Digital Learning Blog

Increasing Student Success With RSI

February 13, 2024  / Digital Learning  / Tags: Online Course, RSI

RSI diagram

What is Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)?

The Federal US Department of Education (DoE) regulatory definitions of distance education require that institutions ensure that Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) between students and instructors. An emphasis on regular and substantive interaction is consistent with well-documented research-based effective practices in online course design and delivery.

In online teaching and learning environments of any kind, (asynchronous, synchronous, blended/hybrid), regular and substantive interactions must include two of these five actions:

    1. Be with an instructor as defined by the institution’s accreditor.
    2. Be initiated by the instructor.
    3. Be scheduled and predictable.
    4. Be academic in nature and relevant to the course.
    5. Substantive interaction assumes direct interaction between the learner and the instructor and requires direct instruction from the instructor including:
      1. Assessing or providing feedback on a student’s coursework.
      2. Providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course.
      3. Facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency.
      4. Other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency.

Importance of Regular and Substantive Interaction in Online Courses:

    1. Promoting Student Engagement: Regular interaction between instructors and students encourages active participation, fosters a sense of community, and instills a deeper commitment to the learning process. Substantive interactions, where discussions reflect meaningful content, allow students to gain insights, challenge ideas, and form connections with their peers. 

Example:  A weekly synchronous video conference session provides an opportunity for instructors to clarify complex concepts, answer questions, and facilitate collaborative discussions. This not only enhances student engagement but also creates a supportive learning environment.

    1. Building a Sense of Connection: Online courses can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation, making it vital for educators to facilitate interactions that foster a sense of belonging. When students feel connected to the instructor and their classmates, they are more likely to stay motivated and persist through challenges.

Example:  Community building activities throughout the semester can help students introduce themselves, share their interests, discover commonalities, and support each other.  Utilizing these ideas will go a long way to creating a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere.

    1. Encouraging Active Learning: Regular and substantive interactions drive active learning by encouraging students to reflect on course material, express their thoughts, and engage in critical discussions. This approach moves beyond passive consumption of content and helps students construct knowledge actively.

Example:  Utilizing discussion boards for weekly reflection on course topics, encouraging peer feedback, and requiring students to build upon each other's ideas promote active learning and critical thinking.

Examples of Regular and Substantive Interaction in an Online Course:

    1. Discussion Boards: Instructors can incorporate discussion forums where students can participate in asynchronous discussions, debate ideas, and collaborate on group projects. Active monitoring and timely responses from the instructor ensure substantive engagement.
    2. Virtual Office Hours: Regularly scheduled virtual office hours provide students with dedicated one-on-one time with the instructor to seek clarification, discuss concerns, and receive personalized feedback on course content.
    3. Course Announcements: Weekly course announcements are written or recorded (video) by faculty and might give a summary of the upcoming week, clarification for an assignment or assessment, or a reminder about a required synchronous meeting.
    4. Feedback and Assessment: Providing timely and constructive feedback on assignments and assessments fosters substantive interaction, as students can use this feedback to improve their performance and engage in further discussions.
    5. Module Overview: Provide an overview video in each module that discusses module learning objectives, assessments and assignments. 
    6. Feedback from Students: Ask students for feedback about their experience in the course throughout the semester, discuss the results with them, and make changes based on the feedback. 

What Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) is not

    • You add numeric grades to the course gradebook.
    • A student submits a quiz that is automatically graded by Canvas.
    • You have an AI software generating feedback for discussion forums or other assignments (not moderated by the instructor).
    • You send a welcome message during the first week of class and a mid-semester message around week five.
    • You encourage students to participate in an optional, one-time online review session before the final exam.
    • You remind students of the course attendance policy.
    • You post an announcement about an upcoming assignment deadline.



Regular and substantive interaction in online college courses plays a crucial role in enhancing student engagement, building a sense of connection, and encouraging active learning. By incorporating design examples and utilizing the features available within learning management systems, faculty can create a stimulating virtual classroom environment that fosters meaningful interactions and promotes student success.

Want to learn more about integrating RSI into your online course?

Consider participating in:

    • Introduction to Online Teaching Academy: For faculty new to online teaching or returning after a few years not teaching online.
    • Advanced Online Teaching Academy: For faculty having recently taught two or more years online. 
      • RSI Strategies are threaded throughout each module of the online teaching academies.  
      • The academies are self-paced, and you have numerous choices about what you wish to read/view and what activities you wish to complete. 
      • The online teaching academies are unique in that you do not have to complete every module. You may pick and choose the modules you wish to complete (in any order) and come back to complete others at any time. 
      • You will earn certificates for each module you complete.  If you choose to complete all the modules (at any time), you will earn a Certificate of Completion for your promotion materials.