal modes of interaction in education are student-student, student-teacher, and student-content. These modes of interaction are found within multiple classroom modalities including face-to-face, hybrid, and online (synchronous and asynchronous) learning environments.

Modes of Interaction

Figure 1. Modes of Interaction (Anderson & Garrison, 1998).

Student-teacher interaction refers to the way in which students and teachers communicate in the learning environment. Formal education often highly emphasizes the importance of student-teacher interaction. Examples of student-teacher interactions include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • lectures (provided students can ask questions and offer comments);
  • question-and-answer sessions;
  • feedback on assignments;
  • postings and responses in discussion forums;
  • e-mail;
  • one-to-one conversations;
  • synchronous web conferences.

If student-teacher interaction is important, then student-content interaction is a primary reason why formal educational systems exist. Student-content interaction refers to the ways students interact with the course content through engaging in learning activities. Examples of activities that promote student-content interaction include:

  • students listening to a lecture (live or recorded),
  • reading commentary in a learning management system or in printed materials;
  • taking notes;
  • performing research;
  • memorizing facts;
  • metacognitive strategies such as journaling or creating note cards;
  • solving problems.

Student-student interaction refers to the interaction between students in the learning environment in which students ask each other questions, discuss, or reflect on a topic; listen to their peers' opinions; and collaborate to accomplish the task. Student-student interaction develops critical thinking and helps students see various perspectives of the same problem. Examples of student-student interaction include the following:

  • accountability groups
  • cooperative learning activities,
  • collaborative research and design;
  • problem- or project-based learning,
  • debates,
  • discussion forums,
  • social media, such as blogs or wikis,
  • study groups,
  • virtual communities.

Literature suggests that learning can take place when only one type of interaction takes place. For instance, imagine that student A learns about trigonometric ratios by asking questions of his or her instructor (student-teacher interaction), student B learns about trigonometric ratios by joining a study group of fellow students (student-student interaction), and student C learns about trigonometric ratios by reading about it in a book (student-content interaction). If, following their different learning activities, the students perform equally well on an assessment of their knowledge of trigonometric ratios, we would be justified in stating that there is no significant difference between the three modes of interaction with respect to fostering learning as measured by student achievement.

Yet, deep, and meaningful learning which promotes both the cognitive and affective domain of learning happens when students are given opportunities to experience student-teacher, student-content, and student-student interactions. High levels of more than one of these three modes will likely provide a more satisfying educational experience (Anderson, 2003). Further, incorporating multiple modes of interaction within the classroom creates opportunities to increase student achievement and learning along with affective factors including increased students’ attitudes and beliefs toward learning, students’ attitudes and beliefs toward the subject, and students’ identities as learners.


Anderson, T. (2003). Modes of interaction in distance education: Recent developments and research questions. Handbook of distance education, 129-144.

Anderson, T., & Garrison, D. R. (1998). Learning in a networked world: New roles and responsibilities. In Distance Learners in Higher Education: Institutional responses for quality outcomes. Madison, WI: Atwood.

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