There are many reasons that students gravitate toward online classes, chief among them the convenience of being able to participate whenever you can, wherever you happen to be.
However, with that convenience come some drawbacks. When you attend classes strictly online, you lose the casual interactions that add richness and depth to your graduate experience. Instead of chatting with your classmates before or after class or over a cup of coffee in the student lounge, your interactions with them, as well as your instructors, are limited to the classroom environment, where you complete your assigned discussions and not much else.
Since many people consider the networks that they build in graduate school to be a vital part of the experience, though, it’s important to take time to develop connections with your fellow classmates and instructors even in the sometimes impersonal world of the online classroom. While it’s not as spontaneous as communicating in the traditional environment, you can still make those valuable connections and get more out of your program.
Most online classes begin with an opportunity for students to introduce themselves and share a few details about their lives. Don’t ignore these intros or gloss over them. Read their descriptions carefully, and look for people who you might have common ground with. For example, if you are studying health care management and several of your classmates have successful healthcare administration careers, engage them in a conversation and share your interest in the same career. When you find common ground, use that to foster the relationship. If someone enjoys a similar hobby, share a relevant article, or ask someone about the city they live in.
Anyone who has ever taken an online class can tell you that there are a few people in the class that are super visible. They are the first to answer every question, and they comment on almost everything and generally seem engaged in the classroom environment. Then, there are those who are so quiet that the rest of the group almost forgets that they exist. If you want to build relationships, you need to be in the first group. Don’t dominate the discussion, but make it a point to respond to multiple questions, engage in conversations and offer praise when it’s due.
Sometimes you just have to take the leap and reach out to someone. Send them an email or private message to compliment them on their recent presentation or discussion contribution. If you are having trouble with something, reach out to a fellow student who seems willing to help. This requires staying present and paying attention to your classmates, but when you reach out you can start building a friendship.
Use Social Media
Social media, like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, are invaluable tools when you are trying to build friendships with your online classmates. Once you feel comfortable with someone, send them a connection or friend request so you can get to know each other outside of the school environment. Establish a Facebook group for your class or other students in your program. You’ll connect with others who are working toward their master degree in health administration in an informal environment and have the chance to build stronger relationships, share ideas and build the network that you’re seeking from your master’s program.
One of the drawbacks to online communication is that without the nonverbal cues of an in-person conversation, it’s easy to interpret a comment that’s meant to be funny or direct as something negative. Before you hit send, read over your comments to be sure that your meaning is clear and you don’t inadvertently turn off classmates that could otherwise turn out to be good friends.
Even if you complete your entire degree online, you can develop lasting relationships with your classmates. Take time to get to know people just as you would in the “real world,” and you’ll find that you graduate with more than a degree.
About the Author: Writer Kate Strout recently earned her master’s degree online. She maintains active friendships with several of her classmates, even though none of them has ever met in person.