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Why you won’t feel lonely or isolated when you study online

You might think completing a degree online means spending time alone in your room, tackling study without any support.

Deb Lee-Talbot, who studied a Bachelor of Arts online at Deakin University, found some days challenging, especially when preparing for exams. But support was always there: ‘I would get in contact with someone that could help me, like the Unit Chair or a Language and Learning Advisor. They were often very generous with their time and explanations.’

It’s completely natural to be nervous about studying online – especially if you’re a particularly social person. The good news is, with a virtual support network and online community in place, you can always – and easily – connect with other people.

If you’re planning to study online and are worried about feeling isolated, you’ll be surprised to learn that online study brings many opportunities to connect with others. Social media and technology set up as part of your course will mean you don’t have to go it alone.

Getting to know your classmates online

Studying online means working together with your classmates and getting to know each other on various platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Zooms, Hangouts, Google Drive, Trello and Asana. According to Peter Vuong, Teaching Scholar in Deakin’s Faculty of Business and Law, ‘The social side of [online learning] is vital to the success of students in every aspect.’ Vuong teaches a class called “Accounting for Decision Making” to around 400 online Deakin students, so he knows a thing or two about the concerns students might have about the social aspects of online study.

But when you study online you get access to a pool of diverse experts, both academics and your peers, in various fields. You also get to network with other students and ‘possibly build long-term relations stretching out past your time at university,’ explains Vuong.

Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at Deakin, Dr Adam Brown, says: ‘Building an online community on Twitter has motivated students to create and share media content that’s not even for assessment.’ Director of Teaching at Deakin’s Faculty of Business and Law, Michael Volkov, adds: ‘For students who engage fully, affectively, behaviourally and cognitively in the learning opportunities and experiences afforded by [online learning], it lessens any sense of isolation they may feel.’

'The social side of [online learning] is vital to the success of students in every aspect.'

Peter Vuong,
Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

Interacting and collaborating online

With online chat, seminars, and social media, there are plenty of opportunities to collaborate. ‘When you’re studying online you can connect, see the projected content, hear what lecturers are saying, and post comments to ask questions or discuss ideas with other students connected to the same session,’ says Associate Professor Andrew Cain, who is Associate Head of Cloud Learning at Deakin’s School of Information Technology.

Lecturers also run weekly online sessions, which replicate on-campus tutorials. Michelle Cyganowski, who teaches first-year subjects in maths and statistics, says while you’re studying online you are encouraged to ask questions during interactive sessions. ‘I find that the chat function is used extensively and I usually respond verbally,’ she adds.

Content, as much as possible, is interactive, in real time, and easy to access. ‘If we are doing any group work in the seminars, we set up virtual break-out rooms for the students to work together in. These are also recorded and uploaded on to the unit CloudDeakin site so that students who cannot engage synchronously can access the recording at a time and place that is convenient to them,’ Volkov explains.

Contacting your lecturer online

Feeling isolated can happen to us all, especially when what we’re learning becomes tricky and there’s no one right there to ask for help. But virtual help is always at hand, says Assoc. Prof. Cain. ‘We had a Programming Help Hub that operated five days a week – with two evening sessions. Students could connect with someone at the hub via Deakin’s Blackboard Collaborate (online seminars) to ask technical questions that were difficult to solve using other means,’ he says.

Deb Lee-Talbot says: ‘Blackboard is a fantastic, real-time resource, which gave both social and academic interactions during the week, much like a seminar would for some students.’

Staff also provide contact in other inventive ways. Dr Brown gives personalised feedback on formal assessment via audio recording. But most feedback you’ll receive is informal and via social media, from both tutors and peers. Dr Brown has even gamified teaching: ‘Students receive experience points, digital badges, unlockable content, etc., as achievements for showing initiative and collaborating with their peers.’

Getting study support online

Studying online brings with it a community where peer support takes many forms. Study buddies, success coaches and online peer-assisted study sessions allow you to connect with an experienced student on Facebook or Skype. Online library facilities stay open late and you can access resources and programs that are relevant to your online study at anytime.

If you’re still not convinced about how socially connected you can be as an online student, take the advice of Jessica Bell, who studied a Bachelor of Psychological Science via Cloud Campus: ‘There’s so much support for online students and if you make the effort to join in groups, you may not feel isolated at all.’

this. featured experts
Peter Vuong
Peter Vuong

Teaching Scholar, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

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Dr Adam Brown
Dr Adam Brown

Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University

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Mr Michael Volkov
Mr Michael Volkov

Director of Teaching, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

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Associate Professor Andrew Cain
Associate Professor Andrew Cain

Associate Head of School, Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment, Deakin University

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