Despite the apparent benefit of flexibility, pursuing an online education can invoke anxiety for some individuals, especially those who crave regular interaction and collaboration with classmates as a part of their educational journey.

But online learning doesn’t have to be isolating.

Just because a computer screen separates you doesn’t mean you can’t build meaningful connections with your online classmates. As you begin or continue your online education, here are seven tips you can follow to avoid feeling disconnected.

1. Communicate Early and Often

Online class threaded discussions offer valuable communication advantages that real-time conversations lack. They enable you to effortlessly revisit previous exchanges, allowing for thoughtful consideration and the crafting of well-considered responses. Additionally, they provide a documented record of all communications.

Have you ever been in an online course where some classmates wait until the end of the week to start participating? That is like going to a face-to-face class and staying silent until the last ten minutes of the session. Suddenly, you spout out all of the ideas and comments that came to mind from different parts of the class.

Doesn’t that miss the concept of a two-way conversation? The same thing happens in an online threaded discussion unless you do something to prevent it. By logging in multiple times each week to comment, read, and reflect, you actively contribute to cultivating a livelier and more genuine dialogue for the entire community. Your active participation demonstrates a deeper interest and respect for your fellow learners, fostering a richer learning environment. This engagement not only enhances your own learning but also enables others to learn from your insights.

2. Be Curious

There is a time to speak and a time to listen. Listening is how we show genuine interest in others. It is also how we learn from others. Imagine you are on a first date, trying to be on your best behavior, which involves active listening. Furthermore, you prioritize and show other people that you care about them and what they have to say. Take on this attitude in an online class, and you will quickly build positive, maybe even long-lasting friendships with others.

3. Reach Out to Classmates

As you go through a course, you will discover that you relate to the goals and interests of other people. You will also notice students with different perspectives or backgrounds. These are people you can learn from. Reach out to them. Send them a private message and what you appreciate about their comments. Even invite them to connect beyond the course. Explain that you hope to stay in contact to share ideas and learn from one another.

4. Self-Organize Student Activities

You can do more than just the formal activities of a course. Why not try to arrange an informal study group or a Google Hangout to connect and further discuss ideas from the class? You can also create a forum outside the formal class or make a way to explore a topic that is interesting but was outside the planned course discussion. These activities will help you build a stronger sense of community, and it parallels the informal group meetings at many face-to-face institutions.

5. Encourage and Affirm

Online course discussions can get content-focused, which has obvious benefits but can make establishing a rapport beyond the course challenging. One way to be relational and content-focused simultaneously is to share words of encouragement and affirmation with co-learners. Share what you appreciate about their perspectives and ideas. Let them know how their comments help you, and thank them.

Go beyond “Great idea!” comments. Be specific and descriptive. Instead of telling them that an idea is helpful, explain why. If you think they have an interesting perspective, tell them why. Give details. Share anecdotes and stories as you encourage and affirm.

6. Challenge and Question

On the flip side, we want to nurture a rigorous learning community. That means disagreeing, challenging, and questioning in gentle and respectful ways. Much learning takes place as we contrast our understanding with that of others. These contrasts join us in a mutual pursuit of truth and a more accurate understanding of the subject.

7. Build Upon the Ideas of Others

In some online classes, comments seem like a disconnected collection of individual posts, often driven by the desire to craft an answer that meets the instructor’s expectations. While this is a reality in many online courses, take the discussion further.

Turn posts into a dynamic conversation. A great way to do this is to build upon the ideas of others. Take an idea that someone else shares and add a new example, illustration, or further explanation of the concept. As more people do this, we see progress and discovery through online discussion. We turn disjointed comments into a meaningful group discussion.

There are many ways to be an active learner in an online course, but these seven tips give you a few simple starting points. Try them out to see how it goes. Not only will you feel more connected to your online classmates, but you’ll also make the class a more vibrant and positive experience for everyone. You will also increase your chances of building profound, positive relationships beyond graduation.