Developing trust

The opportunities to create a learning environment that encourages peer-to-peer support will depend to some extent on the online tools you use. Of course, simply using the right technologies will not force a sense of community, nor will it make shared learning develop, but it will give these things a chance of happening.

But perhaps the most important element is to try to develop trust and a willingness to share between you and your learners, and within the learner group. This is all the more important if you are working with topics and issues that may be sensitive or personal.

A very simple first step is to make space for introductions so the group can get to know each other. At an early opportunity you should introduce yourself and invite learners to introduce themselves individually to the group. As well as obvious information like name, location, organisation and role, it is helpful to ask everyone if they are willing to share something personal about themselves, such as a hobby or interest.

This is, of course, only a start and you may need to include more extended social exchanges to encourage people to be comfortable in communicating with each other. Ice-breaker activities are a good way to get people talking and make them comfortable in the online environment. You can easily find lists of online ice-breaker activities from a quick internet search but, for example, if you are working synchronously, you could:

  • Put participants in to breakout rooms and ask them to find something unusual that they all have in common.
  • Give participants one minute to find and show an item e.g. something yellow, fluffy, shiny, etc.
  • Ask people what their ‘guilty pleasure’ is.

If your learners are working asynchronously, you can ask them to:

  • Share a photograph of something meaningful to them.
  • Share something good that happened to them recently.
  • State their favourite colour and why they like it.

Building a sense of community

Managing challenging behaviour online