With just a few exceptions, nearly all post-secondary courses require students to master some amount of content. Indeed, many courses, especially at the undergraduate level, are centred almost entirely around helping students learn essential facts and processes and build academic as well as soft skills. In short, course content is tremendously important, and helping students engage effectively with that content is essential for every educator.

Students interact with content any time they encounter a new fact, idea, theory, or principle presented to them by another person in a course, whether by reading, watching, listening, or viewing something presented to them. In his seminal work on interaction in distance education, Michael Moore (1989) locates student-content interaction at the heart of all learning experiences.

Without [learner-content interaction] there cannot be education, since it is the process of intellectually interacting with content that results in changes in the learner's understanding, the learner's perspective, or the cognitive structures of the learner's mind.

(Moore, 1989)

We think most often about student-content interaction in online education when we are designing and building a course for the first time. Yet, it is also helpful to consider how your facilitation strategies can help foster engagement within the sphere of student-content interaction.

Identifying student-content interactions

Let’s begin by thinking about the types of student-content interaction that will take place in your online course. Not all online courses deliver content in the same way, and most courses use a variety of methods for content delivery. Some common student-content interactions for online courses include:

  • Assigned readings (textbooks, articles, primary sources, etc)
  • Written lecture materials or transcripts of lectures
  • Illustrative images
  • Charts and graphs (often static, but may be animated)
  • Video or audio lectures
  • Narrated PowerPoint presentations
  • Embedded or linked multimedia content (such as films, YouTube videos, podcasts, etc)
  • Links to popular media, current news events, or blogs
  • Research assignments (in which students curate content themselves)
  • Content sharing between students (such as in a discussion, class wiki, or group project)

Check and reflect


Take a moment to think about the course you are getting ready to facilitate. What content delivery methods are used in your course? Jot down a list, and keep it handy as you work through the rest of this unit.

The facilitator's role

As a facilitator, you may or may not have control over how content is delivered in your course. In the remainder of this unit, we will assume that your course content has already been created and cannot, in general, be substantially changed while you are facilitating during a term. Once facilitation of your course has begun, there are two major issues to think about when trying to maximize student engagement with the course content. These are metacognition and motivation. By helping students think about their thinking and feel motivated about the course they are taking, you can help them engage better in the course content, no matter how it is presented.

In the next section, we will discuss what metacognition and motivation are and how they influence engagement for students. Then, in the final section of the unit, we will present some practical tips for nurturing metacognition and motivation.



Moore, Michael. (1989). Three types of interaction. American Journal of Distance Education, 3(2): 1-7.