Originally published March 20, 2019A common myth about online learning is that it's isolating and doesn't allow you to communicate and connect with your learners. Though it is possible to have an isolating experience in an online course, it's not the case that the online environment is lacking in opportunities for interaction. Before unpacking how you can effectively connect with your learners in the online space, let's briefly talk about the importance of building this connection. Why Build a Connection? You might ask why you need to build a connection with your learners. Isn't presenting engaging, high-quality content enough? It’s true that well designed content can draw your learners in and increase engagement, but incorporating the human element into learning is also crucial to give them a well-rounded learning experience. Showing learners that there's someone on the other end of the screen can be very motivating, which can help learners stay on top of their coursework and encourage lasting learning. Going Back to That Myth... There are a lot of ways to communicate and build a connection with your learners online! The trick is figuring out how to bring your presence into the online environment in a way that makes sense for your course. What Can You Do When You're Creating Your Course? Have a Conversation with Learners Through the Online Content This is something that can be built into your course from the get go. When you're writing your content, think of it as a conversation with your learners. Using a conversational tone makes for a more engaging learning experience and can bolster the sense of connection that your learners feel with you in the online space. Make Use of Personal Anecdotes Another way to bring your presence into the content itself is to make use of personal anecdotes that apply to the material. Not only does bringing in personal anecdotes create a sense of connection for your learners, it also makes the content more memorable. Taking your content and bringing it into the real world can have a strong impact on your learners and makes it more likely that it will stick with them long term. Share Your Personality There are a few ways that you can do this. For instance, you could create an instructor profile page that provides learners with a short bio and some additional information about you. Other ways of sharing your personality involve leveraging tools in the environment. For example, at the outset of your course you can introduce yourself using the Announcements or Discussions tool. Build in Interactions When you're creating your course, think of ways that you can provide learners with built-in opportunities to connect with you and their peers. By incorporating interactions using the Discussions tool and/or Virtual Classroom, and actively facilitating and participating in these conversations, you’ll ensure that your learners have chances to connect with others during the course. What Can You Do When Your Course Is Running? Maintain a Connection Throughout the life of a course, you can also bring your presence in using tools like Announcements, Activity Feed, Discussions, and Virtual Classroom. For instance, consider using video note for Announcements and introductory discussions to help develop a deeper learner-instructor connection at the outset of the course. You can start your course on the right foot with this in mind by posting an Announcement that welcomes learners to the course and tells them a bit about why you're excited to lead it. You can also add useful resources and share current news and events using the Announcements or Activity feed. This will show learners that you're engaged in their learning and are active in the course regularly. When you're active and engaged, your learners will be more driven to participate as well. Finally, show your learners that their input is important by responding to their discussion posts and using the Announcements tool to summarize key points. Offer Learners Support Show your learners that you care about their learning by offering them support in the online environment. Encourage them to contact you over email when they have a question and try to reply promptly and acknowledge the point that they're making. You can also use a Discussion geared at answering student questions so the whole class can see your response. This shows that you're active in the course and has the added benefit of reducing the chances that you'll need to answer the same question multiple times. You can also offer some "face time" with your learners by hosting one-on-one virtual office hours using a video chat tool (e.g., Skype) or hosting a larger question and answer session using tools like Virtual Classroom. This gives your learners a chance to get the support they need in a medium other than text. Make Good Use of Feedback When you're grading or facilitating discussions, provide your learners with personalized feedback. Expanding on canned feedback shows learners that you’ve taken the time to consider their work and will make it more likely that they take this feedback into account moving forward. You can also gather feedback from your learners and use it to improve your course. A simple way of doing this would be creating a survey using the Surveys tool (e.g., a Start, Stop, Continue survey). Make sure to acknowledge the feedback you're getting and explain why you can incorporate some things and not others. This will show your learners that you’re taking their feedback into account and that they have an influence on the shape of their learning. Bringing It All Together Considering the above suggestions when you're designing and facilitating your course can make a world of difference for your learners. Effectively adding your presence to the online environment can offer them a more interactive, engaging, and enjoyable learning experience.