Effective Communication in Online Courses

The retro two robots with tin can phones.


Asynchronous communication in online courses takes place via a variety of tools; announcements, rubrics, email, discussion forums, audio feedback, video feedback, etc. The learning benefits of regular communication with students in an online course are often overlooked by faculty. Effective and regular messaging is essential for an inclusive, motivated and engaged learning community. In this brief article, we’ll review guidelines for communicating with your students online.

Effective Communication is:  

  1. Clear & Concise - Students need to be able to decipher your message. 
    • Avoid too much text and overly complex messages.
    • Start your message with the most important information.
    • Bold text to call attention to key details. 
  2. Proactive - Have students struggled with specific concepts or instructions in the past?  
    • Be proactive and message students before starting an activity or assessment.
    • Send reminders about due dates and areas where you anticipate clarity will be needed.
    • Repeat key concepts, instructions, and expectations often and consistently.
  3. Frequent - Faculty often have concerns about overwhelming students with too many announcements. Say less, but more frequently. This is better than sending only an occasional announcement.
  4. Prompt - Students need well-timed feedback on assignment and replies to questions.
  5. Authentic - Allow yourself to be honest, open and vulnerable with your students to increase motivation and participation.
  6. Supportive - Instructors guide students through a shared learning experience, encouraging active participation.
  7. Multimodal - Different modes of communication including text, audio, video and images may support students' understanding of concepts.
  8. Balanced - Become a more active participant in the learning community.  This focus is less hierarchical and more equitable. 


  1. Gunawardena, C. N., Frechette, C., & Layne, L. (2019). Culturally inclusive instructional design: A framework and guide for Building Online Wisdom Communities. Routledge. 
  2. Martin, F., & Bolliger, D. U. (2018). Engagement matters: Student perceptions on the importance of engagement strategies in the Online Learning Environment. Online Learning, 22(1). https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v22i1.1092 

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