Communication & Participation

collaboration on the web

Communication and participation are two of the most critical aspects of learning—and teaching—online. It encompasses all of the interaction and behaviors within a course, including between instructor and learner, among learners—either one-on-one or as part of a group—and between learners and the instructional materials. There are many types of communication possible within an online course, as well as many strategies and techniques to encourage successful interaction among participants.


Why Is It Important?

The importance of communication and participation in the online environment can not be overstated. Because students in an online course are physically separated from the instructor and their peers and connected only via technology, they need more support, feedback, and communication than do students in a face-to-face course. Otherwise students may feel isolated and alienated. Using effective communication strategies will enable the instructor to connect personally to the learners, to identify and meet individual student needs, and to encourage students to participate.

How to Put Into Practice?

Communication and participation are, unsurprisingly, a large part of teaching an online course. To successfully fulfill the facilitator role, instructors should engage in a number of teaching techniques and strategies to engage and motivate students throughout the duration of the course:

Where to Find Resources?

Communication in an Online Course

There are four primary types of communications that should be used in an online course, each with a distinct purpose, content, recommended tool set, and tips for use.

Type Description Tools Tip for Use
Private communications Personal exchanges, usually informal, between the instructor and an individual student or exchanges among two individual students; occur as the need arises. Email; telephone; voice or video conference Plan the technology in advance so students will know how private communications will be handled.
Informal class communications Public exchanges between the instructor and students or among students regarding course material or administrative questions; occur as the need arises. Email to classlist; discussion forum; voice or video conference; Padlet; Piazza To reduce administrative questions, include frequently asked questions in the discussion forum.
Learning activities Assignments or tasks designed into a course to engage students in learning and practice; involve formalized communications directed to accomplishing the task and its objectives. Assignment dropbox or submission tool; small group discussion forum; blog or wiki; gradebook Deliberately integrate these into the course by including explicit instructions and expectations and by integrating the technology tools in support of the required task.
Feedback Information provided to students about their learning, including progress during the course and accomplishments at the end. Email; quiz or poll; rubric; automated feedback messages; gradebook Ensure a variety of types of feedback such as informal instructor feedback, formal instructor feedback on learning activities, and peer feedback on students’ work.



Please note: Not all of the listed technologies are officially supported by the university.



  Want More?

The “Communication & Participation” deep dive topic explores strategies and resources for communicating and providing feedback to students in an online course.

Topics covered include:

  • Communication and Interaction
  • Participation and Behavior Techniques
  • Groups and Teams
  • Course Design and Teaching Strategies


Visit the Communication & Participation deep dive topic

Note: This course is available for FREE to all UW-Madison faculty and staff. When you click the link you will be prompted to sign in with your UW-Madison NetID and password. Then you will be taken to the topic homepage where you can learn more and complete activities.