Communication in online courses takes on many forms from emails to assignment instructions to assignment feedback to discussion board prompts and responses. Effectively communicating with online students is a key factor in student success. Because most instructors feel the truth of this, some take the more is more approach, creating lengthy instructive emails, assignment packets, and in-depth feedback on assignments. Here are three best practices for communicating with your online students.

  1. More is not always better: “Too long; didn’t read” (tl;dr) is a popular internet response to a long article or social media post that discourages people from reading it. Increasing the amount of communication does not necessarily equal a higher quality of learning. Additionally, since online students have to wade through more text than students in traditional classrooms do, they are more likely to become overwhelmed with long communications.
  2. Concision facilitates understanding: Often we want to provide many details up front to prevent students email with multiple questions. This can lead to long explanations or assignment instructions that can start to sound like a terms and conditions agreement. Try releasing information in smaller, concise chunks. Provide an overview of the assignment in the beginning of the course; then, provide more information as the assignment gets closer.
  3. Not everything is a nail: There is an adage that says, “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Canvas offers many communication tools. Use announcements, emails, or discussion board posts based on the importance and timeliness of the message. Emails or announcements are more immediate forms of communication than posting an answer on an FAQ or class discussion board. Likewise, discussion board postings are a great place for information that students may need to access throughout the semester.

For more information about effective communication with online students, check out Whitney Kilgore’s Let’s talk: Effectively Communicating with your Online Students.