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Improving Communication in an Online Course: Verbal and Nonverbal Communication

written by: Melina Ann Collison•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 6/1/2011

Being in an online class or going to college online opens up a whole different world of communication than what people are normally used to in everyday life. Learn how to properly communicate online using verbal and nonverbal communication. Student communication explained for online students.

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    Principles and Function of Verbal and Nonverbal Communication: The Role These Play in Online Schools

    Going to school online or attending online classes opens up a different world of communication styles than most people are used to. From the first moment when the student steps into a virtual classroom, most can tell a difference right away in how communication occurs. Limited or no contact with fellow students, teachers, and school faculty makes learning how to properly communicate a vitally important role in the online classroom.

    Verbal communication is understood when spoken sounds are combined with grammar. One cannot simply put random words together and expect others to understand them. Nonverbal communication is communicating to others without the use of words. This is a silent communication that everyone uses. Most times, the nonverbal communication speaks louder than the verbal communication.

    Photo By Austinevan 
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    Utilizing Verbal Messages Effectively in an Online Classroom

    Talking to other people in the online classroom setting is done, for the most part, by typing and reading what other people have typed.Photo By Kalandrakas  These messages do not utilize spoken word but are still verbal communication. What you say or type in an online environment does influence things just as it would in the world around you.

    Furthermore, the same principles and ethics that guide face to face interaction should be applied during online communication. Take great care to make messages unambiguous and to the point when typing to and communicating with other people in the classroom. Never use curse words in class; again, think about how you would act in a typical classroom setting on campus.

    “If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it." Roman Emperor (121-180) Marcus Aurelius

    Roman Emperor (121-180) Marcus Aurelius 

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    Different Nonverbal Communication Channels for Online Students

    People will derive multiple meanings from the things you type because they cannot read your nonverbal communication over the Internet. Take care to use proper online grammar. If someone were to type a message in all capital letters---"HELLO"---another person could see that as yelling and trying to gain attention. Some individuals will even take great offence to this. However, the person could only need glasses and, therefore, is typing large. Miscommunication, misunderstanding, and mishaps can occur when someone uses incorrect nonverbal communication in the online classroom.

    Photo By Rangeacid Try staying away from using "???????????" or "!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" at the end of sentences. This is a common mistake to emphasize a statement and needs to be avoided. Respond to everything that someone says. It is impolite and rude to ignore someone. Simply reading a post and not responding doesn’t let the other person know you got their message. Take care to let people know you are listening. Stray away from terms that could be taken the wrong way. The words “boy" and “girl" are typically used when referring to young children, and people take offence when called these things. Avoid common mistakes such as this. Address everyone in the proper manner. The meaning behind your words is important to consider.

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    How Online Messages Are Influenced

    Many things influence online messages above and beyond verbal and nonverbal communication practices. Even though the students are not all in the same room doesn’t mean their culture and gender stop affecting their communication. Students utilize varying degrees of directness and abstraction as well as connotative and denotative communication.

    Photo By Thomas Hawk 

    Let’s understand more about the specific ways the classroom is going to be affected by culture, gender, connotative and denotative messages, and different levels of directness and abstraction.

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    Culture and Gender

    The lives people live and the thoughts people have are influenced by their cultures. Saying one thing in America could be totally Photo By Frerieke different than saying things in another country. For example, not responding to another student’s post, the nonverbal communication cue to avoid, is seen in America as being insensitive. In China, this same situation of not responding to another person’s post would be considered appropriate. Learning abroad or taking classes with people living in other countries will influence the communication in the online classroom.

    Women are known to be more polite and men more direct. Social differences and stereotypes are determined by what gender people are born into. If there is a disagreement in the online classroom, a woman would be more likely to seek areas of agreement than a man would. A male would typically be direct, open, and more apt to say what is on his mind. There are also things that make genders similar in nature. For example, if an individual has to break some bad news to another person, both a female and male is likely to use politeness strategies.

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    Connotative and Denotative

    Photo By OndraSoukup Connotative and denotative messages are different types of verbal communication that both the listener and the speaker experience during a conversation. Connotative is the emotional or subjective meaning that someone is giving to a word. Denotative is the meaning of a word that you would find in a standard dictionary. People do not always use words in the way they were originally intended. When talking to other individuals in the online classroom, use your words in a way that everyone will understand.

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    Varying Degrees of Directness and Abstraction

    In communication, individuals utilize varying degrees of directness and abstraction. Abstraction is referring to a general concept and not a specific thought or object, while directness is saying exactly what is on your mind or stating the specific name of the object that is being referenced. If another student typed a message stating, “This class is so boring, homework is too hard and I cannot concentrate," it could be taken in a negative light. However, if the same student were to say, “I am having trouble concentrating because my homework is difficult, can anyone offer tips," the statement would be taken in a more positive way. The person clearly needs help in the first post but is being indirect and abstract in what he or she said.

    Photo By kk