Using Communication Tools

Most online course work will involve both synchronous and asynchronous communication.  Synchronous communication occurs in real time usually through instant messaging, chat or web-conferencing.  Asynchronous communication does not occur in real time; instead, it occurs when participants choose, (media – remove comma) and is done usually through email or discussion forums. Check out the variety of online tools available to you as you work online.

Online Communication Tip Sheet

Use the following online communication tips to ensure you are making the most of these tools!

  1. Participate. Understand the participation expectations of your instructor. For example, you may be required to participate in a minimum of one chat, create one original discussion posting, and respond to at least two posts created by your classmates. Be sure to complete at least the minimum requirements for participation in the course.

  2. Be insightful.  Understand the expectations of your instructor for the quality of communication in the course. If there is a communication rubric or marking guide, be sure to read it before you begin. In general, responses such as "I agree" in either a synchronous or asynchronous environment are unproductive. Consider supporting your ideas and opinions with reference to readings, research or course materials. Additionally, you may ask probing questions or make connections to the real world in your response.

  3. Be timely. This is especially important when communicating asynchronously because it is not useful to join a discussion forum that is already finished. Be aware of deadlines for asynchronous communications and scheduled synchronous events. This will ensure that you are actively participating and gaining as much as possible from the experience.

  4. Communicate clearly. Avoid acronyms, slang, and abbreviations in your communication. This is your classroom, so your language choices need to be clear, appropriate and presented in full sentences. When composing an asynchronous message, it is advisable to proofread and edit your work before sending. Always follow netiquette, the code for acceptable conduct in your online communication. For a brief tutorial on online etiquette and a self-marking quiz, explore the following link: Netiquette Core Rules

  5. Remember the human. Your instructor and classmates are not simply names on a class list; they are people and are part of this experience. If there is an icebreaker activity that involves introducing yourself, jump right in! Get to know the people you are working with in the course and be prepared to share your experiences, resources and questions with them as you work through the course materials. Making human connections in an online course will help you to feel less isolated and will provide you with additional support for your learning.

Using Communication Tools

You may be required to communicate in different ways.  Some common tools are chat, discussion groups, email, and instant messaging.  Each of these online communication tools allow you to "talk" with your instructor and classmates about course content and are a critical component of your participation in the class.

Chat / Online Discussions

Online communication plays a key role in helping you to build your understanding about your course material. When you are participating in online communication, be sure to:

  • Set time aside to read course communication
  • Participate frequently
  • Understand how your participation will be evaluated

Let's clarify the role and online discussions.


Chat is a quick, real-time conversation with another person or even a group. It is useful when seeking clarification with your instructor, collaborating with a group and participating in course seminars.For some quick tips on how to chat safely, go to

Online Discussions

Online discussions serve a very important purpose in online learning, similar to in-class discussions in a traditional classroom.  This is a place where you can connect with other students in the class.  It's a place to clarify ideas, share what you've learned, ask questions, and post new thoughts.  You will be required to read the posts from your instructor and other students and to respond appropriately.  Each new post should build on the ideas that came before to help foster knowledge.   Its main purpose is to help you learn the content in the course and get to know the other students.

For some suggestions about how to participate effectively in online discussions, from Southwestern College go to: Participating in Online Discussions


In general, the same rules for email etiquette apply to instant messaging, although the latter tends to be shorter and faster.

For a quick tutorial on email basics, go to: Email 101

For a quick top ten list for writing effective email, go to Top 10 Email Tips

Email Attachments
Beyond composing an email, you need to understand how to view, open and save attachments in email. If the attachment is large, it may be necessary to zip or unzip the file. Email programs vary by institution. For demonstration purposes, check out How to View, Open and Save Attachments in Microsoft Outlook.

Zipping and Unzipping Email Files

A zipped file is a file that is compressed and smaller than the original, allowing it to be easily sent via email. Many email providers have a maximum allowable file size for attachments that can range from 10 MB to 20 MB. If you have a large file, especially if your internet service provider does not allow you to send large files, or if the person receiving has a space limit on their mailbox, it is advisable to zip the file for easy transmission.

To create a .zip file, right click on the file, then select the command "Add to zip file" or Add to archive" or "Compress." This will create a .zip file that can be attached like any other file to your email, or saved to your computer folders.

To unzip or open a .zip file that you have received in your email, you simply right click on the file name and select "Extract." Depending upon your personal shortcuts, and your computer settings, your computer may unzip files automatically when you open email attachments.

If you are having difficulty sending large files, you may want to check with your internet service provider. Sometimes the service provider can increase the allowable file size for your account.

To learn more about zipping files, visit Zip a file or Zip and unzip files (in Windows 8) at

Web-conferencing Tools

In addition to the basic communication tools available for your course, you may be asked to use web conferencing tools. Web Conferencing enables participants to communicate online in real-time with audio, video, screen-sharing and/or file-sharing capacities. These tools enable learners to hold meetings and seminars without the participants needing to be in the same room. Web Conferencing brings the face-to-face experience to the online world! Early in your course, find out which communication tools you will be required to use and familiarize yourself with their capabilities and how to use them effectively.

is a web-conferencing tool.

To learn more about how to participate in an Elluminate session, go to First Time Users. On this page, technical support is provided for first time users to connect them to required software, an online orientation and quick reference guides.

Skype is an online communication tool that allows you to make free voice and video calls over the internet to any other Skype user. Check out What Is Skype to learn more about this tool's benefits and limitation.

To set-up your own Skype account, go to