Distance learning has come a long way in recent years. As major universities like Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia have jumped on board with the idea of online education, many students have followed suit, choosing to earn their degrees in a virtual classroom.
While there are plenty of benefits to online learning—flexibility, affordability, and convenience being just a few—there are some disadvantages as well. For a student seeking a collaborative, social college experience, the isolation of online learning can be a real concern.
Luckily, e-learning isn’t just limited to students and their computer screens. Schools are constantly embracing innovative new technologies to give online students a more interactive experience, but oftentimes it’s up to the students to embrace those opportunities. It’s easy for online students to fly under the radar, but that doesn’t mean they should.
Get to know your professors
You may never meet your professors face-to-face when taking an online course, but it’s still important to develop a relationship with them. As an online student, you’ll have to try harder to stand out from your classmates, but if you communicate regularly and thoughtfully with your professor, you will build a bond that could last long after you’ve turned in your final papers. Show initiative by taking part in open forums and chats, volunteering for extra credit projects, and turning in high-quality work. And if you have the opportunity to go to campus, stop by your professor’s office during visiting hours to put a face to the name.
Organize a study group
Study groups often develop organically in traditional classrooms, but they can be a bit more tricky to arrange online. How do you find people to partner with, and how do you actually study with someone else online? Your professor may be your first ally here—ask them if they know of any other students who may be interested in forming a study group. If there’s a class discussion board, post a short message advertising your idea. Depending on your location, you could arrange in-person meetings, or you could host regular discussions on Google Hangouts, Skype, or a school-hosted forum. Your grades will benefit from the extra attention, and you’ll get to know a few of your classmates while you’re at it.
Explore your school’s networking resources
In a brick-and-mortar institution, it often takes an ambitious sort of student to get involved with the school’s networking resources; between classes and social events, it’s easy enough to make new contacts every day. But as an online student, networking is key to developing a solid base of professional contacts that will benefit you in the future. Keep track of nearby alumni events, career fairs, and campus events. Reach out to alumni who live nearby.
Step away from the computer
Your education doesn’t have to take place completely online and in isolation—even if you’re miles away from any classmates or professors. Enhance your learning experience by exploring what your own community has to offer. Studying creative writing? Embrace the local literary scene and get to know some resident writers. Pursuing business? See what kind of entrepreneurial organizations are active in your town. If nothing else, an afternoon of studying in a coffee shop can go a long way toward reminding you that you’re not alone.
Do you have any other strategies for beating the online student blues? Share your ideas in the comments!