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4.1 Online communication skills

The internet offers a wealth of opportunities for communication that most of us use regularly these days. By choosing this course, you are probably aware that it can be a good learning medium too.

The web can be used for individual learning – like this course – or learning with others. Email is a regular part of online learning, course materials can be accessed online and there are often online communities and tutor groups to enable more interaction between students and their tutors.

There are two main ways of communicating online, and these are called synchronous and asynchronous. (Putting an ‘a’ in front of a word sometimes creates an opposite in English. The ‘a’ is known as a prefix. Other examples are ‘typical’ and ‘atypical’, and ‘moral and ‘amoral’.) In this case, the two words can be defined as follows:

  • Synchronous communication means taking place in ‘real time’; for example, via instant messaging or a ‘chat’ facility.
  • Asynchronous communication takes place when participants communicate in their own time; for example, by responding to messages that have been posted in an online forum.

If you take part in social networks, you will recognise that these terms could be applied to those too.

Whether you are using the internet for study or personally, it is important to remember you are communicating with real people. Special care must therefore be taken to avoid misunderstandings.