26 Feb 2021 21:19 IST

Barriers to communication in digital classrooms

Acknowledging the many hindrances is an important step in our path to communicate effectively

Communication forms an indispensable part of life. . Irrespective of what a person does, It plays a critical role in determining success. It is the basis of coordination and decision making which are important pillars for organisational effectiveness. There are barriers to both physical and digital communication which hinder the way we communicate, although subtle, they can have a damaging effect on our intended meanings. This makes understanding them an important step in our path to master communication skills.

For an enriching classroom learning experience, the teacher and the students must be open and comfortable in discussing the different barriers which are stopping their communication to be close to perfect. With the rampant use of digital communication, it is natural to think that the barriers faced while communicating digitally would be significantly different from a physical set up. However, there is a large overlap between both mediums.

Some of the barriers we face in both types of communication are as follows:

Semantic barriers

There are hundreds of majorly used languages in the world. As per a report, 94 per cent of the world’s population does not speak English as their first language. 75 per cent do not speak English at all. These figures make it evident that knowledge of a language is a major factor hindering effective communication while teaching and otherwise. Moreover, use of technical jargons, slangs, or acronyms is likely to make it difficult for the receiver of the message to completely understand it.

In the digital context, a very peculiar semantic barrier arises due to different understanding of different types of emojis. The sender and the receiver might see a particular emoji in different ways and therefore have different meanings about the message in their heads. For instance, while asking (or answering) a question, if a student has used an emoji with a particular intent , other could misunderstand it, leading to miscommunication.

Physical barriers

Even though it has the word ‘physical’ in it, these barriers are equally prevalent in digital settings, however, the nature of the barriers differ in both the cases. In a physical setting, distance between two people, noise in the environment, weather conditions all affect the effectiveness of communication. If the two people communicating are far apart from each other, or there is a lot of disturbance in the room where communication is to happen, or the sender and receiver are talking to each other in the rain, all these adversely impact the quality of communication.

Similarly, in a digital setting, poor internet connectivity, low device battery, app crashes are some of the examples which cause hindrance in communication and makes the proper delivery of the intended message difficult.

Emotional barriers

Emotions are an integral part of a complete communication cycle. Communication is not just done through words. Gestures, body movements, face expressions, tone, pitch, and pauses, completely change the way the receiver understands the sender’s intent to communicate. Even the presence of different emotions such as anger, worry, happiness, jealousy, and anxiety, can go a long way in making communication complete.

As the mode of teaching is moving towards digital, making use of emotions and non-verbal components is becoming a huge challenge for all the participants in it. Reading the hand and body movements and the overall emotional level of the students or even the teacher is next to impossible while talking digitally.

There are some barriers which are associated with digital communication only. These are especially relevant in the context of teaching and must be dealt with to give a proper learning experience to the students. It does not mean that they are completely absent from physical communication. It is just that they are more significantly present in digital channels which forces us to consider them seriously.

Attention barriers

Communication has no meaning unless the message is understood well. It is not enough for the receiver to just hear the message. They must pay attention to grasp the real meaning of it. However, it becomes exponentially difficult to pay full attention while communicating digitally. One can get easily distracted by myriad of thoughts and worries about tasks to be completed or even life in general. With attention span getting shorter, and information overload becoming a part of our lives, effectively communicating digitally has become a daunting task for the teachers and professors.

Monitoring barriers

In some situations, like a classroom setting, the major part of communication happens through the teacher itself. Therefore, it is important for him/her to ensure that the recipient of the message (the students) is paying complete attention throughout the period. In a physical setting, this was not even an issue to be discussed. However, when the classes are taking place digitally, teachers have no real way to gauge what the students are doing during the class. Monitoring each and every student in a big batch is not feasible which gives the students an opportunity to escape listening to the lectures.

All these barriers make us realise that effective communication is easier said than done. With the medium of communication shifting to digital channels, the skill set required to win over these barriers has also changed. One has to be flexible enough to not let the barriers peculiar to digital channels spoil their message.

The sender and receiver of the message must work mutually in devising ways which could prove helpful in mitigating these barriers. Both of them must be open to each other to talk about these issues comfortably.

Lastly, no barrier is strong enough that it cannot be overcome. By employing the right techniques and preparing for the communication in advance, the participants in the communication can solve a lot of problems beforehand. What is needed is the right amount of willingness and energy to make a way out of every difficult situation while communicating.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, Business Communication, MDI Gurgaon.)