- Staff Writer
Distance Learning: Staying Connected to Your Online Community
For those who are unable to join other students on campus, distance learning is often the simple solution. However, due to the lack of physical presence, it can be challenging to build a community and feel connected. Regardless of being unable to be present with your fellow students, connecting with others and having a community is important. While it will be different, you can build a remote community of friends with fellow students. Getting support from professionals can help you learn the skills for building and maintaining a community.
Challenges of Building a Community While Distance Learning
Distance learning offers a plethora of benefits for many students. Since the fall of 2020, when COVID-19 first began to spread, it has become incredibly common. Regardless of the reasons that you choose to learn online, there are certain challenges due to the nature of online learning. One of the biggest concerns is the lack of community building.
Commonly, students who are learning online will work alone. Research has shown that online learners have fewer interactions with other students and professors. While more research is needed to fully understand why, researchers have theorized multiple reasons. First, there are often cultural barriers, due to students being from a variety of locations and cultures. Secondly, communication with other students and professors is not built in. You are not sitting next to a person in class or responding to a professor's lecture questions.
What Are Online Relationships Like?
Since the beginning of the internet, it has been discussed if and how you can connect and build intimacy online. However, due to many changes, including distance learning, it is incredibly common now. Couples, families, and friends often stay connected through a combination of texting, calling, videoconferencing, or playing games. New relationships are formed and old relationships are maintained online.
Research has shown that while different, online relationships are similar in terms of connection to in-person relationships. Individual relationships and communities online are similar in meaning, intimacy, and support to in-person relationships. Just like in person, there are multiple ways to interact online. You can have one-on-one chats with another student, be a part of a group discussion, or interact by playing a game together. The type of relationship can vary for each person and friendship.
Online Community-Building Tools
Connecting with fellow students and building relationships online is different from in person. As such, it requires using skills differently. Below, we outline a few tools and how they can help you to build relationships while distance learning.
Being Engaged With Classmates During Distance Learning
Similar to in-person connections, it is important to be fully engaged when building relationships with other people. This may look slightly different online. Being engaged with classmates on an online platform means opening up and connecting. This could be through a project, responding to their posts, or starting a chat with them to discuss the subject.
Regardless of where you are interacting with them, being engaged means fully listening or reading, and responding. It is a combination of taking in what they are saying or expressing and sharing your thoughts. In a classroom, this may look like a discussion in a small group or partnership. On an online portal, this is more than likely a chat or video call.
Genuine Interactions Through Distance Learning
To fully engage, you need to be genuine and open with your interactions. While you can engage with others by listening and hearing what they have to say, it is important to be open and share about yourself to build full relationships. If this feels uncomfortable, that's normal. Especially online, it can feel different than in-person and takes some time to get used to it.
Remember, it doesn't have to start by sharing your deepest secrets. Being genuine may look like sharing an honest opinion about an author, or asking a question to another student about a math equation you aren't quite understanding. Regardless of what you are communicating, honest and genuine interactions are at the heart of all relationships. Bringing these types of interactions into distance learning can help you to feel more connected and engaged with your classmates and teachers.
Consistency of Interactions
In a classroom, you have consistent interactions with classmates and teachers by simply showing up to class. Online, it takes a bit more effort. For certain distance-learning programs, you may listen to a lecture with other students weekly or be working alone.
However, building relationships require consistent communication. To build a community online means that you and others all need to show up. It is incredibly easy to not be around online; it is as simple as not responding or logging in. Learning to schedule and be consistent with communication online can help. It provides the opportunity for the relationship to grow as you and others create a community that does not disappear.
Support While Distance Learning
Learning to connect with others online is a valuable skill. For many, extra support can help. This may look like speaking with a counselor at school or joining a remote program such as the Distance Program at Northwest College Support. Regardless of what you choose, getting support to learn the skills to improve communication and create community can help you to feel more engaged and enhance overall mental and physical health while in a distance learning program.
Distance learning is becoming increasingly common for many students. There are many reasons why a student may choose to learn online rather than in person. For many, the latter can be incredibly successful. One of the most challenging aspects of online learning is building a community without seeing classmates and teachers in person. At Northwest College Support, we work with young adults to help them learn the skills needed to build community. We offer multiple programs, including our distance program, which is completely remote and connects clients with multiple resources, such as regular video conferencing. If you would like to learn more about how we can help, call us today at (877) 485-2776 to speak with a staff member.