How can I communicate effectively with students online?

The online learning environment poses a range of communication barriers (Berge, 2013). These include:

  • Access issues Students may face challenges accessing learning due to unreliable internet, needing to share a device, digital literacy challenges, or family and work commitments taking priority at home.
  • Belief barriers Some students (and teachers) have a strong preference for face-to-face learning and may not engage much online. 
  • Social / collaboration barriers Online collaboration can work but may be perceived as a poor substitute for working together in person. 
  • Distance between participants Distance of a physical, time, cultural, social or geographical nature may interfere with communication, particularly where students and teachers have not met in person.

Five Top Tips

Clear communication can help make the online experience a positive one for students and teachers alike.

  1. A clear Blackboard course structure communicates where to find important content. A clear course outline, timetable, and a list of e-tools with links to Help guides can go a long way to help students adapt to online learning.

  2. Welcome students into the online space. A welcome video or audio recording provides a personal touch. Help students settle into the changed way of learning, and invite them to inform you about any difficulties they may face with online learning.

  3. Provide students with a weekly ‘to-do’ checklist to provide structure, reassurance and a sense of community. 

  4. Establish tikanga to ensure that everyone is aware of behavioural and communication expectations. Think about the tone you wish to set. Communication protocols should consider your students’ needs, but not at the expense of your own health and well-being. Whatever your normal work pattern is, make sure students know how this translates in the online space. Establishing tikanga can help ensure that positive experiences are had by all.

  5. Create and action a communication plan to support established tikanga. This might include: sending weekly Bb Announcements; Bb email for follow-up; creating and monitoring FAQ discussion threads; and setting up virtual office hours to provide an opportunity for two-way communication in real-time. 

Useful Resources


Berge, Z. (2013). Barriers to communication in distance education. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education. (14) 374-388.