Relationship building - Fleksibel utdanning Norge

Good relationships are a prerequisite for good learning. Online tuition may require a different approach and different activities than in a physical learning arena. Who are the other students? Who is the tutor? Knowing a little about each other helps to build trust, which, in turn, makes it easier to learn together. In the book Studielivskvalitet, students highlight ‘the importance of tutors who are engaged in their field, which also stimulates their own engagement. At the same time, they emphasise the importance of being seen as individuals and of feeling recognised/accepted in the study context. The tutor’s role is of great significance to that end. However, it is also important for the students to have fellow students to develop and address challenges with. Relationships include (…) what can be understood as common engagement, interpersonal recognition and cooperation.’ (28)

Part 1 of the guide makes reference to Gilly Salmon’s five-stage model. The first stage is about getting to know each other, but if we delve deeper into the theory, (29) we see that relationship-building activities recur throughout the process. This is a good educational principle.

Get-to-know-each-other exercises: start-up and follow-up

There are normally three ways of starting a fully or partly online course/programme:

  1. A joint face-to-face session.
  2. A joint synchronous online session, using tools such as Zoom or Teams.
  3. Asynchronous start-up where the participants and tutor do not meet in person, but where study activities are enabled online. The more flexibility there is in relation to time and place, the more important it becomes to make dedicated efforts to create a sense of security, belonging and relationships.

Suggestions for start-up activities:

  • Everyone who has a role in the programme creates a profile in the online learning environment.
  • Students can use an image that they feel describes them as a way of presenting themselves. The intention is to prompt discussion.
  • Let the students introduce themselves orally.
  • If relevant, let the students describe the organisations they work for.
  • The tutor should also tell the students about him/herself to make it easier for the students to do the same.

Suggestions for activities that are best suited for synchronous sessions:

  • It may be advantageous to start by breaking large groups down into smaller groups / breakout rooms. Draw up specific exercises that are not too difficult.
  • Combine get-to-know-each-other activities with questions such as ‘What are you looking forward to learning in this course?’ or ‘How are you going to use what you learn?’.
  • To ensure good discussions in breakout rooms, it is a good idea to assign a little extra responsibility to one participant. This could be the person whose birthday falls first if the group discussion is short and informal, or efforts may be made to reach agreement with the participants in advance if an exercise requires someone to take on extra responsibility to complete the exercise.

Activities such as these can lay the foundation for a good learning environment, but they must be followed up with social learning activities through the programme/course.

Clarifying expectations

What are the students’ expectations of teaching and learning outcomes? of their own work effort? Of each other? What are the tutor’s expectations of the prospective students? Starting by clarifying expectations can lay the foundation for good communication, including digital communication, throughout the programme. Taking part in learning activities motivates students to understand how their own activity is related to achieving good learning outcomes. The tutor’s expectations of how students should work and take part in the programme should be formulated in writing in the learning platform.

Suggestions for activities to clarify expectations:

  • Highlight students’ expectations, for example on a digital whiteboard.
  • A more demanding exercise is to let the students create a presentation of what they want the classroom environment to be like, for example by finding images they think illustrate important aspects of a good collaborative environment in flexible education, and create a joint collage.
  • Have each individual set up and share a time budget of how they plan to allocate their own study time.


  1. 28

    Damsgaard, H. L. (red.). (2019). Studielivskvalitet: Studenters erfaringer med og opplevelse av kvalitet i høyere utdanning. Universitetsforlaget.

  2. 29 (retrieved 11 November 2023)

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