Taking all, or even some of your classes online is a very different experience to taking classes on campus. You do your coursework, studying, projects, and test-taking alone. There’s no meeting up in the library to study, or chatting with classmates after a lecture.

But just because you’re an online student doesn’t mean you can’t make meaningful connections with your fellow classmates!

While yes, making connections with your fellow online classmates is a little more difficult than if you were all in the same classroom three times a week, it isn’t impossible. Because online learning can draw a wider, more diverse crowd of students, you may even end up making friends with someone outside your age group, economic class or other demographic you wouldn’t have met in a traditional classroom.

Here are 5 ways you can connect with your classmates online to build solid relationships:

Introduce Yourself

Most online classes have an “Introduce Yourself!” post in the first week or so of classes, where students are asked to post a little about who they are, why they’re taking the class, and sometimes even a photo.

Give some extra consideration to your answer. Instead of posting that same old headshot you use for every other online class, think about posting a snapshot from a recent vacation or one where you’re doing something you love. Be sure to answer all the instructor’s requirements with your answer, but also consider adding in some fun facts or interests you have that may help your classmates connect with you.

And rather than just posting your answer and never going back to the thread again, read as many of your classmates’ answers as you can and respond. Point out similarities in your major, coursework, background, or interests. Ask questions of someone who traveled over the summer, or who transferred in from another school.

People love to be asked about their lives and to find common interests and experiences with others. Finding a way to connect with each fellow student early in the class shows that you’re there to do more than just get your credit and get out. You want to make the learning environment a more positive, collaborative place, and your classmates will appreciate that.

Reach Out

If a classmate responds to one of your posts with a comment or question, don’t just let it linger there unanswered. Respond to the other person’s post to either clarify your original answer or offer follow-up information. Asking questions of someone who questioned you is completely fine, as long as your question raises a valid point and is presented courteously.

As you progress in the course, you may notice there are some classmates who frequently comment on your work or the work of others, and you value their perspective and opinion on the coursework. Don’t be afraid to send a quick message through the online learning platform or email to these other students and let them know you appreciate their contributions to the class. They could be looking for someone to connect with just as much as you are!

Give Frequent, Considerate Feedback

Along the same lines as reaching out to those whose feedback you appreciate, make sure you’re a regular, valuable participant in the class discussion. Each week, make time to read and respond to as many of your classmates’ posts as possible. Give more than a, “Nice post!” response; instead, comment on some aspect of the person’s answer, or ask a follow-up question if you’re confused about something in their response.

Providing valuable feedback to others on their work makes you not only a considerate classmate, but also someone your classmates can depend on for insight into the class and their participation in it. Your answers to a post may help boost someone’s confidence in a course, helping them do better overall. And, you never know, your responses could mean someone emails you to reach out!

Also, many course message boards have an “Off-Topic” section, where students can post general questions and discussion topics. Don’t forget to stop into this section of your class regularly and start or participate in ongoing discussions. You may connect with someone you wouldn’t have expected over a question about general study tips or an article that you found interesting.

Use Social Media

After you’ve made those initial connections through message board comments and email, link up with your online classmates through social media. Think about it: You keep in touch with your real-life friends through Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, so why should your online friends be any different?

Be sure to send messages either before friend requesting someone or along with the request, letting the person know you’re a member of their online class and you’d love to connect outside the class space. Chances are high that your classmates will be more than receptive to your new friend request, and you can continue to enhance your connections over funny dog photos and recipes.

Before hitting “Send Friend Request,” though, make sure the person you’re requesting is someone you’ve already made a connection with in your course. Don’t just go blasting requests through social media because, as you know from all those random friend requests you’ve left hanging out in your notifications, that’s an easy way to get no new connections.

Connect Offline

Just because you made your initial connections online doesn’t mean that’s where the relationship has to stay forever. If you get a great rapport going with classmates who live near you, don’t hesitate to begin reaching out to set up in-person meetups. Talking over coffee, dinner, even study groups are great ways to bring your online friends into the offline world.

Who knows? People who started as online friends could easily become some of your most frequent and valued offline pals.

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