Distance learning: online course etiquette

Distance learning is relatively new. For the student, getting a quality online classroom experience can be intimidating. For the instructor, encouraging participation in an unfamiliar medium can be intimidating.

Courtesy of TANDBERG corp...these guys are making it look way too easy, arent they?

From my own experience as a student, my behaviour in the first class meeting of a course tends to set my tone for the rest of the semester. If I hesitate to get actively involved from the very start, I end up observing, instead of participating, for the full semester.

The best experiences I have had as a student have been when an instructor presents an active lecture and activities, which involve me immediately.

Silberman’s (2003) book suggests active strategies an instructor can use to involve students immediately, so they will not develop a habit of engagement resistance, which comes from not knowing what to do or how to get involved in discussion.

As well, I’ve developed a list of online course etiquette from my own experience. I hope using the etiquette list with Silberman’s active knowledge sharing strategy can help remove the uncertainty of how to be involved in an online class.

If you are a distance learner yourself, you might consider the suggestions as a way to help you get your full tuition’s worth from our online class. If you are an instructor, removing uncertainty can be a way to motivate all types of learners to participate in an online class.

Online Course Etiquette

  • Minimize distractions when you participate in an online course–try to participate from a quiet room where you can work uninterrupted for the duration of the course. Ideally, you should turn your cellphone off and close down distracting desktop applications (Twitter, FB, email, etc.).
  • Absolutely have your textbook at hand when you attend your online class.
  • Please type your full name into the participant box when logging in to Adobe Connect (no nicknames).
  • Please do not type your chat messages in all caps.
  • Please give people time to respond—some type faster than others.
  • Please take the time to read the chat, not just listen to the instructor. Feel free to comment on what someone else said using the @ sign.
  • Please remember we are all human beings in the class—there is a face behind the words.
  • Always assume the best in people—be slow to take offense and think before you assume a defensive stance.
  • Be cautious with humor.
  • Be cautious with jargon, slang, and abbreviations.
  • Try to be prompt when someone asks you a question
  • When you work in small groups, please do not hesitate to volunteer to document the group’s ideas if you have not done so already. That way, the same person is not doing it all the time.


Silberman, M. L. (2005). 101 Ways to Make Training Active. Pfieffer.

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