Effective Communication in Your Online Courses

One of the biggest myths about online education is that students always work alone, with minimal contact with their instructors or fellow students. The reality is that online courses make it necessary for students to expand and refine their written, audio, and video communication skills to fulfill their academic requirements. Luckily, that doesn't take long, and there are some useful guidelines that can help any student develop the skills they need to succeed:

  • Written Communication: Most online courses depend heavily on written communication, including emails, chat and discussion board contributions, and academic papers, essays, and lab reports. Students must remember to conduct themselves professionally in all of their online interactions. Using what's called "netiquette," the basic rules of respectful and polite Internet communication, is one of the best ways to maintain that professionalism. Some aspects of netiquette include communicating through proper sentences with correct grammar and punctuation, avoiding slang and biased language, and fulfilling academic requirements on time. Many websites provide excellent guides to the rules of netiquette, including a comprehensive one offered by Albion.com.
  • Video Communication: Many online courses include video chats, and students can use such services as Skype to collaborate on group projects or meet with their professors during virtual office hours. Just remember that when you use such forms of communication, change out of your pajamas. Students can maintain respect for their colleagues by approaching video communication, either live or recorded, with the same professionalism that they would use if working in an office. They should check to make sure that all equipment is functional, dress appropriately, be properly groomed, and keep the area around their desks and computer camera clear of clutter that could distract viewers. Also, a good habit is to check and make sure that their cameras are not on when they are not engaged in video communication — otherwise, you may broadcast yourself by mistake.
  • Audio Communication: It's not uncommon for online instructors to call their students to make introductions at the start of the course or discuss coursework. For many students, it's a chance to follow up on challenging materials or interact more directly with their professors. Students working on group projects may also call each other. In addition, students may produce audio files for their courses or use audio chats to participate in course activities. Some of the same rules for video communication apply here, such as making sure that all of your technology works before you start. It's also important to minimize background noises before making calls or recording audio, so that listeners can hear clearly and are not distracted.

No matter what form of communication is used in an online course, the same rules used in traditional face-to-face courses apply: students must always use as precise vocabulary as they can to clearly convey their ideas, ask questions when material is unclear, and most importantly, remember the wise words of Wayne K. Wilkins, who wrote, "respect plays a vital role in all areas of basic classroom etiquette." That holds true whether the classroom is traditional or online.