Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI)

Definition & Overview

Regular and Substantive Interaction (RSI) differentiates distance education from correspondence education. Clarity is critical on RSI since it can impact federal financial aid eligibility for courses and competencies in the United States.


The Final Rules on Distance Education and Innovation were issues by the U.S. Department of Education in September 2020 and went into effect July 1, 2021.

NC Sara (2020) highlights five critical factors that distinguish distance education and correspondence education. Additionally, NC Sara provides a break down of how the US Department of Education defines both "regular" and "substantive"

"Distance education and correspondence education are more clearly distinguishable through five critical factors:

  1. Distance education should be delivered through an “appropriate” form of online media.

  2. Distance education must use instructors that meet accreditor requirements for instruction in the subject matter.

  3. There should be at least two forms of substantive interaction (see below).

  4. There must be “scheduled and predictable” opportunities for instructor/student interaction (see below).

  5.  Instructors must be responsive to students’ requests for support."

"Academic engagement” can be fulfilled through virtual/augmented reality activities."

Regular and Substantive Interaction” in distance education such that “regular” is defined as taking place on a “predictable and scheduled basis” and “substantive” means students are engaged through teaching, learning, and assessment as well as at least two of these five activities:

  1. providing direct instruction;

  2. assessing or providing feedback on a student’s course work;

  3. providing information or responding to questions about the course content or competency;

  4. facilitating a group discussion regarding the content of a course or competency;

  5. or other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency."

Accreditation Alignment & Regulatory Changes

The Final Rules on Distance Education and Innovation have impacted accreditation within higher education. Provided below are sample updates posted by accrediting agencies. Additionally, the RSI updates are also visible in glossaries of accrediting agencies. Examples of new requirements are provided below:

Higher Learning Consortium

New Federal Requirements for Approval of Distance Education Programs

Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Important Information Regarding Distance Education Regulatory Changes

The United States Department of Education provides a full list of recognized accrediting agencies.

RSI Institutional Resources

Notional Hour

"'Notional learning hours' are the estimated learning time taken by the 'average' student to achieve the specified learning outcomes of the course-unit or programme. They are therefore not a precise measure but provide students with an indication of the amount of study and degree of commitment expected."