Building Bonds with New Learners

Many providers will be welcoming new learners in September. Esther explores some ideas for helping tutors and learners to bond with each other and their peers online.

Do you have new learners joining you online in September?

Are you developing your social induction activities?

How will you help learners and staff build rapport and relationships from the start?

Welcoming new learners

Many learning providers will be welcoming new learners to their courses in September and this new Jisc guide looks in depth at how organisations can plan an inclusive induction programme. Whether you are taking a hybrid, face-to-face or blended learning approach you will find information about accessibility, wellbeing and helpful resources. You will also find many case studies to inspire you.

If you are a practitioner worrying about how you will build rapport and help your learners get to know each other, this blog post will give you some quick practical ideas to get you started.

Mountain climbers in a white landscape

Live online sessions


The first session can be key. Making learners comfortable and helping them to build rapport with their tutors and peers can be supported by icebreaker games and activities.

One example is when learners appear on webcam and show a photo or an artefact, and share some interesting facts about themselves. Other people can ask questions about the photo or the item using mics or chat. Many platforms have breakout rooms, and learners can get to know smaller groups to begin with.

You might want to use external polling tools like or Mentimeter which offer their own suggestions for icebreaker activities.


In the early stages of the course, you may want to encourage more interactions between learners and playing games can help. If you search for ‘Zoom games’ you’ll find plenty of ideas which can be used on most platforms.

Here are a few examples of web pages full of ideas for games to play in virtual rooms. Many of them focus on business meetings, but they can be adapted for your learners.

Personal tutorials 

Bringing learners together in small tutorial groups can provide an opportunity for structured discussion and more informal chat. If these are introduced near the beginning of the course, learners will be able to build relationships with their peers from the start. You will need to design plenty of interaction and engagement into the session to support this.

Coffee mornings and socials – quizzes for fun  

Online social events have become very popular over the last few months, and they can provide a welcome change to the routine for learners and teachers. Who doesn’t look forward to coffee and cake with their colleagues and friends? These meetups can be informal, but it might be wise to have a few discussion starters in reserve in case the conversation dries up.

Virtual quizzes have been a life saver for many and can provide a good reason to bring people together to socialise. Here are some great suggestions for quirky quiz topics from You magazine, and some more traditional pub quiz style sets from Fun Quizzes.

Buddies and group work

You can help your learners get to know each other by asking them if they would like to participate in a buddy system. Some systems can rotate the buddies so people get a chance to chat with everyone else in the group, while others keep buddies together throughout the course.

Group work brings people together, and again groups can remain the same or change over time. Project work near the beginning of the course will help learners to form bonds.

Social Media

Once your learners have got to know each other through structured sessions and formal classes, they may need support to set up their own informal networks of support. Commonly used social media platforms include What’s App and Facebook groups.

Some learners may enjoy the opportunity to share their social media platforms and channels with peers, especially if they have things in common like a community background or shared interests.

Helping learners with this can be helpful in promoting staff and learner professional networking and support the development of career related online profiles.

Platforms that learners may want to use as part of the social and professional networking might include Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube and a range of blogging sites.

Learning platforms

We can use our online platforms like Google classroom, Microsoft Teams or a VLE for a range of learner interactions and collaboration. Learners benefit from having a central point of contact with each other, and a place to record their information and research. They might want to share ideas, prepare notes for discussion and debate, or work on projects and presentations. Groups may also need to collate resources like links, videos, websites, blogs and articles.

This central point of contact can be helpful for learners who are working together even if they are not doing so in real time.

Bonding can happen in many different ways and shared experiences can certainly bring people together.

Good luck in the new year!

Dr Esther Barrett

For more ideas about using interactive tools and techniques in live online platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams you can find my hints and tips here.

Yawn to Yay – webinars, classes and meetings

Teaching in Microsoft Teams

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