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Successfully Developing Rapport Online

You’re going to teach an online course and you’ve never taught online before. Or maybe you have, and you’d like to be more successful. What do you do? In this article we’re going to go over how you can design an online course that better involves and engages your students right from the beginning by developing rapport.

Let Them Know How Much You Care

One of the things my friend Jonathon Sprinkles teaches in his courses is “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” This is something both in-person and online trainers need to remember.  

Your job as a trainer or educator is to help your learners feel comfortable, confident and valued. You can do this by establishing trust and developing rapport even before the course begins.

So how do you make your students know how much you care about them and their success in the class? The same way as you would in an in-person class.

First Things First

As any successful trainer will tell you, the first thing you need to do in any class is to let the students know a little bit about you and the other students in the class. This is the first step of developing rapport, helping your students feel comfortable.  

How can your students learn about you? By you sharing as much information as you can in your profile.

Your Profile

What should you include in your profile? At minimum your image, your bio and a few interests and activities you enjoy.

Your bio should include your credentials a little about how and why you are teaching the course. For example:

Hi, my name’s Wil Dieck. I have two master’s degrees, one in business and one in organization development. I first became interested in learning and development when I was teaching life skills to martial arts students. I’m teaching this course because I want to share my online teaching experience with you.

Your interests and activities might include:

I have a passion for two things, martial arts and personal development. I regularly practice Tai Chi and Qigong as well as yoga. I also read or listen to a few personal development books a month. My wife and I love to watch movies and we try to watch two or three new ones each month. One last thing I enjoy is hiking, so you might find me walking the city’s trails from time to time.

While this can be simply text in a box, a way to make your introduction more personable is to record a short video. Don’t worry about making it “perfect”. In fact, a few mistakes can be beneficial by making you seem more human.

What you are doing is developing rapport by modeling openness. By modeling your openness, you are making students more comfortable with you and the class.

Get to Know Your Students

Dale Carnegie said, “Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely.” This is one of the best ways of developing rapport.  The easiest way to make another person feel important is to ask them questions and then really pay attention to what they say. This is no different when you teach online.

Before the class starts, create a document or survey that allows your learners to share their information with you. Let them know this document is private and for your eyes only.

This document needs to include their name and why they are taking the course. Also ask them to share any information you need to consider to help them be successful. This can include how comfortable they are with technology. Also ask them about their hobbies and interests as well as any accomplishment they are proud of.

Have Your Students Get to Know Each Other

In order to feel comfortable in a group, we need to know something about the others in the group. Have your students share with the class what they are interested in or their reason for taking the course. What you are doing is allowing them to develop rapport with the other students.

One caveat to sharing information. Only ask them to share things that help others get to know them without interfering with their privacy.

Introduce Learning Outcomes, Guidelines and Expectations

Write up and post your guidelines and expectations before the class begins. Make it a point to let your students know how to access them. They should be easy to find and easy to understand.  

Include your expectations in your syllabus. Also post them in an easy to find place right when they enter your course.  I like to make a short video that explains them as well.

Create a quiz on your expectations and guidelines. This helps in three ways:

First, it ensures your students have looked at the guidelines and expectations. You have removed the often-used excuse of “I didn’t know”.

Second it familiarizes them with taking a quiz in the LMS. If they have any issues, they can contact you for clarification. This leads to the third benefit…

Your students now know how long it takes to get a response from you. This helps them understand you are NOT available 24-7.

What Should Your Guidelines and Expectations Include?

Your guidelines and expectations need to include:

The technology required to take the course. This includes the technology they need for turning in their assignments.

Explain how to behave in the class and what it is to be a good digital citizen. This is known as netiquette. Also let them know what to expect if they choose not to behave by these rules.

Let them know your expectations for engagement. How often do you want them to engage?  What does good engagement look like?  

Share the time the need to invest to finish the coursework. This way they can pencil the time needed into their calendar (we all can hope anyway).

Give them your schedule. When are you available? How long will it take to get back to them? The times you respond, your office hours, etc. Also let them know how long it takes to return assignments, quizzes and tests.

Finally, let them know they should contact you if they have any issues. Developing rapport and keeping it requires that you clearly explain your communication expectations and how they can contact you.

Use These Tips for Developing Rapport

While teaching online is different, developing rapport in your virtual classroom doesn’t have to be difficult. Use these tips to help your students feel comfortable, confident and valued. This will lead to success for both you and them.