All learning —even digital learning — is a collaborative experience. Online students have the unique opportunity to connect with peers from all over the country and the world. Thanks to constant advances in instructional design, social networking and UX/UI, students pursuing online graduate degrees have the same opportunities to build meaningful relationships with their classmates as their on-campus counterparts. Read on for our guidelines on how to maximize these virtual relationships.
1) Practice empathetic communication
Empathetic communication, or empathetic listening, refers to the practice of listening with the intent to understand the speaker’s frame of reference for how they experience the world. Thanks to the nature of online learning, you may find yourself in a classroom full of people with different communication styles, norms and cultural values. Common slang that you’re used to may not resonate with a peer from a different country. When it comes to scheduling, be mindful of different time zones. And while it’s easy to get caught up in the stress of needing to complete a group project on a deadline, try being mindful of varying professional or personal commitments your classmates may have outside of school.
2) Choose a program that prioritizes learning experience design and peer engagement.
Not all online programs are created equally. As you evaluate your options for an online master’s degree, make sure you are considering programs that provide an optimal digital learning experience that prioritizes student-to-student interaction. Brandeis Graduate Professional Studies uses the latest best practices in online course design to foster peer engagement, and has offered online courses for more than a decade. Additionally, unlike MOOCs and other online education providers, Brandeis GPS caps courses at 20 students.
3) Make time for social interaction.
Connecting with your classmates on social media platforms like LinkedIn or Slack will allow you to engage on a more informal level. Many people use these tools to share career insights and interesting articles and trends, so you’ll be able to expand your professional network and learn a bit more about your industry. You may even learn about an interesting conference opportunity or a new position to apply to.
In addition to social media, make sure you take advantage of your program’s online learning module. Students at Brandeis GPS use a special social forum to chat about non-course-related events, such as current affairs, sports, or regional networking opportunities.
4) Write with clarity
When it comes to any online interaction, clear and concise writing is critical for optimal communication. But writing with clarity involves more than writing with brevity. Being intentional with the words you choose, how you format your writing, and the tone you mean to convey is essential for fostering strong virtual relationships. Here are some examples of how to write with clarity:
- Don’t over-complicate things: why use fancy words when simple ones will do? If you do use words that are likely to be unfamiliar to the bulk of your audience, make sure you define them. This relates back to empathetic communication.
- Keep your paragraphs short in discussion posts or emails – try for one or two sentences per paragraph, if possible.
- Keep your sentences short.
- Leverage writing tools like Microsoft Word’s readability stats or the Hemingway App.
- Avoid passive voice.
5) Take advantage of technology
Today’s technology makes it easy to collaborate. Make your group projects a more seamless experience with tools like:
- Zoom, which allows for cloud-based video and audio conferencing
- User-friendly project management apps for virtual teams like Asana or Trello
- Google Drive, which provides free cloud storage for online documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more. Drive also has a chat feature, which allows teams to easily collaborate while all working on a document.