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How to create opportunities for learner-to-learner interaction in online classes

by Gulcin Cosgun | 08 Mar 2021
Resource Description: This resource aims to provide some tips to create opportunities for learner-to-learner interaction and constructive collaboration.
Audience: University
Audience Language Proficiency: Advanced
Teaching Tip:

According to Vygotsky's social constructivist theory, the source of development 'resides in the environment rather than in the individual’ (Lantolf, 2006, p. 726). That is, knowledge is co-constructed and the cognitive development occurs as a product of the interactions between student and their teachers and peers. The interaction between learner and ‘more knowledgeable other’ is crucial for learners who are in the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), defined as “the distance between what a learner can do if assisted by others (in joint activity that is other-regulated) versus what she or he can accomplish alone (in independent activity that is, hopefully, self-regulated)” (Ortega, 2009, p. 223). Peer scaffolding can provide assistance for learners who are in the ZPD and might encourage the emergence of self-regulation. Therefore, a welcoming online learning space where each individual learner is acknowledged as a valued member of the interactive learning community should be created. Activities should promote learners' collaboration with their peers as well as their instructors in the course and opportunities for learners to learn from each other and to share resources should be provided.

 Research has also shown that there is a positive effect of cooperative learning on student achievement (Bernard et al., 2009; Borokhovski, Bernard, Tamim, Schmid & Sokolovskaya, 2016; Kyndt, Raes, Lismont, Timmers, Cascallar, & Dochy, 2013; Lou, Abrami, & D’Appolonia , 2001; Singh, 2005).

Here are some activities that might provide opportunities for interaction in online lessons:

  • small-group projects
  • group problem-solving assignments
  • peer critiques
  • group presentations
  • collaborative writing
  • forums
  • pair or group discussions
  • completing shared tasks in a pair or group, e.g. matching, sorting, ranking
  • activities or games with a competitive element
  • drama and role play
  • information exchange activities, including barrier games and jigsaw activities
  • class survey
  • peer teaching
  • creating opportunities for a ‘non-instructional’ discussion (e.g. creating a discussion topic such as ‘The Coffee Shop’ for non-course related discussions)
  • introducing an “All About Me” category in the threaded discussion topics for the class
  • using established ice-breaker techniques like a discussion topic that asks learners to post a message about themselves (e.g. to write two truths and one lie, to share something about themselves that they are most proud of, or to share something that nobody knows about)

Bernard, R. M., Abrami, P. C., Borokhovski, E., Wade, A., Tamim, R., Surkes, M., & Bethel, E. C. (2009). A meta-analysis of three interaction treatments in distance education. Review of Educational Research, 79(3), 1243-1289.

Borokhovski, E., Bernard, R. M., Tamim, R. M., Schmid, R. F., & Sokolovskaya, A. (2016). Technology-supported student interaction in post-secondary education: A meta-analysis of designed versus contextual treatments. Computers & Education, 96, 15-28.

Kyndt, E., Raes, E., Lismont, B., Timmers, F., Cascallar, E., & Dochy, F. (2013). A meta analysis of the effects of face-to-face cooperative learning. Do recent studies falsify or verify earlier findings? Educational Research Review, 10, 133-149.

Lantolf, J. P. (2006). Language emergence: implications for applied linguistics – a sociocultural perspective. Applied Linguistics, 27, 717–28.

Lou, Y., Abrami, P. C., & D’Appolonia, S. (2001). Small group and individual learning with technology: A  meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 71(3), 449-521.

Ortega, L. (2009). Understanding Second Language Acquisition. London: Hodder.

Singh, C. (2005). Impact of peer interaction on conceptual test performance. American Journal of Physics, 73, 446-451.