Many careers today involve collaborating virtually with colleagues who may be located throughout the country or even internationally. To be successful, you will need to develop strong strategies to get the work done – and this can be challenging.
Online courses may require students to complete projects virtually in groups, which can teach them critical skills for the fast-paced, rapidly changing, 24/7 global business world. Below are four areas where you can develop skills through group work in an online degree program.
1. Virtual collaboration: Online courses may require students to work together virtually using videoconferencing tools such as Skype or Zoom, as well as email, phone or instant messaging. Students work as they would in a business with multiple offices.
In an online program, your classmates may be located across time zones, requiring group members to make real-world decisions and compromises, such as meeting at a time that may be convenient for one student but in the middle of the night for another.
2. Communication: Effective communication is key to success in any organization but can be more difficult in a virtual team.
In these cases, some experts suggest that one individual serve as a team coach or project manager – making sure that every participant has a role and completes different components of the group project by established deadlines, among other responsibilities.
Within their virtual teams, students who fulfill leadership roles can pressure-test their ability to act as both a coach and team member and gauge how others respond to the way they communicate and collaborate. Team building is tough, but learning to lead or contribute in technology-mediated team settings can make you more valuable to current or future employers.
3. Team building and organizing: Professors often provide guidelines for virtual collaboration among online students that involve meeting specific goals – such as selecting a topic for an assignment – by a deadline. They may also require online students to define the research responsibilities and tasks for each team member.
Online students completing group work may need to also determine how the group will operate, such as whether a majority or consensus of participants need to make certain decisions. These students may also need to plan ahead in terms of what technologies they will use to communicate, the frequency of online meetings and how quickly they need to respond to classmates’ questions.
In the workplace, students can pull from this experience to develop effective teams and help shape projects collaboratively in a virtual environment.
4. Remote presentations: Virtually every business today requires remote presentation skills. Students in online courses can learn to deliver complex presentations to those they can only see on a computer screen. Online students need to find unique ways to keep an audience engaged from afar.
Presenting to a group and trying to keep their attention online may be challenging, but students are likely to improve as they incorporate online surveys, PowerPoints and other tools into presentations and as they learn strategies from other online students.
Videoconference collaboration tools such as Zoom or GoToMeeting also allow online students to see themselves, their professors and classmates.
The takeaway: Online courses that require group work offer a great way for you to enhance your skills, providing important qualities to help differentiate yourself in the highly competitive global marketplace.