Regular and Substantive Interaction


For Distance Education courses taught at the San Diego Community College District, whether they are Fully Online, Online Live, Partially Online, or HyFlex, these courses must be accompanied by human interaction. The following interactions will have to take place between the instructor and the student, with most if not all contact initiated by the instructor.

As many of you may have been familiar with the previous policy of Regular and Effective Communication, recent changes to the Federal Education Code, the ACCJC, and the CCCCO now require that Distance Education courses must include instructor initiated Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) between the instructor and student.

Here are some things that you should keep in mind when regarding Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)

  • Is central in determining whether a course is distance education rather than correspondence education.
  • Is needed in every course that is fully or partially online and in the online elements of hybrid courses.
  • Must be demonstrable and documented.
  • Is vital to a college's relationship with the U.S. Department of Education for student financial aid eligibility.

Here is a short overview of RSI and why it should be important to you:


To learn more you can visit the full video where we discuss and show examples of how to implement RSI in your online courses.

Further guidance and information can be found through Mesa College's MOST Toolkit
Learn more about inclusive interaction and how you can implement this in your online courses.

Recorded Workshops for RSI Tools

To find more recorded workshops and resources visit our On Demand Website

Humanizing your Online Courses



Online courses, especially those that are all or mostly asynchronous in nature, can seem an impersonal and psychologically isolating experience. This is a huge barrier to retention and student success. In this seminar, we’ll look at ways you can put yourself and your caring concern for your students into your online course. Convince your student you’re NOT a robot!


Introduction to Pronto




Group Activities in Canvas and Zoom



Both Canvas and Zoom offer several tools and techniques to facilitate student work in teams.  Join us for this professional development session in which we’ll look at and demonstrate these capabilities which allow group work in both synchronous (Zoom) and asynchronous (Canvas) environments.


What does it mean?

In online courses, regular and substantive instructor/student and student/student interaction guarantees that the student receives the benefit of the instructor’s presence in the learning environment both as a provider of instructional information and as a facilitator of student learning.  In a face-to-face course the instructor is present at each class meeting and interacts via all class announcements, lectures, activities and discussions that take a variety of forms.  The classroom instructor also serves as a content adviser when he or she answers questions both as they come up in class and as they arise in individual situations.

Title 5 regulations do not make a distinction between regular and distance education courses beyond the need to have a separate curriculum approval process and the need to ensure regular substantive interaction.  The guidelines do say that quality assurances within the regulations apply to all DE courses, which include hybrid courses.  Therefore, it is assumed that those qualities of regular substantive interaction described above for the face-to-face environment should also be applied to the distance education situation.  The DE Guidelines require colleges to develop a policy regarding regular substantive interaction that addresses “the type and frequency of interaction appropriate to each DE course/section or session."


Regular Substantive interaction at the SDCCD

All Distance Education courses at the San Diego Community College District, whether they are Fully Online, Online Live, Partially Online, or HyFlex will include regular substantive interaction as described below:

  • Initiated interaction: Instructors will regularly initiate interaction with students and design curriculum to facilitate student to student interaction, in order to determine that they are accessing and comprehending course material, and that they are participating regularly in the activities in the course.  Providing students with an open-ended question forum or responding to questions via email, although appropriate, does not constitute the entirety of effective instructor-initiated interaction. There must be instructor-initiated communication, and student to student interaction.
  • Frequency: DE Courses are considered the “virtual equivalent” to face-to-face courses.  Therefore, the frequency of the contact will be at least the same as would be established in a regular, face-to-face course.  At the very least, the number of instructor contact hours per week that would be available for face-to-face students will also be available, in asynchronous and/or synchronous mode, with students in the DE format.  Contact shall be distributed in a manner that will ensure that regular contact is maintained over the course of a week and occurs as often as is appropriate for the course.
  • Substantive Content: Interactions should be connected to the subject of the course and contribute to the students’ progress toward course, program, and college learning objectives. Routine procedural interactions, such as reminders of upcoming deadlines or activities like assigning grades are not ‘substantive’ on their own unless they are accompanied by personalized feedback or suggestions for improvement. This does not mean that interactions designed to welcome students or build classroom community are not important, merely that they are not sufficient by themselves.
  • Establishing expectations and managing unexpected instructor absence: An instructor and/or department-established policy describing the frequency and timeliness of instructor-initiated contact and instructor feedback will be posted in the syllabus and/or other course documents that are made available for students when the course officially opens each semester.  If the instructor must be out of contact briefly for an unexpected reason (such as illness or a family emergency that takes the instructor offline), notification to students will be made in the announcements area of the course that includes when the students can expect regular substantive contact to resume.


How to implement RSI in your course

Regarding the type of contact that will exist in all SDCCD DE courses, instructors will, at a minimum, use the following resources to initiate contact with students:

  • Threaded discussion forums within the Canvas (LMS), with appropriate instructor participation.  (“Questions for the instructor” forums are good but should be used in conjunction with other forums.)
  • Class Messages or Email (If you use Email, be sure to keep a record of correspondence.)
  • Weekly announcements in the Canvas (LMS)
  • Timely feedback for student work.
  • Instructor prepared e-lectures or introductions in the form of e-lectures to any publisher created materials (written, recorded, broadcast, etc.) that, combined with other course materials, creates the “virtual equivalent” of the face-to-face class.
  • Instructors should also choose to use other forms of communication, as mentioned in section 55204 of Title 5. (“…through group or individual meetings, orientation and review sessions, supplemental seminar or study sessions, field trips, library workshops, telephone contact, correspondence, voice mail. e-mail, or other activities.”) and/or webinar, video conference, podcast, or other synchronous technologies may also be included.
  • Instructors should have a threaded discussion that is set aside for general questions about the course and may wish to have weekly or other timely, question and answer sessions available to students.  This may also be accomplished through virtual office hours.


Federal and state regulations

Definition of Distance Education (34 C.F.R. §600.2.)

Distance Education means:

  1. Education that uses one or more of the technologies listed in paragraphs 2(a) through (d) to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the instructor(s) and to support regular and substantive interaction between the students and the instructor(s), either synchronously or asynchronously.
  2. The technologies may include:
    1. the internet;
    2. one-way and two-way transmissions through open broadcast, closed circuit, cable, microwave, broadband lines, fiber optics, satellite, or wireless communications devices;
    3. audioconferencing; or
    4. other media used in a course in conjunction with any of the technologies listed in paragraphs (a) through (c).
  3. For purposes of this definition, an instructor is an individual responsible for delivering course content and who meets the qualifications for instruction established by an institution's accrediting.
  4. For purposes of this definition, substantive interaction is engaging students in teaching, learning, and assessment, consistent with the content under discussion, and also includes at least two of the following:
    1. Providing direct instruction;
    2. Assessing or providing feedback on a student's coursework;
    3. Providing information or responding to questions about the content of a course or competency;
    4. Facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency; or
    5. Other instructional activities approved by the institution's or program's accrediting agency.
  5. An institution ensures regular interaction between a student and an instructor or instructors by, prior to the student's completion of a course or competency—
    1. Providing the opportunity for substantive interactions with the student on a predictable and regular basis commensurate with the length of time and the amount of content in the course or competency; and
    2. Monitoring the student's academic engagement and success and ensuring that an instructor is responsible for promptly and proactively engaging in substantive interaction with the student when needed on the basis of such monitoring, or upon request by the student.

Definition of Correspondence Education (34 C.F.R. § 602.3.)

Correspondence education means:

  1. education provided through one or more courses by an institution under which the institution provides instructional materials, by mail or electronic transmission, including examinations on the materials, to students who are separated from the instructor
  2. interaction between the instructor(s) and the student is limited, is not regular and substantive, and is primarily initiated by the student
  3. If a course is part correspondence and part residential training, the Secretary considers the course to be a correspondence course
  4. correspondence education is not distance

State Regulations

The only notable difference between the above federal regulations and state Title 5 regulations on interaction in DE courses comes in subsection (a) under Instructor Contact (§ 55204):

  1. Any portion of a course conducted through distance education includes regular and substantive interaction between the instructor(s) and students (and among students if described in the course outline of record or distance education addendum), either synchronously or asynchronously, through group or individual meetings, orientation and review sessions, supplemental seminar or study sessions, field trips, library workshops, telephone contact, voice mail, e-mail, or other activities.

Consequences of no Interaction

There are two ways your course can be scrutinized for evidence of RSI: through an audit and through accreditation. Audits are performed by the U.S. Department of Education, and our regional accreditor, the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, (ACCJC) is part of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), which is under the federal DOE.

graphic indicating which content constitutes correspondence education vs distance education

It is possible that if auditors or accreditors find many LPC Distance Education courses without evidence of RSI, they can classify those as Correspondence Courses, which might jeopardize federal financial aid flowing to the college. Students in Distance Ed courses are eligible for financial aid, but students in Correspondence courses are not.