Recent Searches

Loading Search Results...
Loading Directory Results...



Recent Pages

Recent Searches

EIU Faculty Development and Innovation Center

Regular and Substantive Instruction

Guidelines for EIU Instructors

New U.S. Department of Education regulations for distance (online) education require regular and substantive interaction between learners and their instructors. The phrase “regular and substantive interaction” comes from the federal definition of distance education. While regular and substantive interaction is specifically mentioned in the US Department of Education’s definition of distance education, it is applicable to any class regardless of instructional modality (synchronous or asynchronous).  

The Department of Education has the authority to review distance learning offerings at colleges and universities that receive federal funds. An institution that offers distance education risks losing funds in student aid if failing to meet the regular and substantive requirements provided by the U.S. Department of Education on Distance Education and Innovation. Proposed changes to Title IV expand the Department's and accreditation agency's  review and auditing of distance education courses and programs for RSI and other factors.

The FDIC strongly recommends instructors provide opportunities for regular and substantive interactions with learners at least once per week in standard 16-week courses and at least twice per week in accelerated courses, regardless of course modality (synchronous or asynchronous, in-person, or hybrid).  

Definitions of Regular and Substantive Interaction

Substantive Interaction involves engaging learners in teaching, learning, and assessment consistent with the course content. It includes at least two of the following:

  1. Providing direct instruction;
  2. Assessing or providing feedback on a learner’s coursework;
  3. Providing information or responding to questions about course content or competency;
  4. Facilitating group discussions regarding course content or competency; or
  5. Other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency.

Regular Interaction ensures ongoing engagement between the learner and instructor by:

  1. Engaging in substantive interactions on a predictable and regular basis, aligned with the course length and content.
  2. Monitoring the learner's academic engagement and success, and promptly engaging in substantive interaction based on this monitoring or learner requests.

Note: Instruction, assessment, grading, or feedback that is generated by 3rd party applications, rather than performed by the instructor, is not considered substantive interaction. 

Instructor-Initiated Regular and Substantive Interaction

For interactions to be considered 'regular and substantive,' they must be initiated by the instructor. This does not mean that learners should be discouraged from contacting the instructor or asking questions—quite the opposite! Instructors should actively initiate and guide various interactions with learners throughout the semester. This approach ensures that interactions are not optional or left to each learner’s discretion; rather, they are an essential component of the instructional plan for the course.

Examples of Instructor-Initiated Regular and Substantive Interaction

  • Posting discussion questions and actively facilitating the conversation.
  • Inviting a learner to office hours or scheduling a phone call or video conference.
  • Providing personalized comments on individual learner assignments.

Non-RSI Examples:

  • A learner dropping in during regularly scheduled office hours.
  • Adding numeric grades to the course gradebook without further interaction.
  • A learner submitting a quiz that is automatically graded.

Frequency and Consistency of Interaction

Interactions should be frequent and consistently repeated throughout the term. Once the course begins, long intervals of time should not pass between interactions initiated by instructors. This consistent engagement ensures that learners remain actively involved and supported throughout their learning journey.

  • Frequency: Aim to interact with each learner at least once per week. In accelerated courses, interactions should occur at least twice per week. This does not necessarily mean daily communication but ensures regular touchpoints.
  • Consistency: Establish a regular pattern of interactions. Logging into the course every 1-2 days allows for timely responses and ongoing engagement. The method of interaction can vary (e.g., announcements, discussions, review sessions) but should be consistently applied throughout the course.

Examples of Frequent and Consistent Instructor-Initiated RSI:

  • Routinely posting announcements or messages that are specific to the course and relevant to the learners' progress.
  • Actively facilitating required online discussions for each course unit, ensuring continuous engagement.
  • Holding required one-hour online review sessions every other week, providing opportunities for real-time interaction and clarification of course materials.

Examples of Infrequent and Inconsistent RSI:

  • Sending a welcome message at the beginning of the course and a mid-quarter message around week five, with no regular interactions in between.
  • Encouraging learners to participate in an optional, one-time online review session before the final exam without other regular touchpoints.

Focus on Course Subject

Interactions should be directly related to the course subject and aim to enhance learners’ understanding and progress towards course objectives. While routine procedural interactions are necessary, they should be complemented with substantive interactions that contribute to academic growth.

  • Relevance: Ensure interactions are pertinent to the course content and designed to deepen learners' comprehension and application of key concepts.
  • Engagement: Use examples, case studies, and real-world applications to make the subject matter more relatable and engaging for learners.
  • Feedback: Provide detailed and constructive feedback on assignments and assessments, guiding learners on how to improve and advance in their studies.

Examples of Course Subject Instructor-Initiated RSI:

  • Sending messages that preview upcoming concepts and pose questions for learners to consider as they engage with course materials.
  • Posting real-world examples in discussions, such as illustrating the concepts of friction and gravity in physics through recent sports events, to make abstract ideas more tangible.

Examples of Non-Course Subject RSI:

  • Reminding learners of administrative details like the course attendance policy.
  • Posting announcements about upcoming assignment deadlines without additional substantive content.
  • Engaging in non-academic discussions, such as personal commentary on unrelated events.


The written information and resources are developed or curated by the 

Faculty Development and Innovation Center

phone 217-581-7051 :: email :: web

Contact the FDIC for instructional design related questions or to schedule a consultation appointment. The FDIC staff can recommend instructional design strategies for your online, hybrid, and face-to-face courses.

Last updated: June 27, 2024

Related Pages

Contact Information

Dr. Michael Gillespie, Director, FDIC


Kim Ervin
Instructional Designer


Faculty Development and Innovation Center

1105 Booth

David Smith
Instructional Support and Training Specialist


Keerthana Saraswathula
Instructional Support and Training Specialist


Take the next step

apply now
schedule a visit