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What is Interactive Learning?

By J. Beam
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Interactive learning is any sort of schoolwork or academic plan that uses computer technology in order to emphasize or teach specific material. Online classes and virtual classrooms are examples of extreme interactive learning, but almost any time a computer enters into the academic space — as an educational game, for instance, or as a structured research tool — the resulting lessons can be said to be interactive.

In some circles, any learning that is hands-on is considered interactive. While this application is valid, it is usually considered outdated. When modern academics talk about interactivity in the classroom, they are almost always talking about technology and usually mean the Internet.

Technology Integration

Ever since computers have become a mainstream part of most industrialized societies, educators at all levels have been looking for ways to integrate technology into the classroom. Interactive learning depends on computer use, but it is usually far more than simple computer education — learning to type, to operate basic software, and to locate resources online are important skills certainly, but do not usually come under the umbrella of interactive learning. Most of the time, interactivity is about the integration of computers into regular lessons.

One of the most basic examples is computer games. Students who play games, either downloaded or online, that emphasize certain concepts — math formulas, for instance, or historical dates and grammar rules — are supplementing their classroom learning with something more abstract. Many educators believe that students are able to learn better and more thoroughly by varying the ways in which information is delivered.

Reaching Students Where They Are

One of the biggest arguments in favor of interactive learning is that most of today’s students are already so Internet savvy that introducing computer-based learning is often extremely effective at grasping and holding their attention. More young people than ever before have smartphones and maintain active social network presences, and most spend the majority of their free time “connected” in one way or another. Using already-familiar technology into classrooms can help students become more engaged, many educators say.

Offline and Pre-Technology Interactivity

The concept of interactive learning is not new to the so-called “technology generation,” and in fact has only recently come to be associated with computers. Decades ago, any learning that involved more than simple lecture and regurgitation was considered interactive. Group work is a prime example, as it the use of learning aids — counting beads or pattern blocks in younger grades, or science lab experiments for older students. Most of the time, these sorts of experiences are simply classed as “hands-on learning” today.

Differences Between Interactive and Passive Learning

Interactive learning is generally seen as the opposite of passive learning, which depends on observation. Students typically need a combination of passive and active learning in order to master concepts. If everything is interactive, students run the risk of being overstimulated, or losing track of the main goals. If teaching is entirely passive, however, students may find their interest and focus declining.

Teachers usually strive to strike a balance between passive learning techniques like lecturing and independent reading with more active assignments that integrate technology and force students to apply lessons in new and often unexpected settings. The two systems tend to work best when played against each other.

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Discussion Comments
By suntan12 — On Jul 25, 2010

Bhutan- Have you tried Rosetta Stone? It is an interactive language learning program that offers instruction by direct immersion.

In my children’s school they offer this course as an optional afterschool activity. They provide instruction in Spanish, Italian, French, and even Mandarin.

By Bhutan — On Jul 25, 2010

Dega2010- I agree with you. Online learning offers the possibility to learn information in non-traditional ways.

For example, my children receive interactive online learning assignments from sites like Brainpop and Spelling City. Brainpop offers various subjects ranging from science to math and even current events.

The site provides a slight narration involving a specific topic. There are also two animated figures that are called Moby and the Robot. After the child watches the brief movie, there is a quiz about the material. If the child performs well the score is flashed with fireworks.

If the child does not perform well, then Moby tells the child to try again.

The other site, Spelling City is great because it makes the children spell their spelling words as the computer verbally announces them.

The child has to type the words initially in order for the system to know that those were the spelling words to practice.

There are also additional exercises and games for sentence building and vocabulary on the site. My son’s teacher always makes him take a spelling test and bring the congratulatory certificate to class.

By dega2010 — On Jul 24, 2010

I am taking several college classes right now and two of them are online classes. They are referred to as "interactive learning". Our instructor communicates back and forth with us and all of our assignments are interactive. There is a chatroom for the students and teachers to discuss any problems. It is a great tool.

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