Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)

Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) pertains to distance education and online learning. This article will help you understand what RSI is, why it is important, and how it impacts your learning journey. We will discuss the differences between online learning and correspondence courses.

What is Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)?

RSI is a requirement set by the U.S. Department of Education for distance education programs. It refers to the ongoing and meaningful interaction between students and instructors. This interaction can take many forms, including direct instruction, assessment, feedback, and facilitated group discussions. The interaction must be initiated by the instructor and occur on a regular basis.

Why is RSI Important?

RSI ensures the quality of online education and differentiates online from correspondence courses. It promotes student success, encourages student engagement, and fosters a supportive learning environment. Regular interaction with instructors can enhance your understanding of course material, provide opportunities for feedback, and help you stay on track with your studies.

Online Learning vs. Correspondence Courses

While both online learning and correspondence courses offer education outside the traditional classroom setting, they differ significantly in their approach and requirements.

Correspondence courses are typically self-paced, with students working independently on the course material. Interaction with the instructor is limited, usually for the purpose of submitting assignments or requesting assistance.

On the other hand, online learning, as defined by the U.S. Department of Education, requires regular and substantive interaction between students and instructors. This means that in an online course, the instructor plays an active role in teaching, assessing, and providing feedback. The course may also include interactive components like discussion boards, group projects, and live lectures.


In “Distance Education and Innovation” (2020), the U.S. Department of Education stipulates that institutions that do not provide Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) may not be eligible for financial aid. This suggests that institutions not adhering to the guidelines, including providing RSI, could potentially lose their eligibility for financial aid.

RSI in Practice

RSI can be achieved in various ways in an online learning environment. Here are a few examples:

  • Direct Instruction. This could be a live video lecture, a pre-recorded video, or a learning module containing a structured and organized collection of educational materials and activities.
  • Assessment and Feedback. Instructors can provide feedback on your assignments, quizzes, and exams. This feedback can help you understand where you’re excelling and where you might need to focus more. The course schedule may indicate when assessments are due and when you can expect feedback.
  • Facilitated Group Discussions. Instructors can initiate and guide group discussions on course topics. These discussions can enhance your understanding of the material and promote collaboration among peers.
  • Office Hours. Virtual office hours provide an opportunity for you to ask questions, discuss course material, and receive additional support from your instructor. The course syllabus will provide details about when and how these office hours will be conducted.

Remember, the goal of RSI is to enhance your learning experience. It is not about ticking boxes; it is about ensuring you receive a quality education, no matter where you are. As we continue to adapt to the world of online learning, understanding concepts like RSI and the differences between online and correspondence courses can help us make the most of our educational experiences. Please consult your instructors for a more detailed, course-specific RSI implementation.


U.S. Department of Education. (2020). “Distance Education and Innovation.” Federal Register. Vol. 85, No. 171. Retrieved from

SUNY Online. (n.d.). RSI References and Resources. Retrieved July 7, 2023, from

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