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

It’s completely natural to be nervous about whether online study is for you – especially if you’re a particularly social person. The good news is, at Deakin’s Cloud Campus, you have a virtual support network and online community in place, so you can always – and easily – connect with other people.

If you’re thinking of studying online and are worried about feeling isolated, you’ll be pleased 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.

Deb Lee-Talbot, who studied a Bachelor of Arts at Deakin’s Cloud Campus, found support through her online network when preparing for exams. ‘I would get in contact with someone that could help me, like the Unit Chair or a Language and Learning Advisor,’ says Deb, ‘They were often very generous with their time and explanations.’

Getting to know your classmates online

Studying online means working together and collaborating with your classmates on various platforms like Skype, Google Drive, and Trello. Peter Vuong, Teaching Scholar in Deakin’s Faculty of Business and Law, emphasises the importance of connecting with peers. ‘The social side of [online learning] is vital to the success of students in every aspect.’

So, when you study online at Deakin’s Cloud Campus, 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, as experienced by Vuong, ‘possibly build long-term relations stretching out past your time at university.’.

Senior Lecturer in Digital Media at Deakin, Dr Adam Brown, notes, ‘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

Teaching Scholar in Deakin’s Faculty of Business and Law

Interacting and collaborating online

With the online chat, seminars, and social media offered at Deakin’s Cloud Campus, there are plenty of opportunities to collaborate. ‘If 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 that students studying online 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 [online] 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 learning is challenging. But virtual help is always at hand, says Associate Professor 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 notes, ‘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 assessments 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.’

If 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.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR ANDREW CAIN

ASSOCIATE HEAD OF CLOUD LEARNING AT DEAKIN’S SCHOOL OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

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 at Deakin’s 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.’

Think online study could be for you? Find out more about Deakin’s Cloud Campus.