Online degree programs have been increasing in popularity and have most recently become a forced necessity. Inside HigherEd reports that “hundreds of thousands of professors and students are venturing into academic cyberspace for the first time,” making technology-enabled forms of learning both practical and mandatory.
The current need for social distancing causes a greater degree of isolation than many people are used to. But students and faculty who are accustomed to online degree programs can assure newcomers that distance learners can still enjoy a connected college experience and build strong relationships with peers and professors.
Try a few of the following tips to help you enjoy an engaged degree-earning adventure, even if you never step foot inside a classroom.
Network with your online classmates.
One of the most unique things about online programs is that they expand your interpersonal horizons. You’re suddenly part of a diverse group of people with vastly different family histories, educational backgrounds, geographical locations, and personal worldviews. You get to interact daily with people you would probably never have met otherwise. Be proactive about forging connections with your global peers.
Establish a personal connection with your cohort right away.
Help create a vibrant virtual learning community by being one of the first in your class to jump into the introductions. Let yourself be vulnerable and authentic as you open up about why you’re enrolled and what you hope to get from the program.
Share a bit about your daily life—where you live, what kind of work you do, and how you like to spend your free time. Are you passionate about a hobby or charitable cause? You want to be professionally appropriate, of course, but you also want to drop a few interesting tidbits about yourself into the conversation. This can catch the attention of like-minded classmates and draw you closer more quickly.
Practice good active “listening” skills by fully concentrating on what each classmate says so you can ask questions to deepen the conversation, conveying your interest in knowing them better.
Take an active role in class discussions.
Participation in course message boards is typically part of the grade requirement, so make an effort to establish a strong presence when commenting on readings and assignments. If you offer your insights in a thoughtful, articulate way and bring true value to the discussions, you can immediately establish yourself as a leader that others can look to for support. Be sure to acknowledge your cohort members for their contributions too.
Use video and social media to deepen bonds with classmates and instructors.
Even though online programs involve less in-person connecting, distance learners can still enjoy face-to-face sharing with video conferencing platforms such as Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime. You can also use WhatsApp to keep the classmate conversations, photos, and videos flowing with customized chats on phones or desktops.
These video networking tools are great for personal, one-on-one dialogues as well as real-time meetings or study groups. They let you get a good sense of each other’s personalities as you observe facial expressions and speech mannerisms. Many online professors also provide students with an optional one-on-one meeting early in the semester using Skype or web conferencing. Take full advantage of these opportunities to build relationships.
Jennifer Butcher, Ph.D., a key player in the Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership program at ACU’s School of Organizational Leadership, strives to create a strong on-campus and online community for students. She uses technological tools, such as Zoom and Cadence, to interact with students on a more personal level. Dr. Butcher believes it’s very possible to establish meaningful interactions with her online students in a virtual setting equal to those found in on-campus classrooms.
Form strong alliances with your instructors.
Your school’s online faculty and staff are as passionate about your success as you are. The accomplished scholars who comprise the teaching staff are committed to helping you excel academically and equipping you to serve and lead. Put real effort into nurturing positive relationships with them.
Attend pre-enrollment seminars.
Online universities frequently host open house webinars for prospective students who want to learn more about the degree programs. It’s not unusual to have the program director in attendance, which gives you a chance to ask questions and make a good first impression before classes even begin.
Follow your professors on social media.
No doubt your instructors have LinkedIn profiles, and if you don’t yet, consider creating one. Invite them to connect with you, and like, share, and comment on their posts when appropriate. This keeps you on their minds while also giving you access to other influential professionals in their networks.
You should also follow your university’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds, participating with a comment or share when something strikes you as relevant. It might help to view all the social networking you’re doing now as a first step in securing post-graduation employment.
There’s no need to let the lack of physical proximity prevent you from forging relationships with your peers and professors when you’re an online student, and there’s never been a more important time to make the effort than right now.
Would you like to learn more about a Christ-centered online degree program that comes to you? ACU Online offers a variety of online undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, and graduate certificates that let you advance your career while being part of a vibrant, virtual, Christian community. Earn your degree from the comfort of home, while balancing the demands of work, life, and your community. Let ACU Online help you pursue your career goals by contacting us at 855-219-7300.