Published Date

May 25, 2022

Resource Type

For Departments, For the Classroom


Teaching Methods

AHA Topics

Academic Departmental Affairs, Professional Life, Teaching & Learning

This resource is part of the AHA’s Guidelines for Online Teaching.

Federal Financial Aid Requirements for Remote and Online Learning

Remote learning—sometimes called distance education, long distance learning, virtual learning, or e-learning—is an umbrella term that refers to the practice of students taking classes outside the physical setting of a university or college. The National Center for Education Statistics defines remote learning largely in terms of the technology used to deliver content; that is, learning “primarily delivered using live, interactive audio or videoconferencing, prerecorded instructional videos, webcasts, CD-ROM, or DVD, or computer-based systems delivered over the Internet.”1 Regardless of the medium, all remote learning classes must meet certain minimum requirements in order to qualify for federal financial aid. The US Department of Education groups these under the standard of “regular and substantive interaction.”2

For a class to meet the “regular interaction” requirement, a course instructor with qualifications established by the institution’s accrediting agency must:

  • Interact with the student on a predictable and scheduled basis commensurate with the course length and the amount of content.
  • Monitor the student’s academic engagement and success and proactively engage with the student when needed or upon the student’s request.

To meet the “substantive interaction” requirement, classes must satisfy at least two of the following (again, with an instructor who meets the qualifications established by the institution’s accrediting agency).

  • Provide direct instruction.
  • Assess or provide feedback on the student’s coursework.
  • Provide information or respond to questions about course content.
  • Facilitate group discussion regarding course content.
  • Engage in other instructional activities approved by the institution’s or program’s accrediting agency.

These may be considered the minimum requirements for an online course intended for credit on its own or towards a degree in history. While other types of distance education—such as correspondence courses in which students receive and return assignments by mail—are not required to meet these standards, neither are they eligible for federal financial aid (which may help explain why correspondence courses have been largely superseded).

The Responsibilities of Departments

Designing and developing an effective online course is more demanding and labor intensive than an in-person class. Therefore, it is essential for departments to establish policies that support the design, development, and delivery of online instruction.

At a Minimum, Offer

  • Formal training in online instruction at all levels—graduate students, part-time and contingent faculty, assistant, associate, and full professors—and in a variety of formats, including in-person, online, group, and one-on-one formats.
  • Support for instructional design, educational technology, accessibility, and assessment by well-qualified staff members.
  • A technical-help desk to assist students and a faculty-help desk for instructors.

Recognize and Address

  • The intellectual property of content developed by instructors and instructional designers, educational technologists, and assessment specialists.
  • The workload and other expectations for instructors.
  • The policies regarding the revision and updating of courses (including transitioning material into new learning management systems).
  • The value and work involved in developing, teaching, and maintaining online courses in standards for evaluation, reappointment, tenure, and promotion.
  • The need for ongoing training and support as new technologies develop and change.
  • The need to provide pedagogical and instructional support that enables courses and faculty to meet evolving norms in online education and instructional design.
  • The need for instructors to be given sufficient access to specialists who train faculty, assist with instructional design and accessibility issues, and provide technical support.
  • The need to ensure that evaluations of online teaching be conducted by persons who are well qualified to do so, and that evaluations clearly lay out expectations.

The Responsibilities of Instructors

Online teaching poses special pedagogical challenges that instructors should recognize.

  • It is easy for students in online courses to disengage or to go off track.
  • There is a risk that students in online classes will feel isolated and disconnected from their instructor and classmates.
  • Ensuring academic integrity requires instructors to be explicit about what integrity means in an online environment, design assessments in ways that discourage academic dishonesty, and inform students about the use of any antiplagiarism technologies.

The AHA’s Role

The Ad Hoc Committee on Online Teaching recommends that:

  • The AHA convene, on an ongoing basis, a working group of historians who are actively engaged in online and technology-enhanced teaching to discuss best and emerging practices in online learning and related academic policy issues.
  • This working group report regularly to the AHA Council’s Teaching Division on developments in the field and produce articles for Perspectives on History.
  • The working group organize and promote panels and drop-in sessions at the annual meeting on best practices in online and technology-mediated teaching.
  • The AHA maintain resources on its website addressing online and technology-mediated teaching and learning.

  1. National Center of Education Statistics, NCES online report, 2018, p. 270, accessed 5/25/22. []
  2. US Department of Education regulations, Chapter 34, §600.2. Full text available online via this link. []