I just finished writing a blog where I discussed that the most surprising thing to me about the on-line MBA program was the ability to actually get to know some of the other students in your program, so as a follow-up, here’s a little more about how to connect and stay connected to your classmates/peers.
It all begins with the student introductions in each class. If you follow the instructor’s directions, you and your classmates will be sharing some good information that will allow for some immediate connections to form. Most of the introductions include not only where each student is living or from, but also where they obtained their undergraduate degree, how far along they are in the program, what they do for a living/where they work, why they are in the program, and then some personal facts like what hobbies or interests they have.
My advice is to take advantage of any instant connections you feel when reading your classmates introductions and actually reply back to them. I’ve been able to connect with people who are from the same hometown, same alma mater, who have children the same age, or with whom I have common interests or have held common jobs. By replying to the introductions, you can quickly begin a relationship with a classmate.
Next, as the course goes on and each week you read your classmates discussion posts, you begin to learn more and more about how a person thinks and how their experiences influence their perspective. I would encourage you to add commentary to your posts that weaves in examples from your own work experiences. Not only does this help to make your point more relevant, but can also help in the relationship building experience. For example, someone may comment back to you that they’ve had a similar experience or that they are learning from hearing our experiences, with both of these facilitating back and forth discussion and helping to build relationships.
Another simple step is simply to reply to multiple classmate’s discussion posts. Not only does this begin another discussion (and usually get you more points for the assignment), but it shows you’ve taken the time to read their post and that you are interested in hearing more about what they have to say or hearing more about their opinion on the topic. The bottom line is the more you “talk” back and forth to your classmates, the better chance you have of building a relationship. Just as in a physical classroom, if you sit quietly every class and don’t speak to anyone, you won’t really form any connection to your classmates.
Group projects, although a bit more work when done in an on-line setting, are a great way to get to know your partners better. Hearing their voice on conference calls or seeing them via Skype can help to take a relationship to the next level. If you are lucky enough to have any “local” partners, actually meeting in person to work on projects/homework, or just for lunch is an obvious way to get to know someone better.
Lastly, be sure to connect with your classmates on LinkedIn. That way, after the class, you have a way to stay in touch. We are so fortunate in this program to be able to meet people from so many different places, with so many different experiences, make sure you take the time to form some new relationships that you can leverage in the future for mutual benefit, whether personal or professional!