One can definitely miss the happiness or joy of real-world classes in a virtual classroom and can often feel socially isolated. However, the interaction between fellow students in a virtual classroom can bring a real-world experience to their virtual doors and make them feel more "included".
Disadvantages of Virtual Learning Environments
When you go to a traditional college or university, you find that the campus is a happening place. There are students like you who love to hang out together in the various places and spend time together just bonding or sharing their experiences. When you opt for an online course, this is the first thing you are going to miss. One of the disadvantages of virtual learning environments, is that you are left to yourself during and after class times. Often times, online classes are so flexible that you may be the only student around at times. There is no social interaction and you do not have the pleasure that comes out of looking around in a real classroom and finding out how your fellow students are reacting to the course materials and introductory information. There is no one around in a virtual classroom to send you a glance of appreciation when you draft the right answers to a quiz or a live discussion session.
So how does one get around this social isolation in a virtual class?
Any social interaction has to begin with exchange of personal information. As on all social sites, your virtual learning classroom will also have a profile page where you can put up your own details. Add your best photograph here, something that shows the real you. Add some details about your family, pets, hobbies or and also some personal information about yourself that you are willing to disclose. As these websites are restricted only to people in the same course or admin and teaching staff for the course, you need not worry about the security aspects of such information.
Establishing Contact with Others
For a start, look at the profiles of other students in the same online course as you. You may find someone who has similar tastes and shares a common background. You may even find someone who lives in your neighborhood. That would be a real bonus! Once you find someone you would like to know, send him or her an e-mail introducing yourself. If there is a response, start a correspondence or chat session that will bring you closer. See that you make at least a few friends in this way. Do not get too personal, however, as some people may not like this in the initial stages.
Avoiding Isolation in Virtual Classroom
Always try to participate in all the activities of the class, be it discussions or assignments. Help out others and when necessary, ask others for help too. Respond to every request for information that you receive. This way you will create a healthy virtual learning environment and you will easily be able to reduce any social isolation that you feel. Get involved in live chats and instant messaging as this will help you to have informal discussions with all your classmates and probably even help you with your studies as well. You can also share your struggles and setbacks of the course with your peers in this way. During all this interaction, you will find that you will slowly form a social group of your own which will definitely help you in getting rid of any feeling of isolation that you may have. If this group is formed includes the same people that are on your team for an assignment, you will find the task much easier to do, because of the bonds you already have established with them.
Be Proud Of Your Online College!
Let the world know that you are a student member of an online college. Wear their T-shirts (if available) proudly. Flaunt their stickers on your car. For all you know, you will get recognized on the street by someone who is a student in the same course or even someone who has attended the same college. You can always carry such acquaintances further and get rid of any feelings of social isolation in the future.