Let’s face it—if you’ve never taken an online course before, it’s easy to imagine it as a very isolating experience. After all, it’s just you and your computer alone in your room or a quiet study spot, right? How can you find out if any of your friends are in the class if you can’t look around the lecture hall? How will you find someone to study with? Who can you commiserate with after both taking that really hard exam?
Thankfully, you can connect with your fellow online classmates. In fact, according to research done here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, online students report that their communication with their peers/classmates was about the same as they find in their face-to-face classes! Forming these connections will help you form study groups, find some extra help with homework, and potentially even build life-long friendships!
Here are four easy tips for helping you get and stay connected with your online peers.
Tip #1: Realize that you are not alone!
Even though you might take an online course from the convenience of your dorm room, library, or coffee shop, you are actually not alone in the course. Rather, you are joined by dozens—or even hundreds!—of other online students in the same situation as you and probably with many of the same fears about online learning. It is just that your classmates are not as obvious as the guy sitting next to you in the classroom, but they are there. The first step is to realize that these folks are “out there” and, like you, want to connect with other classmates.
Tip #2: Introduce yourself!
Many online courses will have a “Getting to Know Your Classmates” task in the Orientation Module or somewhere early in the course. Don’t just blow this off or do the very minimum required—run with it! Treat this task in the same way you would if you were introducing yourself to the person seated next to you:
- Be friendly!
- Offer information about yourself that others can quickly connect with, such as your major, hometown, favorite T.V. or Netflix show, an interesting hobby, etc.
- Put yourself out there with enough information that someone else will notice and want to connect with you.
As Danielle Wirsansky, a Florida State University graduate wrote, “Doing these things will make reaching out so much easier and smoother for you, which will, in turn, make the process of taking an online course easier and smoother for you! Do not disregard the importance and support that your fellow online class students can provide to you” (emphasis added).
Tip #3: Find people you relate to!
Indeed, your online classmates can provide some much-needed support, but these are not one-way relationships! Once you have put information about yourself out there for your peers to see, such as in an online icebreaker activity, be active in reading what your classmates have to say about themselves. Find a few that interest you the most. Reply to their introductions and point out what you have in common. Follow-up with them later, even referencing your comment on their introduction (e.g. “Remember me? I replied to your icebreaker introduction and shared how we have a common love for Cajun cooking!”).
Tip #4: Keep in touch via discussion boards, social media, meetups
As with any relationship, it’s important to keep in touch with one another. Ask your new contacts how they are doing, offer to provide help with an assignment, or see if they want to study together for that big test coming up. Most online courses will provide you with a virtual space to do this, typically via discussion boards. These are great tools as everyone in your class has easy access to them.
But think about how you keep in touch with IRL friends, too. Ask some of the folks you meet in your online course to connect via Facebook, Twitter, etc. or exchange email addresses. Especially if you happen to live in the same community, consider having face-to-face meetups with your classmates—there are no rules against that in an online course!
Bottom line: you are not alone in your online course. By being proactive in introducing yourself to others and forming relationships with your classmates, you can build the support system you need to be successful in your online course. So give it a try—challenge yourself to take an online course, if you aren’t already, and reach out to your peers.
Also, if you have taken an online course and other strategies that have helped you, share them in the comments, below to help others out!