How to ask your online teacher for help

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When you’re new to online learning, there is a fear that you will be left alone to your own devices (literally and figuratively). You should know that online learning does require independent study but you will not be alone and helpless. Because of new technology, learners have more options to connect and collaborate with their teachers (and classmates) than ever before. In fact, high quality interactions happen more in an online class compared to a classroom where a single outspoken student can monopolize a session.

Learners should know that support is always available. E-facilitators or mentors are available for inquiries, consultations and discussions. They know that constant interaction is needed to motivate and encourage learners.

Here are some tips to help you maintain a continuous and healthy interaction with your e-facilitator:

  1. Read the course description and follow instructions:

  2. Mentors know that they need to provide clear instructions, rules and introductory material so that students won’t feel lost. Most of the time, all your basic questions will be answered by exploring this page.

    • Look for the FAQs. Read the FAQs to know the basics of the course. It will also prevent you from asking questions that have already been answered.
    • Introduce yourself – This will make you visible to your instructor. It will also help them assist you better when they know your learning goals and expectations. You can do this on the forum or a page dedicated for introductions (your teacher will give you a link). Otherwise, you can do this via email.
    • Get to know your e-facilitator – Read your online instructor’s bio to know their field of expertise. Communicate with them often to let them know your progress.
  3. Note ways to connect with your e-facilitator or online instructor

  4. Instructors may provide several options which you can use depending on your concern or the urgency of your issue:

    • Email – Use this for questions or requests that do not need an urgent answer. It is also the preferred method for submitting assignments and reports.
    • Skype (or other VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol tools) – This is best for synchronous or real time discussions. Use it if you need an immediate answer to a question or if a concern is best explained “face-to-face”. Make sure to make an appointment with your teacher if you want to meet beyond your class time.
    • Social media – This is often used for sharing resources (e.g. links to websites or relevant articles).
    • Blog – Your instructor may have a regular blog where they share their knowledge and views on certain topics. This functions almost like a lecture and would be valuable to read. You can also leave comments or questions below the write-up.
    • Discussion board – Participating in the discussion board or forum is one of the best ways to get the most out of an online class. Teachers often moderate it so it is a great venue to ask questions or share what you learned. You can also read your classmates’ views, exchange resources with them, even connect and build friendships along the way.
    • Phone – Instructors may provide their mobile number for use only for urgent matters.
  5. Ask for help the right way

    Teachers are always eager to help and share their expertise. They appreciate it when students ask well thought-out questions. Use the active approach when asking for help. This means making an effort to understand the problem first and then working to find the solution before asking for help. This process will help you arrive at exact questions. The more specific your questions are, the better your teacher can help you. Active learners use the following phrases:

    • “I have read the assigned reading and understand the topic. But I need help in understanding the part about ____.”
    • “I’m not sure why ______.”
    • “Something isn’t making sense, but I’ve tried and I can’t figure out what I’m missing.”
    • “In the notes for our lesson, I read that ________. However, I found in my research that ______. These ideas are not compatible. May I know your views on this?”

    This is the opposite of the passive approach where you expect your teacher to think for you and solve all your problems. Teachers may not be as eager to help when this is your attitude. Passive learners usually say:

    • “I don’t know what to do.”
    • “My teacher can’t teach, so I’m lost.”
    • “I can’t do this. I just need to get this done.”
    • “This subject makes no sense.”

    (Active and passive approach definition and samples adapted from The right way to ask your teacher for help, Jay B.).

  6. Ask for help to make a personal learning plan

    Your personal learning plan is your guide. It makes it clear to you which areas you should focus on first and the type of learning activities you should undertake. You can discuss this with your instructor. It is the best way to chart and schedule your studies based on your learning goals, priorities and preferences.

Article updated July 7, 2020.

Sources: 7 tips to form relationships in online learning, Judi Muhammad, Ashford University; The right way to ask your teachers for help, Jay B., Signet Education; How to reach out to your instructor for online courses, Abree Murch, All accessed September 20, 2017.

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