The need for communicating effectively with adult learners does not change with an online classroom, only the form of communication changes. An online instructor’s written words become the primary method of communicating and adults may form a perception of the instructor and the class based upon how those words are received and interpreted. Communication within an online classroom can be strengthened when the instructor develops techniques to deliver clear and concise messages.
When words represent the instructor, all of the details within a message become important, including the tone of the message, the word choices used, and the mechanics of the message. Written communication has the power to humanize or de-humanize the learning experience, depending upon the learner’s interpretation of the message, along with the positive or negative interactions that have occurred between the instructor and the learner.
Factors that create a negative perception of the instructor include messages that are poorly written or without thought given as to how it may be received and processed by the learner. In addition, written communication can lose its effectiveness when the learner reads messages that contain numerous spelling and grammatical errors.
Within a traditional classroom instructors are present to provide clarification for learners and avoid misunderstandings; whereas, an online instructor does not know if miscommunication has occurred until an adult learner expresses concerns or asks questions. An online instructor further relies upon written communication as a primary means of delivering feedback and addressing the adult’s developmental needs.
Effective communication is important from the adult’s perspective. The University of Missouri St. Louis indicates that with online classes: “Nearly all communication is written, so it is critical that you feel comfortable expressing yourself in writing.” Instructors have an ability to encourage self-expression within the online classroom by modeling interactive communication, which in turn can strengthen working relationships with the learners. When adult learners develop meaningful relationships and strong communication with their instructors they are also likely to ask for help with challenges, issues, and assignments.
Written communication can be effectively utilized if the instructor responds to learners in a timely manner and personalizes the messages sent to each learner, instead of utilizing pre-made or canned responses. For the online classroom environment there is also an opportunity to compose a response and wait before sending it. The ability to carefully compose a message before posting it is one of the important advantages of online communication.