Did you know that Merriam-Webster has a Word of the Day podcast? I learned this as I was searching for the dictionary definition of “substantive” and synonyms for “substantive.” Due to it’s spelling, I assumed that it was closest in meaning to “substantial,” but it is actually closer to “significant.” Here’s the Word of the Day podcast for “substantive” if you’d like to listen:

If we think of “substantive” interaction as “significant” interaction, then we focus on quality, which makes sense because the “regular” of RSI is focused on quantity and frequency. Essentially, “substantive” interaction fosters meaningful engagement with the course content that deepens student learning.

The Requirements of Substantive Interaction:

Per federal, state, and local regulations, (see AP 4105) “substantive” interaction includes at least two of the following:

  1. Providing direct [synchronous] instruction [or interaction]
  2. Assessing or providing [personalized] feedback on a student’s coursework
  3. Providing information or [thoughtfully] responding to questions about the content of a course or competency
  4. Facilitating a [meaningful] group discussion [synchronously or asynchronously] regarding the content of a course or competency
  5. Other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency

Key Characteristics of Substantive Interaction:

  • Focused on course content: Interactions directly relate to the learning objectives and course material
  • Encourages critical thinking: Activities prompt students to go beyond memorization and develop higher-order thinking skills (think Bloom’s Taxonomy)
  • Provides opportunities for feedback: Instructors actively engage with students’ work, offering constructive feedback and facilitating discussions
  • Promotes collaboration and peer learning: Students interact and learn from each other through discussions, group projects, or peer reviews

Examples of Substantive Interaction:

  • Live online sessions: Facilitate discussions, answer questions, and guide students through complex topics
  • Interactive online activities: Utilize simulations that require analysis and application of knowledge
  • Meaningful feedback: Provide personalized feedback on assignments, discussions, and projects, pushing students to think deeper
  • Asynchronous discussion forums: Encourage thoughtful and critical responses to prompts, fostering peer learning and analysis
  • Individualized support: Offer virtual office hours, email consultations, or individual feedback sessions to address specific student needs


  • Variety is key: Employ a diverse range of activities to cater to keep students engaged
  • Technology is a tool: Use technology to facilitate substantive interactions, not replace them
  • Focus on quality: Prioritize meaningful interactions over mere quantity

By incorporating these strategies, you can ensure your online and hybrid courses not only meet the “regular” aspect of RSI but also provide the “substantive” engagement that fosters deep learning and student success.

Additional Resources:

What does “substantive” Interaction look like in your courses? Is there anything that you want to tweak after reading this post? Have a request for a future post? Comment below to let us know!

One thought on “Demystifying the “Substantive” of Regular & Substantive Interaction (RSI)

  1. Great article Eva! I’ve been using Perusall and loving it. With Perusall, I post an article or lecture outline and ask students to comment, ask questions and answer questions in their small groups. I’m also able to interact very easily with the students, by “up-voting” their comment, answering their question or thanking them for helping another student. Students can also ask a direct question to me by @instructor and I am notified so I can answer the question. I find it equivalent to a student “raising their hand” in a face-to-face classroom. I’ve been counting this as one of my modes for RSI in my online classes. And yes, Perusall adheres to FERPA guidelines for merged classes. It’s very easy to do.

    One potential drawback… students catch on quickly that they can ask the instructor a direct question with @instructor and without some guidance in the instructions for asking questions, you could very well end up with 60+ questions from students on a reading. :-0

    Thanks again for a very informative article Eva! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *