Many new online teachers make the mistake of thinking that e-learning is primarily about technology.
It’s actually much more about communication.
The way you communicate with students in your online course is vitally important.
It affects everything.
In this environment, good communication can have powerful results.
Here’s how it works:
- Effective communication helps your students feel supported.
- With your guidance and input, they start achieving good results.
- Those positive outcomes are evidence that you’re doing a great job.
- Your students are successful, and your career prospects soar!
And a lot of this comes directly from effective communication.
Understanding the power of communication gives you a real edge as an online teacher.
And now you know this vital fact already – before you’ve even done much online teaching.
So you can use communication strategically as the powerful tool that it is.
Should you use humor when communicating in the online learning environment?
That depends. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it:
Your Role as a Guiding Voice
If you’ve read many articles about the teacher’s role in e-learning, you’ll have noticed one idea keeps on popping up.
There’s a shift in the role from being a traditional hands-on teacher, to more of a “guide on the side”.
And it’s true that you’re no longer standing in front of a class directing your students’ every move.
But the fact remains that in an online course, you’re still in charge.
You’re the authority figure, and this needs to be reflected in your communication style.
It takes skill and a light touch to create a welcoming environment, and yet still command respect from students who will never meet you in person.
The key is to balance your communication style somewhere between friendly and authoritative.
Here’s how to do it.
7 Ways to Use Communication as a Teaching Tool
1. Apply the idea of ‘smart casual’ dressing to communication
If your hosts asks you to show up in ‘smart casual’ wear, you know not to wear your tuxedo to lunch.
And equally, you probably wouldn’t arrive in a bikini and flip flops either.
Your host is asking you to make an effort, without being excessively formal.
That dress code works as a metaphor for how you should communicate as an online teacher.
Be friendly, but professional.
You’re communicating the rules and information about the course.
So you must convey authority and credibility, but still be approachable.
2. Use semi-formal greetings and sign-offs in emails
Some students will send you emails that read like text messages to their friends: a one-line offhand comment or blunt question, often with no greeting included.
That doesn’t mean you should do the same.
I begin every single email to a student with “Hello” – it’s more formal than “Hi,” or “Hey,” and reminds them that this is a professional exchange.
Similarly, I end each email with “Kind regards”.
It’s friendly, but maintains an appropriate professional distance.
3. Role model appropriate behaviour
If a student sends you a rude email, or posts a snarky comment on a discussion board, show the correct behavior by example.
Reply in a measured and polite way, and if appropriate, remind them that civility is expected in all communications within your course.
There are certain power phrases you can use to steer a rude student back towards polite society.
Here are three I use when necessary:
Thanks for your feedback – this acknowledges their input without getting into it in detail.
As I explained in my comments on your paper – that reminds the student that the rules have not suddenly changed.
This is part of our organization’s policy – there are good reasons why a 3 month extension is not fair (or possible).
4. Disable the option to post anonymous comments in the discussion forums
In the Edit screen of your LMS, there may be an option to allow anonymous posts in the forums.
Make sure that this option is switched off.
Now, all student contributors are publicly accountable for their comments.
5. Assume all your communication is public
Your email responses to students may be forwarded to other students, or the Head of Department, for a variety of reasons.
You can’t control that.
What you can control is the quality and nature of your written communication.
So you need to ensure that all of your messages exemplify your professionalism, and are fit to share in any setting.
Remember once you send that email, it’s out of your hands.
6. It’s OK to bring your real personality to work
Students will respond to you much more easily if you’re not pretending to be someone else.
Think about how you can let your real personality shine through to establish rapport, and boost student engagement.
Try these practical tips for bringing your whole personality to your online teaching role.
7. Never type in anger
Sometimes an email or discussion post will be surprisingly, even shockingly, rude.
It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, step away from the computer.
It’s much smarter to respond only when you’ve calmed down.
These potential flashpoint moments could easily damage your career.
Remember that you always have a choice.
If an email slanging match begins, the student will complain, and then the whole sorry mess will be your fault.
You’re the authority figure here, so the buck stops with you.
Put out any fires you find, rather than fanning the flames.
You’ll Get Better & Better at Using this Tool
As you can see, communication in this environment demands a strategic approach.
Communication is arguably your most important tool, and you’ll be using it every day.
With practice and patience, you can make it work to benefit your students – and your teaching career.
We’re making great progress here!
Next up, we’re going to take a closer look at online students, and what they’re like to teach…