Net-iquette tips to help you thrive in an online learning environment

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The way we communicate with one another, as well as the way we learn, has changed drastically in the last several years. While etiquette is essential in both virtual and real-life interactions, digital communication requires its own unique considerations.

Following etiquette rules for the 21st century builds connections, strengthens our relationships and enhances the way we learn.

As Anna Post of The Emily Post Institute said, commenting on a mobile etiquette survey conducted by Intel, “Etiquette is all about how we interact with one another, whether in person or online … Mobile devices enable us to share in the moment, and etiquette helps us decide how to share and connect in ways that are positive and enhance our relationships.”

The same can be said about the benefits of online learning. Great strides have been made in creating a dynamic, comprehensive virtual learning experience that offers the same high-quality education as on-campus programs. The high quality of these online degree programs is supported by innovative platforms and tools like real-time online message boards and video conferencing.

As such, “net-iquette” is just as important for our social media and smartphone use as it is for how we engage in online learning. Whether you’re enrolled in an online accounting program or an online HR program, a virtual environment demands different communication tactics and strategies than those of in-person courses. By maintaining the proper etiquette in online interactions, you can get the most out of your virtual learning program.

Here are seven important net-iquette tips to help you thrive in an online environment:

Student on laptop taking online classes.

1. Think about how you are being perceived

In our daily lives, we tend to be very conscious of the way we present ourselves to the world. We think about how we dress, the way we act and the words we speak, at least somewhat aware of the impact all these factors have on the way others perceive us. However, the internet provides a boundary between the individual and the rest of the world, and as a result, people can be less concerned with – or aware of – how they come off.

The Intel “Mobile Etiquette” survey, a global study of online behaviors, revealed that more than 85 percent of people surveyed wished “people thought more about how others will perceive them when sharing information online.” Furthermore, the survey found that at least one quarter of adults have felt embarrassment about something they have done online.

Taking more time to think about what we are going to post or write online – before we hit “send” – is especially important in an online learning program, in which students do not have the in-person interactions with one another that normally define our opinions of others.

So when participating in your online course, think about how what you are saying, and the way you are saying it, reflects who you are. Steer clear of any statements that could be construed as inflammatory, be polite and make sure you’re always reflecting the best version of yourself.

2. Be clear and concise

In a classroom setting, discussions can be freeform, with one person dominating the conversation for a moment, and then another person interjecting a thought and steering the discussion in a different direction, and so on. And if one person speaks for a particularly long time, they naturally feel the pressure to wrap up their thoughts.

However, the structures of conversation are different in the message boards of an online learning program. There’s nothing stopping people from posting paragraphs and paragraphs of text – but that doesn’t mean they should. Long rambles that don’t get to the point derail productive conversations in a virtual setting.

Online etiquette calls for making your virtual communication clear and concise. State your point, with the required supporting evidence. Make it as easy as possible for the other students to understand what you are trying to say, and why you are contributing. And in addition to enabling the information to flow smoothly, keeping things clear and concise helps prevent the other students from being overloaded and intimidated by blocks of text that can hinder fruitful discussion.

3. Back up statements with sources and links

In any discussion, whether online or in-person, it’s important to cite the sources that support your statements, and avoid making grandiose claims that are not backed by actual evidence or facts. Citing your sources may be even more beneficial to learning in an online conversation or on a message board, as you can directly link to the sources in your posts, making it easier than ever for students to learn more.

When participating in a discussion for an online degree program, be sure to list the references that helped you form your statement or opinion. Whether they’re textbooks, websites, other forums, blogs or videos, be sure to state them in your post, and link to them whenever possible.

However, it’s poor etiquette to try to “call out” other students to show their sources in an aggressive manner. If you’re curious what information a student is drawing their insights from, then politely ask what research was used.

4. Participate frequently, but be polite

As mentioned earlier, in-person conversations in a classroom take on a natural flow and form, moving from one topic to another and chasing different trails of thought. In an online learning setting, however, students need to be more conscious of how they are affecting a conversation’s flow.

That’s why it’s important to steer clear of dominating the conversation to the point that other’s cannot get a word in. The other students should have a chance to comment on your statements and add their own opinions. And if a conversation is moving in a new direction, let it. Don’t be one to constantly steer the conversation back to your original point. Go with the flow, and comment on new avenues of ideas that arise. This helps create the most intellectually dynamic and beneficial conversation for all.

Additionally, pay attention to what the faculty member is saying online. Perhaps they want to transition the conversation to a new subject or have questions they want you to answer. Be mindful of this to help create the most productive and positive discussion.

5. Check for spelling and grammar – and keep things professional

In a physical classroom setting, you may think about spelling and grammar only when it’s time to write a term paper or report. However, spelling and grammar apply to the majority of communication in an online learning environment. The bulk of communication may be in virtual form, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to send your messages through without a thorough proofread. Typos and grammatical errors are distracting at best and derail the conversation at worst.

Treat every post or message as a paper you would physically turn in – read it through carefully for any errors and be sure to correct them.

As evidence of the prevalence of typos and poor grammar in online communication, the Harvard Business Review cited a study that revealed that a high number of business executives write emails chock-full of misspellings and serious grammar issues. Even in environments where proper language is expected, such as corporate firms and university courses, individuals can easily revert to bad writing. You may be surprised that you pay less attention to grammar and sentence structure than you realize when communicating online, so be sure to give your posts a second look-over.

And just because your communication is online in a virtual degree program, doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to use emojis, abbreviations or improper slang in your messages. Writing in a forum like you text on your phone is poor etiquette, and makes you seem less professional. All course interactions should use full sentences and appropriate language.

6. Be conscious of tone

One of the defining characteristics of in-person communication is how your senses help you interpret deeper meaning in what a person is saying. You get the whole picture: You can see the other person’s facial expressions, hear the tone of their voice and draw cues from their body language. These elements are not present in message boards for online learning programs, and as a result, students must be extra sensitive to the possible “tone” their posts may convey.

Expressions that sound friendly in real life can be construed in more negative ways online, depending on how the reader interprets them. For example, using exclamation marks or all caps can turn an innocent statement into one that sounds aggressive, harassing or accusatory.

The Harvard Business Review recommended that all online communications be based on “respect, positive affirmations and gratitude to set the right tone and proper context.” By keeping these values in mind and always being aware of how you may be perceived, you can help ensure that your communications during your online courses are constructive, have value and are construed in your intended positive light.

7. A word on video conferencing

For some online degree programs, you may be required to participate in video conferences with your professor or fellow classmates. Be sure to dress professionally, conduct the meeting in a clean, organized area and speak clearly and concisely.

Enrich your education

With these net-iquette tips, you can get the most out of your online learning experience. The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business offers a dynamic suite of seven different online bachelor’s degree programs that use innovative virtual platforms to facilitate learning and equip students with in-demand skills and knowledge. From our online finance program to our online management degree, students can work toward their career goals with the support of utilizing a dynamic online learning environment. Start your journey today by exploring our online undergraduate programs.

Recommended Readings:
Tips to Survive the Online College Experience
What to know about an online BS degree