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Bridging the Gaps in E-learning: Cultivating Communication Skills

Online students risk ending up lacking in communication skills. We'll go through the reasons for this and how to address it.

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In the rapidly evolving digital landscape, e-learning offers unparalleled convenience and flexibility, making it the go-to for many. But amidst its many advantages, there are several potential pitfalls, including an often-overlooked challenge: online education doesn’t cultivate communication skills like in-person teaching.

Traditional classroom settings foster a dynamic environment filled with face-to-face interactions, nurturing verbal and non-verbal interpersonal prowess. In contrast, digital learning often occurs without interaction between student peers and their teachers, undermining this process. Is there a way to ensure e-learning does not fall short? This article delves into the reasons behind this drawback and offers actionable solutions. 

Table of Contents

Why Communication Skills in Online Learning Can Be Lacking:

1. Limited Face-to-Face Interaction

E-learning platforms, while innovative, often reduce the opportunities for students to engage in real-time, face-to-face dialogues. Traditional classrooms buzz with spontaneous questions, group discussions, and impromptu debates. This immediate exchange not only enhances understanding but also develops active listening, empathy, verbal expressions, and even non-verbal cues like body language.

One reason for this learning process is that people often learn skills, such as the ability to communicate, through observing others and how they interact. Studies have shown that proficiency in communication increases when individuals learn through teamwork and other collaboration. Social activities, from debate and discussion to team projects, can improve leadership qualities, project management, and conflict resolution skills. Online platforms might inadvertently downplay these vital aspects. 

Solution: Real-time learning environments facilitated by video, discussion boards, or chats can mimic traditional classroom interactions. Synchronous communication enables learners to interact with their teachers and their peers as if in the same place and time, which can strengthen social skills by encouraging the benefits of observational learning and teamwork. Tools like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet can facilitate live synchronous discussions, allowing students to practice speaking, listening, and interpreting non-verbal cues.

2. Over-Reliance on Text-Based Communication

While some e-learning courses involve video tutorials or live teacher-student interaction, others only use writing, such as forums, emails, and chat systems, for communication. There are also entirely self-paced courses, offering no interactive component whatsoever. Text-based discussion boards and emails can provide a platform for peers and their teachers to interact and collaborate in the learning process. It can encourage the development of writing aptitude as students articulate their thoughts, inquiries, and responses. But, depending on the format, certain communication skills can be overlooked.

Text-based communication can fail to help learners develop oral communication skills and the ability to interpret non-verbal cues. The lack of verbal and visual interaction means students miss out on learning the nuances of vocal tone, pitch, and facial expressions, all crucial aspects of face-to-face interaction. While writing ability might improve, oral communication and the ability to interpret non-verbal cues might wane.


Encouraging more real-time interactive activities, such as group projects and collaborations, can promote more live interactions, such as video calls. Encouraging students to engage in live exchanges via video calls allows them to improve their written and oral communication skills. Even if individuals do this over chats or email, students can get a chance to engage with peers, plan meetings, delegate tasks, discuss ideas, and present their findings. This can aid significantly in honing their interpersonal abilities.

Digital platforms like Slack or Discord can be invaluable in this context. These tools have features that allow the creation of ‘virtual meeting rooms,’ better simulating the experience of in-person interactions. By using these platforms, students are not just passively consuming information but actively participating in the learning process, thus broadening and refining their communication.

3. Absence of Real-Time Feedback

In a physical setting, instant feedback – a nod, a puzzled look, or an immediate question – guides conversations and clarifications. E-learning, especially in asynchronous setups, might delay or entirely miss out on such spontaneous feedback loops, affecting the development of adaptive communication skills.

Adaptive communication is essential for collaborative learning and problem-solving, central to participating in society and partaking in the competitive global workforce. Meetings, presentations, and discussions all require the ability to read and respond to the feedback of others on the spot. As online and remote work becomes more prevalent, collaborating and communicating well with others online in real time becomes essential. This is why the presence of real-time feedback during educational pursuits is valuable. Questions and counterpoints can challenge the speaker and give them more confidence in their communication abilities since they can adapt and address misunderstandings.

Solution: This problem can be overcome by providing space for live feedback and role-playing activities in the online classroom. Including modules where students can record their presentations, followed by peer and tutor feedback, can offer insights into their communication strengths and areas of improvement. Furthermore, role-playing scenarios like interviews, group discussions, or customer interactions can provide practical exposure and help students adapt to varied communicational contexts depending on the type of online course.

Conclusion: Can I build communication skills through online learning?

E-learning, with its global reach and adaptable pace, has undeniable merits. However, the holistic development of a student demands not just academic prowess but also competent communication skills. Spaces for learning and education provide an essential platform for developing the interpersonal abilities needed to function in society and work in today’s labor market. It is important to recognize the challenges and barriers which online students face when developing these abilities.

Luckily, it is by no means impossible to integrate communication skills into e-learning programs. Many features that enhance teamwork and social skills in traditional in-person education can be replicated online. By integrating synchronous and live interactions, fostering group engagements, and emphasizing feedback, e-learning platforms can ensure that students emerge not just as repositories of knowledge but as effective communicators, ready for the multifaceted challenges of the professional world.