Strategies for the Reserved: Staying Engaged in a Distance Learning Environment

Throughout my school career, I have always heard the terms “shy” and “reserved” used to describe me. I must admit, the description did not seem positive and would often affect how I further interacted in class. When I started my online MLIS almost two years ago, I was a little nervous because I had never taken an online course. One major concern: How would a so called shy and reserved student stand out in a virtual classroom full of people that I have never met?

My plan was to be different. That’s right. I would change my entire personality and become the vocal, outspoken student who always participates. Overnight. It was an ambitious goal, but as I found, it was not unrealistic. Essentially in the online distance learning world, I found that it was easier to be myself and to participate without fear. Being in an online learning environment with students from all over the country can be overwhelming. Not only are you forced to participate, but you also face the challenge of collaborating with your classmates, getting to know your professor and staying engaged in an asynchronous environment where you may never meet anyone face to face. I found the environment challenging but motivating and I felt more at ease because I was not “on the spot”.

With online courses readily available and gaining popularity, online MLIS programs are becoming a great option for those that have full time jobs and are unable to travel to get to classes. While traditional classrooms thrive on classroom participation and group collaboration to gauge student success and student performance, it can be difficult to measure that in an online environment.

The following are some helpful tips I found useful during my MLIS program:

Make use of office hours. Office hours are a great place to get to know your professor, show that you are paying attention and stand out in classes. Although discussion boards offer you the chance to interact with classmates and instructors, many times our responses may get lost in the shuffle. In an online environment with 29 other students, it is unfair to assume the professor will get to know everyone especially if there are no pictures and no synchronous meetings.

Check discussion boards frequently. One of my biggest takeaways from distance learning is that it is time consuming. When you are in an asynchronous class, you are responsible for keeping up with what is going on with your class and the discussions. Although professors may post a few questions and set deadlines and limits, the discussion can go on and on. So pay attention to the boards and post when you can. Or as M. Jay Granger suggested, schedule them! Frequently checking in throughout the day ensures that you are not missing any important details and conversations. It can be time consuming but it is worth it because you will get to know your classmates better and the be able to interact with the course material more comfortably.

Build relationships. Often in programs such as Library Science, you take classes with roughly the same group of people. When you “see” a former classmate in your new class, reach out to them! I found that something as simple as responding to their intro post saying, “Nice to see you again!” helps to establish a connection. Take the time to interact with classmates that you already know and this will help you become more comfortable in the space and be more likely to join in the discussion beyond the required post.

You can be reserved, but not passive. Reserved people are not necessarily passive. You can be engaged and participate even if you are hesitant to do so. In a virtual environment it is important to make the extra effort to stand out and talk to others. Ask questions, spark new discussions, share ideas and interesting articles that you find, and you can become an active member of your classroom.

Asynchronous courses can foster higher frequency of participation than a traditional course because questions are sometimes being posed throughout the week, by students and instructors. The environment allows more flexibility and students do not feel pressured to come up with answers on the spot. Furthermore, the increased privacy afforded by online course sections could produce greater participation from more reserved students, who may be disinclined to participate in live, public discussions (Gaylon et al, 2016). In these online courses, the professor serves more as a facilitator and it is up to the class to work together to improve the experience and to enhance the educational experience.

In my experience, asynchronous online courses challenge students to carve their own path. You can control the discussion, you engage your classmates and you motivate yourself to do better and to participate. As a normally reserved person, I find I am thriving in this virtual classroom and becoming more confident in my ability to lead a discussion, work with others and offer my ideas and provide feedback in a public forum.

Galyon, C. E., Heaton, E. C., Best, T. L., & Williams, R. L. (2015, September 24). Comparison of group cohesion, class participation, and exam performance in live and online classes. Social Psychology of Education Soc Psychol Educ, 19(1), 61-76.

Alyssa_BrissettAlyssa Brissett is from Brooklyn, NY, and is currently in her last semester of the online MLIS program at Wayne State University. She is also a Project IDOL Fellow. She has about 6 years experience working in libraries and most recently became an Access Services supervisor at Lehman Social Sciences Library at Columbia University. She enjoys going to the movies, traveling and brunch! Alyssa hopes to become a librarian in social sciences or humanities.

Image Credit: A Shy Red Panda named Shyla (Red Pandazine)

2 replies

  1. Great article. As a distance learner myself, this article nails it! I participated in both settings, but you do have more time to think about what you would like to present as you are representing yourself in words. You want to show the best and get others interested and motivated too.


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