So, you’re trying to figure out an accounting formula, a psychological study, or the importance of an Amazonian tribe’s religious icon for your online course. What do all these scenarios have in common? They can all be solved by talking to the right people, the right way. Here are five tips to effectively communicate in your online course with the people who can give you the help you need.

1. Forum, first

Chances are if you’ve got a question, someone else has it too – check the forum for your course, it might be there! Even if no one’s asked your question, someone has to be first and it might as well be you.

2. Email, last

Chances are your professor and TA’s from your online courses already get enough emails from your colleagues. If you save them a headache by doing your own research first (like scouring the forum!), you’ll have a good case for your getting the help you need from your instructors.

3. Friends, make some

We live in a world where friends, families and businesses connect worldwide through their screens. Who’s to say you can’t do the same with your peers in your online classes? It can be daunting to be the first one to break the “silence” on the discussion board for your course, but if you take the plunge first chances are people will be more inclined to help you. Whether it’s setting up a Google Hangout session or making a Facebook study group, sometimes all people need is a nudge in the right direction.

4. Seen your syllabus? Have another look.

Can you count on one hand the amount of times the answer to your question has included the words “as described in the syllabus?” Chances are that’s because it was in the syllabus. Checking your syllabus prior to asking your question is a good way to make sure you’re not asking what’s already been answered for you.

5. With great power…

It’s incredible what students can accomplish today with the power of technology – you can learn an entire semester’s worth of material and get a credit for it without ever leaving your bed (please don’t go four months without leaving your bed). However, this also means students must understand both the power of the tools at their disposal, and their responsibility to use them as effectively as possible. Recorded videos, online readings, and discussion forums at your fingertips – everything you need to succeed. All that remains is to put in the work.

By Matthew Curtis