When designing an online course it's tempting to jump straight into content, but by spending a few moments considering the wider landscape of digital learning you may end up finding ways to reduce your workload and provide a more varied experience for your learners.  

digital learning eco-system cartoon

Three main types of interaction

Interaction is the key to effective learning, engagement and retention. The primary focus when 'going digital' tends to be on creating Learner-Content interactions, but this only covers part of the picture. Here we outline the three main interactions that need to be sustained and balanced in a holistic learning ecosystem. 


Interaction typeConsiderations for digital learning

Learner-Content: Student obtains information from learning materials including lectures, videos, readings and independant activities

  • Digital content functions best as a small series of linked learning events, with comprehension checks built into each stage
  • Give learners opportunity to check their understanding as often as possible 
  • Going digital gives learners more options for consuming content (video, text, audio), plus the ability to control the pace of learning - take this into consideration and make sure these benefits are clear to learners

Learner-Instructor: Instructor acts as guide, facilitator, expert or support; e.g. guiding a lab or providing assessment feedback

  • Online live sessions may allow you to interact with more students via chat and Q&A functionalities
  • Monitor participation and performance to ensure engagement is stable
  • Timely feedback (whether formal or informal) is particularly important in distance learning to ensure that learners feel connected to instructors 

Learner-Learner: Interactions between learners (with or without the instructor) are vital for learning, emotional well-being, and developing skills such as self-efficacy and teamwork

    • Plan for student collaboration and information sharing, even in your absence
    • Provide technology for student discussions, directing these through open questions where appropriate
    • Ensure there are opportunities for both formal and informal Learner-Learner interactions

    These interactions can take place in a synchronous or asynchronous manner, both of which offer pros and cons.  

    Examples and Tools

    Let's now take a look at some common digital learning components (recordings, readings, live sessions, assessments, etc.) and understand how these can be used in various ways to ensure that all three interaction types are properly balanced. The table below is by no means a comprehensive list of possible interactions, it serves to highlight the breadth of interactions that are available to you, and the ways you might begin to use them. For more information about specific learning components or tools please take a look at our other quick guides.

    Learning component


    Tool suggestions

    Community management

    • Discussion forums
    • Informal chat space
    • F2F conference calls
    • Share important updates and events
    • Discussions, Q&As, AMAs (Ask Me Anything)

    • Main space: MSTeams, BlackBoard, Coursera, edX
    • Chat: MS Teams, Slack
    • Student calls: Zoom

    Recorded content

    • Content presentation
    • Screencasts
    • Instructions for activities 
    • Interviews
    • Case studies and scenarios
    • Use recordings to give student feedback

    • Screen and video: Zoom
    • Screencast: PowerPoint, Camtasia
    • Hosting: Panopto, MS Teams, Coursera, edX


    • Lecture notes / textbooks 
    • Instructions for activities 
    • Papers / articles
    • Blog posts / websites
    • Provide specific discussion forums around key readings, guiding conversation with an open question

    • Library reading list: Leganto
    • BlackBoard
    • MS Teams
    • Coursera, edX

    Live sessions 

    • Webinars / live lectures 
    • Q&As
    • Office hours / tutorials
    • Students’ presentations
    • Use breakout rooms to let students work in teams

    • Zoom
    • MS Teams

    Practice & assessment

    • Quizzes / knowledge checks
    • Coursework
    • Examinations
    • Feedback
    • Guidance
    • Use peer-assessment and team projects to encourage learner-learner interaction in assessment
    • Practique
    • BlackBoard
    • MS Teams
    • Coursera, edX

    Make sure you visit the scenarios to see examples of how these interactions and learning components can be put into practice.

    Please note that some tools referenced in our guides (e.g. Zoom) are not yet supported by ICT. If you have questions about implementation please contact your Faculty EdTech team