Defending Anderson’s Interaction Equivalency Theorem
Anderson’s Interaction Equivalency Theorem presents a clear and accurate illustration of learning that can be applied to a variety of situations including face to face (F2F) classes and online learning. The theorem posits that meaningful learning occurs as a result of three types of interaction (student-content, student-teacher, and student-student) and implies “an instructional designer can substitute one type of interaction for one of the others (at the same level) with little loss in educational effectiveness” (Anderson, 2003, p. 4).
The most meaningful learning experiences are those that allow for students to participate in active learning, whether in a F2F or online environment. For this reason, an effective instructional designer can provide opportunities for meaningful learning by planning for active interactions with the content, with the instructor, and between students. In the end, learning will only occur if students take advantage of these opportunities.
Each learner is a unique individual with different preferences and learning styles. Bayne (2004) as cited in Al-Dujaily et al. (2013) claims “that people’s personality has a significant influence on how learners may or may not want to become involved in their learning processes, independent of their personal interests or stage of cognitive development” (p. 16). For this reason, different types of interaction will also suit different learners. It stands to reason that if meaningful learning could only occur as a result of an even balance of all three interaction types, learners with strong likes or dislikes towards one type of interaction would struggle to be successful. Instead, by providing learners with an active learning interaction type that suits their personality, instructional designers are able to engage a variety of learners in meaningful learning using the tools available to them.
Learning activities may be carried out F2F or in online environments. For example, an instructor could have students complete a jigsaw activity which would allow learners to interact with the content by reading a journal article and interact with their peers by sharing the main ideas from their article. This activity could be carried out in small groups in-person, via videoconferencing apps like Zoom, or using a Google doc through the chat feature and document sharing capabilities. While the teacher would be involved in facilitating this activity by selecting/assigning articles and possibly forming groups, very little student-teacher interaction would take place. None-the-less, meaningful learning would occur because the other two interaction types would be utilized fully.
Anderson (2003) highlights “the value of the content is dependent on the extent to which it engages students or teachers in interaction, leading to relevant knowledge construction” (p. 6). I would add that all interactions must be engaging or learning will suffer. Few students would enjoy listening to a monotonous lecture delivered over the course of an hour. In addition, student-student interactions would be less effective if dominated by one strong personality. By effectively using appropriate interactions, teachers are able to provide opportunities for meaningful learning to their students in a variety of settings.
Al-Dujaily, A., Kim, J., and Ryu, R. (2013) Am I extravert or introvert? Considering the personality effect toward e-learning. System Journal of Educational Technology & Society , 16(3), 14-27.
Anderson, T. (2003). Getting the mix right again: An updated and theoretical rationale for interaction. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 4(2), 1–14.