Some schools refer to online learning as “distance learning.” And it can feel distant: there’s no face-to-face interaction, no body language, no office hours where student and teacher can visit over coffee. It takes a special effort to get to know online instructors. So why bother? Good reasons it turns out, are easy to find. Here are six of the best.

Get to Know Your College Professor

1. A better grade

Face it: grades are one of the most important things you get from your education. When you know your teacher better, you’re likely to better understand the instructor’s expectations and that can help you earn a better grade.

One of my graduate students took the time to ask about the B+ he’d earned on an early assignment. As we discussed the grade, he learned about my own graduate training, where A grades were earned only by exceptional work, not simply good work. Once he knew my standards and where they came from, he was able to do some of the best work of his academic career and earn a solid A.

2. Build your professional network

In many online programs, most of the faculty are professionally engaged in the fields they teach. That makes them a good place to begin your own professional network, even while you’re still a student. In all the courses I’ve taught, at least one student has earned an A, yet I don’t necessarily remember those students. Good, lasting impressions come from relationships, not just grades. Students who show they care about the subject and about why and how I’m teaching it are the ones I remember. I can’t — won’t — write a strong reference letter for a student I do not remember.

3. It’s a small world after all

One of my former MBA students was a computer engineer in Los Angeles. Since I’m in the heart of the Midwest, that didn’t strike me as significant. As he took the time to learn about me and tell me about himself, we discovered he reported to my best man’s wife, an IT executive at a Hollywood studio at the time. Once he knew that connection, he worked hard to earn a good grade. After the course, he was able to tell Kim not only that he had earned a good grade, but that she knew the instructor. You’re darned right she called to talk about the student’s work. And I had only good things to say.

4. Deeper understanding

Teachers almost always have a deep appreciation for their subjects, one that goes far beyond the classroom curriculum. Many of the MBA courses I taught emphasized dispute resolution options as seen from a business perspective. Being a civil litigator, I’ve spent most of a career examining those choices from several perspectives: advocate, individual, and business. Students who took time to examine dispute resolution from perspectives outside the syllabus learned that there are many emotional and practical issues not found in the textbook or other course materials. After graduation and in their professional lives, that deeper understanding will make them better MBAs — and, I believe, more compassionate people.

5. You, again?

Don’t think you’ll have your instructor for one course only. Once I became part-time faculty in the University of Phoenix’s MBA program, I took the time to qualify to teach more courses. So did many of my colleagues. Eventually I took on classes in the doctoral program. So don’t be surprised when you see a teacher again a few semesters down the road. You won’t want to have an awkward moment after asking, “Do you remember…?” Greeting an old friend is much more comfortable.

6. Stay clear of shortcuts

Integrity is a must-have for professional success. Academic integrity problems signal that this person is not suitable for hiring. Getting to know your instructor will help you avoid them.

Online teachers are usually part-time, they aren’t making much money, and teach because they love it. When students get to know their teachers, they see that passion — and they often come to share it. Even when they prefer other subjects, students usually respect instructors they know.

The biggest insult to any teacher — and the teacher’s subject — is plagiarism. It’s no secret that there are many ways to buy term papers and other work to simply sign and turn in. Students who buy papers don’t respect the subject, the teacher, or the school. Although a regrettably large number of students in my courses committed plagiarism — heck, a single one is too many — no student who took the time to engage with me did anything worse than miss a footnote.

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