Whether you’re fresh out of high school or long removed from a classroom setting, you probably have a basic idea how to interact with students in a traditional classroom. However, when it comes to classroom interactions, online courses are very different from traditional courses. How do you go about communicating with fellow students you have never actually met? Perhaps even more difficult, how do you know when and in what ways you are expected to interact with fellow students?

Interactions in the Virtual Classroom

In a traditional classroom, students know to follow basic rules, like be respectful to both instructors and fellow students. They understand how to have class discussions and to politely disagree on topics that are open to interpretation. Students can follow a professor’s instructions regarding when they should be engaging in group discussions. If group projects are required in the course, students may have time during class to work on them or at least to check in with fellow group members and schedule meeting times.

Online courses take place in a virtual classroom. Though you may never meet your fellow students in physical space, you can still interact with them through this online platform. In fact, many online courses require students to have class discussions virtually, through threads of a web-based forum. Some professors even assign group projects. Because students are not expected to be in close proximity to one another, coordinating group projects in online courses may even be easier than doing so in traditional courses, because it is expected that students will delegate tasks whether than collaborating on every part of the project.

Coping with Isolation

Though you will still communicate with your fellow students, you may find the lack of social engagement in your online class to be isolating. This is one of the chief complaints students of online degree programs have. Without that in-person interaction with both professors and fellow students, it can be easier to fall behind in the course, to forget deadlines or to procrastinate when it comes to completing assignments.

Fortunately, as technology advances, students of online courses have new methods of interacting with one another and with their professors. Inventions such as instant-messaging, video chat programs, video streaming and online collaboration tools have radically changed the interactivity of online college courses, according to The New York Times.

To prepare for an online course, go into the semester with the mindset that you will still have the opportunity to interact with fellow students, but that the method of interaction will simply be different than you are used to. Though the adjustment may take some getting used to, there are advantages to having class discussions in a virtual environment. It can be easier for all students in the class to weigh in with their opinions and interpretations without having to worry about time constraints or that more extroverted students will be the only ones debating.