Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) in Online Learning

Lindsey Seril
By Lindsey Seril on January 26, 2024

In online education, institutions face the challenge of adhering to Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) compliance. This requirement, set forth by the U.S. Department of Education, requires frequent and meaningful interactions between students and instructors in both synchronous and asynchronous programs. 

What is Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)?

RSI is a fundamental element of online learning that fosters meaningful interaction between students and instructors. RSI plays an important role in ensuring that online students have an engaging and effective learning experience.

The U.S. Department of Education mandates regular and substantive interaction both in synchronous and asynchronous settings. (Higher Education Opportunity Act, Pub.L. 110-315, 122 Stat. 3078, codified as amended at 34 C.F.R. §600.2).

Online learning institutions recognize the importance of RSI in promoting collaboration, critical thinking, and student success. Embracing RSI is the first step towards implementing effective strategies that enhance compliance and engagement in online learning.

To be classified as RSI compliant, interactions must meet the following characteristics.

Instructor-Initiated Interactions

To meet RSI compliance, instructors must play an active role in initiating a wide range of interactions with students throughout online courses. This guarantees that participation is mandatory and not at the individual student's discretion. Instead, it's an essential component of the course. Examples of instructor-initiated interactions include:

•  Online office hours

•  Personalized feedback on assignments

•  One-on-one emails

•  Instructor-facilitated discussions

Regular and Substantive Interactions

In addition to being instructor-initiated, interactions between instructors and students should be both regular and meaningful. Instructors are required to maintain a consistent schedule of interactions throughout the semester. Regular engagement might include:

•  Weekly updates on session topics

•  Summaries of each class discussion

•  Scheduled tutoring sessions for additional support

Beyond just being frequent, interactions between instructors and student must be substantive. These involve in-depth involvement in the educational process, including teaching, learning, and assessment activities that directly relate to the course content. For example, meaningful interactions could be:

•  Emails offering deeper insights into assignments

•  Discussion questions that encourage critical thinking

•  Guided study sessions to review key concepts before an exam

RSI Infographic (1)

Best Practices in Online Learning to Meet RSI Compliance 

To meet RSI compliance, developing purposeful strategies and adjusting existing course design may be necessary. Here are some best practices, each with examples of regular and substantive interaction, to help make online courses engaging, interactive, and RSI-compliant.

1. Use of Multimedia and Technology

Leverage technology to create an interactive learning environment. This includes regularly using polls, video clips, Q&A boards, chat channels, and interactive whiteboards. All of these tools naturally promote engagement and interaction between students and instructors.

For example, an online instructor could incorporate a weekly interactive quiz using a real-time polling tool during their live sessions. This would allow students to answer questions related to the week's topic, with instant feedback and explanation. Additionally, the instructor could show video clips on the session's topic to the class, followed by small-group discussions. This approach not only makes the learning process more engaging but also helps students to understand complex concepts in a practical context.

2. Regular and Personalized Feedback Through Many Channels

Provide timely and personalized feedback on assignments, quizzes, and student progress through many channels. This can include emails, chat messages, and video calls, among other types of communication. Schedule regular virtual office hours and encourage one-on-one meetings with students. These sessions can be used to discuss course material, career advice, or areas for improvement. 

For example, an instructor could provide individual feedback on student assignments using video messages, highlighting specific strengths and areas for improvement in each student’s work. Additionally, the instructor could host bi-weekly virtual office hours, where students can discuss their progress one-on-one. This personalized approach not only helps students improve their skills but also fosters a sense of connection with the instructor.

3. Varied Projects and Assessments

Use a variety of teaching and assessment methods throughout your course to meet the needs of all learners. Rather than relying solely on lecture, regularly mix in small group discussions and group projects. For assessments, incorporate polls, quizzes, exams, peer reviews, and project work to evaluate student learning. Regular assessments keep students engaged and provide continuous feedback.

For example, an instructor could incorporate a mix of individual and group projects throughout the semester. One week, students might work on a solo research paper. The next, they could collaborate in small groups to create and share a presentation. Assessments could include polls throughout each session, mid-term peer reviews where students give feedback on each other’s work, and an in-depth final project. This variety caters to different learning styles and keeps the coursework engaging.

Benefits of RSI Compliance in Online Education

The many benefits to regular and substantive interactions between students and instructors go beyond maintaining compliance in online programs:

Improving Educational Quality and Learning Outcomes: RSI compliance is not just a regulatory requirement; it's a cornerstone for quality in online education. By ensuring regular and substantive interactions between instructors and students, institutions can facilitate deeper understanding, promote critical thinking, and improve learning outcomes.

Fostering Community and Belonging: Online education can often feel isolating for students. Regular interactions with instructors and peers help students feel part of an academic community. This sense of belonging is crucial for student retention and success.

Meeting Accreditation Standards and Federal Regulations: Adhering to RSI standards is necessary for institutions to meet accreditation requirements and eligibility for federal financial aid. Non-compliance can result in severe consequences from the U.S. Department of Education.

Supporting Diverse Learning Styles and Needs: Regular and substantive interactions are helpful in meeting the diverse learning styles and needs of online students. Instructors can provide personalized feedback and tailored support, helping students who might struggle with self-paced learning or those who need extra guidance. 

Continuous Improvement in Teaching and Curriculum: RSI compliance encourages instructors to continuously engage with their course material and students, leading to ongoing improvements in teaching methods and curriculum. Instructors can adapt their teaching strategies based on direct feedback and student performance, leading to more effective and engaging course content.

Preparing Students for the Modern Workforce: In today's collaborative and often remote work environment, the skills nurtured through RSI - such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving - are highly valued. Regular interactions in an academic setting prepare students for the workforce, where they will be expected to engage effectively with colleagues and work on collaborative projects.

The importance of RSI is a fundamental piece of creating an engaging and effective online learning environment. By prioritizing RSI, institutions can ensure that their online programs are not only compliant but also high-quality, inclusive, and aligned with the evolving needs of students and the workforce.

Engageli LogoAre you interested in learning how Engageli can support your institution in creating regular and substantive interaction? Check out our article on how Engageli provides tools for strategies to help address RSI compliance!


Published by
Lindsey Seril
Lindsey Seril
January 26, 2024