In the e-learning context, interactivity can be termed as the dialog that occurs between an individual and a computer program. (Search Web Services) Taking this premise into consideration, interactive multimedia refers to the multimedia appplications that allow users to actively participate rather than being passive recipients of information (Wikipedia). This page will discuss the issues surrounding the interactivity of multimedia.

1. Elements of Interactivity
1.1 Feedback and Control
1.2 Creativity and Productivity
1.3 Communications
1.4 Adaptivity
2. Creating Interactive Materials
3. Using Ineractivity Appropriately
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According to Nathan Shedroff, interactivity, in terms of multimedia, can be defined by six major components:
  • Feedback
  • Control
  • Creativity
  • Productivity
  • Communications
  • Adaptivity


Invariably, the users of any e-learning course need to be provided with feedback about their performance in order to stay motivated and involved. Instant feedback is ideal, as it allows the learner to know where they went wrong as well as what they did well at the precise moment the information is required. Any delays in the receipt of feedback can reduce the significance or relevance of the feedback.

In an e-Learning situation, feedback can be provided using quizzes or problem solving activities where the learner is informed of how well they performed or if they answered questions correctly. Feedback can also be provided in a more personalised fashion, where an instructor provides some information regarding performance, rather than a generic right or wrong answer provided by the computer.

Control allows users to take initiative and choose how, what and when they learn, making the learning more relevant to them. If a course’s design is limited to the passive participation of the learner, that is, all he/she can do is to sit back and watch, they won’t be able to remain engaged for a lengthy period of time.

Control can be given to the learner by proving options and avenues using sophisticated navigation tools. For example, the learner may be given the option of forgoing participation in a learning module if they already have knowledge in that area, or they may have the option of choosing what learning activities they do, depending on their learning style.


Despite the different qualities of these concepts, in the e-learning context, they share similar attributes. They both concern creating experiences which allow the audience to do something or make something. If users are given the opportunity to be involved in the creation of something, this may give them a sense of involvement and ownership which will give the learning more meaning.

An E-Learning course may involve elements of creativity and productivity by allowing the learner to practise producing the learning content in question. This can be done with the use of creation tools, and creation help. For example, in a course about HTML, the learner may be given a task where they can try out their coding skills and produce a web page of their own.


Shedroff jokes that the only thing that people love more than talking, is eating. He suggests that anything that can be done to allow the audience to communicate with one another; talk, listen, identify, share or tell stories, will make the site more successful and may build a learning community. Humans are in fact social animals, and they feel better when they are in the company of other people and when they can share information with others.

In relation to e-Learning, communication is very important, especially as e-Learning has the potential to be a very isolated activity, with learners often working alone at a computer instead of a social class-room based setting. This is why measures need to be taken in order to ensure that they do not feel alone and can communicate with their teacher and other students.

Shedroff says that all that is needed in order to start a learning community, is
- a way for people to talk to one another
- a way for people to consistently identify themselves and describe themselves and each other
- a topic around which to start a conversation
- audience generated content

In an e-Learning environment, the topic around which to start a conversation is already established as the learning content. All that is required is some type of medium for communication, which can be a discussions board, a chat forum, bulletin boards, video conferences or even email access.


Adaptivity means that the experiences change for each user so as to meet their specific needs, interests, skills and behaviours. By creating unique experiences for users, the problem and/or content will appear more personalized and interactive. This is a difficult task, but can be addressed quite effectively in an e-Learning context.

The ways in which people learn can be identified and targeted. There are two surveys which can help identify what a learner’s preferred learning style is, that is, VARK Learning Style Questionnaireand Honey and Honey and Mumford Learning Styles Questionnaire. The former identifies learners as either visual, aural, read/write or kinesthetic. Honey and Mumford’s Questionnaire, identifies learners as activists, reflectors, theorists or pragmatists. Knowing what each of these preferences are and what activities are best suited to them, will allow instructional designers to suit every learner’s needs. For example, there can be a voice which reads the text to the learner, or there may be two different types of learning activities for one topic, one which will suit kinesthetic learners, and one which will suit read/write learners. There may be a discussion forum which is optional or a list of further research for those interested.

Nathan, provides a useful analysis of how different media compare in regards to interactivity, using a table which rates different types of media according to their elements of interactivity.

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Many ideas for incorporating interactivity in learning materials have been explored in the previous section, however, James Kirk also has provided a number of suggestions. The following is a set of useful links he has investigated.

A diverse range of sources are available for viewing on the internet, many of which provide comprehensive examples of interactive materials. For example, search engines like Google or Yahoo which can we be used to search for games, tests, quizzes and simulations.

According to Kirk, there are many online courses that can be visited as well including; Free Online Courses, Blackboard, and World Wide Learn. He also suggests looking at game and test sites which contain exercises that can be used without charge. One example is the The Lemonade Stand. By extension, Kirk talks about self assessment exercises and tests which can be found on websites that host useful exercises such as Emode. However, before using any of the activities that have been created by someone else, it is necessary to ask for permission by contacting the person whose address appears on the homepage.

The other option is creating your own activities. Kirk lists several software programs which can be used for the creation of interactive activities. These include The Hot Potato Suite, Games Show Proand Flash 5.

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It is important to note that interactivity enhances learning only when implemented correctly. In Learning and Training Innovations magazine, Will Thalheimer explains how interactivity enhances learning and how excessive use may hinder it. Knowledge of this area can help instructional designers to produce courses which draw on the positive aspects of interactivity and minimize the negatives.

In a typical learning environment, interactivity occurs when some aspect of the instruction prompts learners to respond with an answer or action. Thalheimer argues that while interactivity is present in learning designs, it is not the interactivity per se that causes the learning improvements, it is something inherent in the interactivity. He describes the process through which interactivity effectively can lead to enhanced learning.

Interactivity promotes attentiveness. But it is not the attentiveness alone that causes learning, as attention can be paid to any irrelevant detail. It is attentiveness to particular relevant information that causes learning. Furthermore, feedback is used to promote learning, yet it is not the feedback itself, but the questioning and responding process that matters, as well as the information inherent in the feedback.

Therefore, according to Thalheimer, the reason interactivity promotes learning is that it prompts learners to retrieve information from memory, and it is this retrieval practice that prompts the learning improvements. Practicing the retrieval of information during the learning event, is the best way to ensure that it is retrieved from memory in an on-the-job situation. It is not the interactivity itself that enhances learning, it is the retrieval practice.

Thalheimer’s analysis helps to understand why interactivity can hinder learning if it involves questions about non-essential information. When designing learning activities, instructional designers need to consider:
  1. Is the information that the learners is asked to retrieve, relevant?
  2. Is it important?
  3. Is it realistic?
  4. Does it emphasise the learning or divert focus away from the learning?

Gerry McGovern explains another problem relating to interactivity on the internet. He suggest that it is the removal of people – with the consequent reduction of interactivity and community that has attracted many businesses to the web, as when people are removed, so are costs. The web is naturally an environment low on interactivity and community, therefore creation of these features is not as simple as just installing chat or discussion board software. The real work involves getting people to interact. This can be achieved through giving a sense of meaning, content and togetherness amongst the people involved, before giving them a means of interaction.

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Other Useful Links:

Will Thalheimer’s Blog

What does the Literature Say About the Effectiveness of Learner Control in Computer Assisted Instruction?

The Interactive Development Process

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