Online Learning

How do students interact in online courses?

In the real world, students have plenty of ways to communicate with each other. Body language, tone, and shared experiences all help break down the communications barrier between two people, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the workplace or classroom. However, the removal of these interpersonal connections does not in any way impede the way that people can interact. Instead, alternatives abound for the online student to commune with his or her classmates.

In the online classroom most communication between students is written, either via message boards, instant messaging services or email. While this does remove the subtle nuances that accompany face-to-face speech, they also make students consider the words they are putting on paper to a much greater degree than they would in real speech. This also allows the classes to be almost entirely asynchronous, rarely requiring students to be online at the same time, and opening the class to students from all over the world, and from many different levels of society. This grants students an opportunity for diversity that they may not encounter at face-to-face classes.

Asynchronous classes also allow students much more time to formulate responses, opinions, and arguments. Because there is often no time limit on which a reply to a query can be received, the student is in a position to articulate his thoughts without pressure, and in a way which doesn’t place him on the spot. It also allows time for other students to look at, digest and respond in full, without missing any of the information that an oral answer may require to be left out.

However, asynchronous learning does have its drawbacks. Many of the forums and message boards require a high standard of grammar and spelling, and demand that students be articulate as well as motivated and active participants in the discussions presented.

Synchronous learning, on the other hand, takes place in real-time, be it via chat room, video conferencing (using a program such as Skype) or conference telephone calls. While this may sound like the best method for student-classmate-teacher interaction, it does suffer from considerable time restraints. Classes can be difficult to arrange, particularly across time zones, and technical problems can also create massive interference. As a result, these methods of instruction tend to take place on a much smaller scale, and are often reserved for key topics and one-off lectures that cannot be dealt with via the message boards or over e-mail.

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