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Best Practices | The Three C's of Enjoying Online Learning: Communication, Collaboration & Compassion

Pause for a moment and think about what brings you happiness. My family, music, faith, teaching, food and shopping are just a few examples of the many things that I enjoy in life. However, it's the connections, engagement and interaction with others that are the reasons behind why I enjoy these things. The same reasoning can be applied to finding enjoyment in teaching and learning online - the exchanges with others is what makes it satisfying. Let's talk about a few best practices that can help foster this enjoyment for both students and instructors: Communication, Collaboration and Compassion.


Communicating effectively in online environments is the foundation of any online course. Students need the ability to communicate with their peers and their instructor in ways that are meaningful. In a face-to-face classroom it's very easy to recognize if a student does not comprehend what's being explained. In an online environment, you won't see the head nod of understanding or the blank stare of confusion. Fortunately, there are tools available to make that communication possible. The online environment can sometimes generate better communication with students, particularly among those who would normally be unwilling to speak up in a face-to-face classroom setting (Burton & Goldsmith, 2002). There's a level of anonymity in the online environment that helps students come out of their shells and interact without fear of reproach.

The online environment can sometimes generate better communication with students, particularly among those who would normally be unwilling to speak up in a face-to-face classroom setting.

Using the tools provided by the school are a first step to structuring a communication plan (Minnesota State College, 2015). In creating a communication plan, you acknowledge what tools will be used to communicate. Email and phone calls are most likely used for reaching out. However, there are also tools available like chat and LMS communication tools such as Blackboard Collaborate, Virtual Rooms, Discussion Boards and Announcements to make interaction easier. Whether the tool is synchronous or asynchronous, it is important to structure a protocol for students to communicate with you. Responding in a timely manner is another aspect of effectiveness when communicating. When students are informed early-on about your response timeframes, it helps to alleviate tension and fear of being isolated or unrecognized.


Just as communication is the foundation of an enjoyable course, collaboration also plays a vital role. In the words of the 1624 John Donne famous poem, "no man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of a continent, a part of the main" ("John Donne," n.d.).

Collaborating with peers is a practice that helps to provide real-world experience and keeps everyone connected to the subject matter. In my opinion, collaboration should be mandatory. At least one collaborative or group project should be captured in a course to provide the ability to share ideas in close quarters, stimulate new ideas and possibly reshape each other's thinking.

A few steps to making collaboration less worrisome for you and the student are:

  • Provide advance notice of collaborative assignments
  • Have students create a collaboration plan
  • Observe and monitor group participation (Kelly, 2011).

Explaining collaborative assignments in the syllabus will provide advance notice of the collaborative work as well as create a learning object that gives precise instructions. You could also do this through a synchronous meeting in Blackboard Collaborate, written documentation or in a YouTube Video. This advanced notice prepares students to browse the tools available and begin thinking about how they can participate successfully and accomplish the assignment.

Students should also create a collaboration plan that includes the collaboration tools available, times to meet, and assignment of roles for completion of varied tasks, and deadlines for work completion. As the instructor, it is important to set up checkpoints to review the students' participation and the work or input necessary to complete the assignment.


As with all technology, there is always a possibility that something will fail. There's also a chance that the user could be doing a task completely wrong and not realize it. Using the Internet, computers, and applications can sometimes be challenging and cause frustration when technology does not perform like it's supposed to. This is where the third "C" comes into play: good 'ole compassion.

Not every student is tech savvy - and we don't expect them to be experts. Showing sympathy is the cornerstone to relieving the fear of failure. Showing compassion can even prompt students to become better learners over time. "Compassion requires that we be responsive and relevant," (Wolpow, Johnson, Hertel, & Kincaid, 2011, p.28). Every student, even in higher education, wants to know that we care about them. Showing empathy on a late assignment, disgruntled classmate, or family issue will help to draw that student into the bigger picture: succeeding in the course.

Facilitating a course online can bring freedom to both the instructor and the student. The ability to complete or grade assignments at your leisure in a location of your own choosing is liberating. That freedom gives you the opportunity to enjoy the things that we value outside of the classroom with a little more ease. If following the three C's - communication, collaboration and compassion - are followed with persistence, then a lasting enjoyable impression of learning and teaching online can be achieved.


Burton, L. & Goldsmith, D. (2002). Students' experience in online courses: A study using asynchronous online focus groups. Retrieved from John Donne. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 25, 2015, from  

Kelly, R. (2011, September 16). Fostering collaboration in the online classroom. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from:  

Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (2015). What makes a successful online learner. Retrieved from  

Wolpow, R., Johnson, M., Hertel, R., & Kincaid, S. (2011, January). The heart of learning and teaching: Compassion, resiliency and academic success. Retrieved from