Regular & Substantive Interaction (RSI) in Online Learning

Regular and substantive interaction, or RSI, is essential to online instruction at Chemeketa. Research proves what we know to be true: instructor facilitation and presence is vital to online student persistence, retention, and overall success.   

Good online instructors engage in regular and substantive interaction (RSI) with students to promote a strong sense of instructor presence in the online classroom. 

RSI is evaluated by the US Department of Education based on evidence of three criteria in the online course shell. Therefore, documentation of the intended RSI should be included in course materials (e.g., a syllabus or Getting Started module).

What is RSI?

3 aspects of RSI must be evident in the eLearn course shell

Instructor-Initiated Interactions

Online instructors initiate interaction and communication with students, as a group or individually. The course design materials describe the type of instructor interaction that students can expect.

Examples of Instructor-Initiated Interactions

Individualized emails 

Feedback on assignments 

Instructor-facilitated discussion forums 

Frequent and Timely Interactions

 The course design materials describe the expected frequency of interaction with the instructor, including grading feedback, announcements, and potential email communication.

Examples of Frequent & Timely Interactions

Weekly announcements 

Weekly summaries or highlights of discussion posts

Regularly scheduled online review or help sessions

Substantive (Non-Trivial) Interactions

The course design materials describe student interaction with the instructor specifically on the course content, such as feedback on a discussion post or assessment.

Examples of Substantive Interactions

Announcements previewing or reviewing difficult content 

Discussion posts illustrating real-world applications of course concepts

Not considered to be RSI by the US Department of Education are objective assessments where feedback is computer-generated, and recorded webinars, videos or reading materials that do not require interaction with the instructor.

More examples of RSI are available in this RSI Requirement Checklist from Blue Mountain Community College.


Correspondence vs. Distance Learning

 The intent of the RSI requirement is to make clear the distinction between correspondence courses and for-credit distance learning courses.  Distance learning is not self-paced instruction, which is an important focus of the RSI criteria.  The below descriptions from the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) clarify the differences between each instructional format.

Correspondence Education:  Education provided through one or more courses in which the institution provides instructional materials and examinations by mail or electronic transmission to students who are separated from the instructor.  Interaction between the instructor and the student is not regular and substantive, and it is primarily initiated by the student.  Correspondence courses are typically self-paced.   

Distance Education:  Education that delivers instruction to students who are separated from the instructor and that supports regular and substantive interaction between students and the instructor synchronously or asynchronously using one or more of the following technologies:  the internet, one-way and two-way transmission through open broadcast, closed-circuit cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communication devices; audio-conferencing; or videocassettes, DVDs, and CD-ROMs used in conjunction with any of the other technologies.  

For more information about RSI at Chemeketa, contact Beth Hale at

InstructionRegular & Substantive Interaction