How do you define interaction?

Within the field of instructional design there is often a discrepancy of when defining “interaction.” On one side of the fence every piece of content no matter how it is designed affords some sort of interaction with the learner. It might not be the desired interaction e.g., not learning what was intended, but that is still interaction. While on the other side of the fence, some may define it solely on the basis of instructor-learner or learner-learner… a “mind to mind transfer.”

The way I would like to attempt to define it would be through the involvement of feedback. Interaction is when a learner is able to receive feedback on some aspect of their learning. Please allow also for this definition to be broad and not constrained by an assessment. Simply, if a learner does “A” and receives “B” because they have done “A” … that is interaction. Check out which is a blog from 2008 about different types of interaction which can be built into an instructional event. All of these boil down to the above.

The author of the above blog, B.J. Schone also has an eBook which I found on entitled Engaging Interactions for eLearning which is a good read. In my opinion the author’s view of interaction is from a gaming perspective:

Any experience is likely to be engaging for an individual if one or more of the following are true:

  • They face some type of challenge.
  • They must make decisions.
  • They are allowed to explore.
  • They are allowed to make mistakes.
  • They have fun.

An interaction, in the context of this eBook, is a learning activity where an individual is presented with a problem or scenario and must work to achieve a goal. Interactions should not be gimmicky or without purpose, and they should be designed to maintain the learner’s interest.

B.J. Schone’s perspective is a little more focused than mine… which is probably a good thing. The main aspect of his definition that I enjoy is the last sentence, “should be designed to maintain the learner’s interest.” I agree with this wholeheartedly. Motivation and learner interest is something that I often feel is missing in the design of instructional events, which is sad because it is in my opinion, the most crucial.


About DaveHallmon

With experience in web, graphic, and instructional design, Dave maintains a balance between what is efficient and effective in every message. He always focuses on the why and how rather than "just doing it" to get the job done. By day he works at a leading university designing online courses that support 9,000 students in 64 countries. He works directly with faculty to brainstorm, design, and develop their online instruction utilizing the Adobe suite. He also teaches for the university as an adjunct faculty member in the area of web design. By night he is a devoted husband, father, freelancer, and adventurer of the outdoors. His other interests include LifeHacker, Science Fiction and Hayao Miyazaki movies, Settlers of Catan, and coffee with friends. He currently lives in St. Louis and has an M.S. in Instructional Design and aspires to pursue a professional degree in content marketing and strategy. Visit the links below for more information about his interests and design work.
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