If you’re new to the world of online classes, the prospect of learning from a professor you will never meet could seem intimidating. It’s easier to find an opportunity to talk with an instructor you see on a daily basis than to muster the nerve to officially ask questions through email, especially if you worry that you’re the only one in class who doesn’t understand a lesson or assignment. Additionally, while getting to know that professor as a fellow human being helps make communication more natural, you may not know what to say to an instructor who seems like an invisible, and inaccessible, authority figure. Knowing how much and what kind of communications you can expect can make this transition easier and make your online learning endeavor more successful.

The ‘Distance’ in Distance Learning

How much instructor communication happens in an online course varies by professor. Just as some professors prefer to elicit interactive student discussions and others would rather lecture, some professors will interact more with students while others will initiate less communication. Even if you have a relatively involved instructor, you may feel somewhat isolated in an online course. If you are used to having regular in-person interactions with instructors and fellow students, even if you haven’t been in school for some time, the transition from a real classroom to a virtual classroom can be difficult. Lack of personal engagement, particularly with instructors, is among the biggest hurdles online students face, according to The New York Times.

Methods of Online Communication

Your instructor will communicate with you in a variety of ways. Of course, you should expect to interact through emails. Most online courses take place through a virtual “learning platform,” where you may communicate through virtual class discussions, chat rooms and forums. Your teacher may communicate course information through videotaped lectures, podcasts, or slideshow presentations. Just as in a traditional course, your professor will provide you with feedback on your assignments and exams. Some professors will even use social media networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, to communicate with students.

Tips for Communicating with Professors, Online or In-Person

Though the format of an online class differs from that of a traditional on-campus course, what you say to your instructor may not. For all types of communications with your professor, you should be respectful and take responsibility for your grades and your actions, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Perhaps the most important factor to consider when taking an online course is how much communication you personally need with your professor. If you feel that you are struggling to grasp course material or that you don’t fully understand an assignment, it is essential that you reach out to the instructor as soon as possible. Remember that, although you don’t see your professor on a regular basis, his or her job is to teach you. You’re not bothering your instructor when you ask for help.