By Dr. Michael S. Miller
Part-time Faculty Member, Teaching Program, School of Education at American Public University
As an online learner, you have the opportunity to develop and refine many skills. It is likely the most widely practiced, or even the most important would be developing effective communication skills. The majority, if not all of your communication in the online learning environment, is in the form of written communication. Communication takes place continuously in this environment with both your instructor and your classmates. Therefore, it is critical to make a good impression; not to mention, “More effective communication practices lead to a more effective learning process” (Venable, 2011, para. 2). Whether you are engaging in a threaded discussion forum, submitting a written assignment, or sending an email, your expression of your thoughts and ideas have much to say about you as a person.
In the online environment, it is rather easy to click ‘reply,’ type up a quick response, and hit ‘send’ without giving much thought about what you have just written (or not written). However, what most students do not realize is that your e-mail behavior has the potential to sabotage your reputation both personally and professionally. Believe it or not, when you are a student, others judge you based on your communications skills. After all, it is likely they have never heard you speak verbally. This is why there are some actions you should take to make a good impression on the people you are communicating with regularly.
For example, sharing an email address with your significant other. This tells the person receiving the email that you are likely not an independent person. Email addresses are free to obtain and easy to check. There is no reason why you would need to share an email address with anyone. Email addresses can be used for almost anything from receiving discounts at your favorite store to registering a product online. While it is fine to have an email address for these purposes, try setting up an additional inbox. It is important to use and maintain a professional email address for communicating with employers, businesses, classmates, and professors. You can control who has access to this address and will not have to sift through all of the junk mail in your other inbox.
Another idea for maintaining a professional email account is to use your real name, or some variation of it. Using something that you think may be cute or trendy, (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org) tells the receiver that you are not a very serious person. Again, it is fine to have this type of email address, but use it with your friends or something that does not require professionalism.
Something else you will want to consider is what you communicate in the email. For example, if you are sending an email to your professor, it is a good idea to begin the email by addressing him or her by name. Then, state your reason for the email and include an electronic signature with your full name. It is also a good idea to include the course number and section for which you are enrolled. It is likely that your professor teaches more than one course or even for multiple schools. Your professor could have five students named Andrea. If you send an email without these items, it appears very unprofessional and carries with it a sense of laziness.
Finally, always proofread your emails before you send them! Read and re-read them and use spell check. Remember, your writing says a great deal about the type of person sending the email. Do not forget that there is a person on the other side of your email. Much like a first impression, the emails you send allow the person on the receiving end to judge you solely based on your choice of tone, punctuation, and writing ability. You may come across as educated or illiterate, happy or irritated — it is all in the delivery!
About the Author
Dr. Michael Miller is a professor specializing in curriculum and instruction, online teaching and learning, organizational behavior, and educational leadership. Michael has a Bachelor of Science in Education, Master of Science in Instructional Design and Development, an Educational Specialist in Educational Leadership (K-12), and a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (Higher Education). His background includes elementary school teaching and administration, mentoring/training new teachers, curriculum development, online course design, and higher education administration. Currently, Michael is conducting research related to teacher preparation, critical thinking in higher education, online collaborative learning tools and processes, and effective online teaching practices through student engagement, stimulating intellectual development, and building rapport.