Icebreaker Activities in Online Classes – Opening the Lines of Communication with your Distance Learners

Icebreaker Activities in Online Classes – Opening the Lines of Communication with your Distance Learners


The purpose of the online learning environment is to create a learning experience with the challenges imposed by distance and time between the instructor and the students. One of these challenges for facilitators and instructors is to open the lines of communication with the distance learners. Even though, online learning platforms these days allow for social learning tools such as forums and chat rooms, sometimes the isolation of the online learner can built up some walls that can discourage learners and affect their performance during the course.

In this post I will discuss the importance of establishing presence with icebreaker activities in online classes.

The Learning Climate

In his classic book, The Modern Practice of Adult Education, Malcolm Knowles (1980) suggests that an appropriate learning Online Learningclimate will exhibit acceptance, respect and support.

One way to create an appropriate learning climate is to let your learners know that they are not alone, even though the online course can be considered as a lonely experience. Learners need to know that they have a support network of other students and the instructor that will be there when questions and issues arise.

The key component to build a positive online learning environment is to open the lines of communication with your learners and build the trust system with them so they can feel comfortable, accepted, supported and respected.

Why do I need an Icebreaker Activity in my Course?

Creating an icebreaker activity at the beginning of your online course will encourage learners get to know each other and will be a fun and engaging way for your learners to get to know you.

Online icebreaker humanize a technology-based learning experience and building trust among students and their online facilitator.


As Dr. Palloff and Dr. Pratt expressed (2010) “icebreakers are great to set the stage for the online community” and that is why it is so important to implement activities that allow students get to know each other, for the instructor to make personal Icebreakerconnections to students and thus create a welcoming online environment where students will feel more committed to participate and then learn.

One way to break the ice when you start your course on week 1 is to introduce yourself with a video to let your learners to see you and hear you. But don’t make your video entirely academic and introducing yourself narrating your professional resume. The idea is to share some personal information, your hobbies, show your learners your pet, a family photo and tell them that you are a busy person too, with personal commitments, family and work just like your learners. This will create empathy, will connect more with your learners and will humanize the role of the online facilitator.

At the end of your video, or somewhere in the presentation area, you can ask your learners to also introduce themselves and share their hobbies too. This activity would be ideal in a forum or chat area where learners can comment on the entries of their peers.

How to Introduce an Effective Icebreaker in the Online Class?

According to Conrad and Donaldson (2011), you need to ask yourself the following questions to make sure all the elements of an effective icebreaker activity are in place:

  1. Is the activity fun and nonthreatening?
  2. Is it person-focused, not content-focused?
  3. Does it require the learner to read one another’s entries?
  4. Does it require the learner to find something in common with at least 10% of the learning community?
  5. Does it require a person to be imaginative or express genuine emotions or openness?
  6. Are learners required to respond to one another?

Basically, the icebreaker activity will ask your learners something or to do something, then they have to post their responses related to the activity and finally they have to comment on the entries of other learners.

Make sure to participate in the icebreaker activity too and respond to some of the learners’ entries. Make it fun!

Icebreaker Suggestion 1 – “What are your Favorites?”

I propose a simple activity where students have to write an initial post sharing what are some of their favorite things such as movie, food, ice-cream flavor, music, singer/song, city, color and book. Then they have to read others’ students entries and reply to at least two of those that share or not a favorite.

Some of the elements of this activity such as food, music, and ice-cream flavor are easy to share and many people could relate to them.

Especially the food topic, some students might share exotic tastes that can spark some fun online conversations in the group.


Icebreaker Suggestion 2 – “Fun Personality Test”

In this activity students have to do an online test from the website

which has fun questionnaires such as:

  • How would you survive the zombie apocalypse?
  • How old do people really think you are?
  • Which “Game of Thrones” character are you?
  • Dominant personality type.
  • Which Avenger Is Most Like You?

Then students have to share their results and comment to at least two of other students’ responses.

In Summary

The first two weeks of the course are critical to set the stage for the online learning environment. Setting the appropriate stage will define future interactions in the course and how learners perceive the learning environment.

I have learned that making a presence, not only as an academic, but as a human who is there to guide learners for a successful experience is of high significance to create a welcoming learning environment where learners feel open and are willing to participate without feeling isolated or threaten by the technologies or the online learning experience.

Particularly having a welcoming message with some form of multimedia element (voice message, video, or image) is a good strategy I like to incorporate when setting the online learning experience with a positive start.

I hope this information will encourage you to add some icebreaker activities in the online class. Do you have any other ideas for icebreakers in the online class?

See you next time 🙂



Conrad, R., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011). Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction (Updated ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Zimbio. (n.d.). Zimbio Quizzes. Retrieved from

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2 Responses

  1. Gabrielle says:

    I love the suggestion of personality quizzes! I’ve had students take a Myers Briggs test and discuss results in a discussion thread but this is a much more fun idea!

    • Thais says:

      Hi Gabrielle,

      I’m glad you liked the idea 🙂 it is a good start to get learners on board and to embrace a friendly learning environment. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

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