Networking is a great tool to make new connections and is key to career success. As online education is becoming more popular, with 30 percent of students enrolling in online courses, networking is no less important but can be difficult to master in new online settings. Distance learners can still make meaningful connections even without being face-to-face.  

Networking with classmates  

Say “hello.”

It’s simple, but important. Introduce yourself to your fellow classmates and professor. If the professor opens with an introductory discussion, describe what you are looking for from the course and your motivation. Include other significant information such as the degree you are pursuing, line of work, goals, or other relevant information. Sharing personal information such as pets and hobbies can be an easy way to connect with your peers. Finding similarities with your classmates can jump start a working relationship.  

Engage in the classroom setting.

Four people examine a computer screen
Photo by Mimi Thian

Be active on message boards beyond the course requirements. Comment on assignments, ask thoughtful questions, and give great feedback. Staying actively engaged helps you build a positive reputation and allows you to better connect with your classmates. Building your online presence with valuable information will make an impact on others and they are more likely to remember you even after the course is over. They may also feel comfortable reaching out throughout the course for support.  

Meet people outside the virtual classroom.

Find out which of your peers are local to your area and arrange a meeting in person for coffee or a study session. Finding other industry events in your area can help you meet like-minded individuals where you can discuss your professional goals as well as your educational endeavors. Meeting these types of professionals will broaden your network and make a robust impression. 

Maintain a strong social media presence.

Share your LinkedIn page with your classmates. Make sure your profile remains professional and up to date. Include an overview of your skills, accomplishments, and intentions. Include a personalized message to each connection because they will see you are putting in time to get to know them. Having a substantial online presence will help you create more connections with your classmates and others in your field. Add value to the connections you make by sharing insightful content and commenting on others’ posts as well.

Networking with Professors 

Being an online student most of your interaction with professors will be through email. However, ask to connect through a video meeting. This can help you and your professor see each other face to face and create recognition. Discuss questions about the course or on homework assignments and future plans you have set up for after the class. Video chats are a great way to prove to your professor that you are invested to succeed in the course or program.  

Like studying online, students can network online in a way that fits their goals and schedule. Click To Tweet

Stay in touch with your professor. Even when the course has ended, remain in contact with your professor. They will mostly have connections with employers in your field. If those employers are looking for an intern or new hires, they will tap into the professor’s student network. Professors can help you get your foot in the door especially with the knowledge they hold within the industry and the connections they have made throughout their careers. Making a good impression on your teacher will help them remember you and give you a good recommendation.  

Professors make an impact on your networking skills and want to help their students achieve their goals. It is also important to try and get to know others who will be working in the similar field as you. Connecting with people who will potentially be in the same profession can also help your network grow.  

Photo via Pixabay

Networking with Industry Professionals 

Traditional students have the ability to work an internship. But for online students, most of whom are adult learners, do not have the time to take on another part-time job. If you hope to advance your career outside of the company you work for while you are in school, volunteering is a great way to get to know potential future employers. Volunteering at industry events allows you to get to know professionals and gives you the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the company they work for.  

Ask to set up a meeting with someone you admire in person or by phone. Be forward about your objective and why you want to connect with them before taking their advice. Most professionals are flattered to help someone who comes to them with questions about their background and experience. Treat your meeting like an interview and get to know the expert’s opinion on the goals you are trying to achieve. 

Don’t forget to follow up and thank the professional for taking their time to give you advice and job opportunities. Everyone is busy with their lives, balancing work, families, and other commitments; sending a quick email shows your appreciation and determination.  

The Power of Networking  

Networking can feel intimidating at first; however, it helps create connections with all kinds of people and opens many opportunities. Even as an online student, networking is crucial for building your influence and furthering your professional development.  

A group of four people sit in chairs chatting with one another
Photo by AllGo

It is important for online students to step out of their comfort zone and connect with classmates, professors, and professionals, especially if the learner wants to advance their career. You never know who you’re going to meet and what they can offer you.  

Make your presence known throughout your online course. Putting yourself out there will help you gain recognition and be more interactive with your peers. This is where you can build meaningful relationships because you are actively involved with the class.  

Networking is an essential element in everyone’s career path, both online and offline. It allows you to build your skills and create personal connections that will be practical throughout your next career.  

About Dr. Donald “Doc” Hecht — Doc is an Educator, University Founder, and President Emeritus writing and discussing the trends and challenges facing higher, online, and distance education, among other topics. Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask any questions! You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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